The Future of Everything – IoE

I was asked this week to present at a private workshop on the Internet of Everything (IoE). The issue was how the telecoms industry can be prepared, and what needs to change.

Overview of everything

My key message is that it is the humans that matter, not the “things”. We ought to care about people, not packets. This seems almost trite, but turns out to be profound.

The needs of people are evolving. We are moving beyond the initial Information Technology revolution, and its automation of existing business processes. Citizens are now seeking something more than mere workplace “productivity” that endlessly commoditises us as labour.

We are involved in a transformation of society via the cheap ubiquitous information. This parallels the transformations wrought by coal, electricity and petrochemicals. Over time, the economy and social order adjusts to the presumed existence of the new abundant resource.

This triggers second-order effects. In the case of the automobile, it was commuting, suburbs, and strip malls. The information revolution and self-driving cars will also have second-order effects that we have yet to anticipate or experience.

This abundant cheap information will be used to create mass-customised services. They will be demand-led and fit-for-purpose. Such higher-order systems require reliable information infrastructure subcomponents.

This means we as an industry need to enable predictable application outcomes and cost, for a given level of distributed computing input resources. Indeed, the concepts of ‘telecoms’ and ‘cloud’ obscure that we are really all just part of a distributed computing industry.

Predictability of outcomes needs a supporting engineering paradigm and underlying science. This is missing from the current mainstream, which is a huge issue and opportunity.

The evolving nature of demand

There are real IoE revenue generating opportunities that address universal human needs. For instance, we all seek wellbeing, and the current “sickcare” model of medicine serves us poorly. The future of technology is engineering positive feeling states and beneficial ethical outcomes. Productivity is passé.

This is allied to revolutions in transport, energy, education, and more. Each industry is undergoing its own information transformation. These are fuelled by a rapid growth in sensors and sense-making via machine learning. This is a paradigm change; the revolution is big enough that you can make a good case that “cognitive” is the new “mobile”.

This ability to make sense of the world enables new forms of contextual computing and communications. The machines can increasingly initiate action in the world on behalf of people. This is a collective phenomenon akin to the arrival of the Web in the 1990s. We might call it the “Decision Matrix”.

This will put enormous new demands on out networks. It’s not just about media like video and VR. The real constraint is our ability to signal and coordinate in near real-time. The consequences of failure are going up, so the cost of unpredictability is going up. That drives demand for more predictable outcomes.

The IoE business transformation

All businesses have a primary task, and face a primary risk: a factor you can influence but not control, and that determines what the right primary task is. Changes in primary task can create huge anxiety. For example, Kodak was unable to transition from “photography” to “imaging”. Its primary risk was the rate of displacement of analogue chemistry with digital sensing and printing.

Telecoms faces a change in primary task for the IoE world. It requires going from a supply-led to demand-led model. In the past, we constructed one-size-fits-all supply, and had to find demand to fill it up. The  risk of not finding enough demand was what kept CFOs awake at night. This ‘circuits and broadband’ world sells ‘pipes’ with a given bandwidth.

In the new model, you have to find demand and construct matching supply: a ‘quantity of quality’ at a given resilience. The risk is of not characterising demand well enough, or having the capability to safely engineer that supply in a ‘software-defined everything’ environment.

This switch throws organisations into stress: roles are thrown in turmoil, as nobody is responsible for the supply/demand matching and the changing power dynamics between roles.

The new commercial model for telecoms

The business model evolves in the demand-led model away from utility ‘pipes’ to being more like a financial services ‘resource trading’ paradigm. This opens up many new revenue models: digital experience supply chain management; quality arbitrage; application and business continuity insurance; QoE, cost and risk portfolio management; futures and options for resources.

The underlying operating model also has to evolve. There is a massive need to collapse complexity and automate everything. This needs abstract models of business processes and operational performance. It is a transformation similar to that of the development of CNC lathes and flexible manufacturing systems in the 1980s and 1990s.

We need to introduce new concepts for this to happen, such as: performance invariants; predictable regions of our architecture; and automated isolation of faults.

Changing mindsets and relationships

Our historical approach of over-engineering everything doesn’t scale. We need new ‘antifragile’ systems that have optionality to learn under stress with multiple classes of service and many resilience levels. Give choice to users, let these systems adapt and ‘anneal’.

The way we present our brand can change for the IoE world. Industrial users and consumer brands require trustworthiness, which means services must be predictable. “Best effort” doesn’t cut it. This implies any service has to “says what it does, do what it says”. If telcos achieve this they have earned their position as ‘trustmark’ brand, like Visa or Intel Inside.

To enable partnering and collaboration we need to develop clean ‘interfaces’. Where is the information “power socket” for distributed computing appliances and applications?

Detailed execution issues

There are a series of specific issues that need to be addressed. Most importantly, fitness-for-purpose demands that everything becomes “by design”: performance, security, resilience, manageability, privacy and more.

For security, we need to rethink our models. TCP/IP has no association control, and lacks a virtualisation capability. We need new architectures like RINA to enable these basic capabilities.

For privacy, we are engaged in a paradigm shift from symbolic to sensor data. This intimate sensual data cannot be separated from our individual identity. My voice print or facial expression is inherently mine and about me. That means architecting with “privacy by design” principles up front, not as an afterthought as today.

The end to end automation of systems management means we need to have “performance contracts” for every network and management boundary. These are ceilings on demand, and floors on supply. They need to have appropriate “compositional” properties, with high-fidelity measurements of compliance, and new models of cause and effect for non-compliance.

We need to deal with legacy systems and processes using new models of how OSS and BSS work and methods of software control. We see early steps with SDN/NFV, but there is a lot more to do. For instance, we need “SD-QoS” for the “ballistic” timescales that SDN cannot control.

Finally, we need to get our science and engineering right so we have standardisation and interoperability. We need to adopt ∆Q as our universal quality measure, as it (alone) has the desired properties. This is a new science of network performance that we have to engage with and adopt if we wish to continue to scale.

Everything is change

The world is changing, and we need to change too. The two big things are always demand and supply. Demand is undergoing a paradigm shift from Information Technology to Human Technology, as we move from symbols to sensors. Supply is changing from a highly skilled numerate craft to hard science and engineering.

The Internet of Everything changes only one thing, which is everything.

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