Harmon on BPM: The Internet of Things

So it’s the holiday season and many of us are thinking of gifts to give to friends and loved ones. In my case, I’ve just bought a Philips Sonicare toothbrush and am considering it as a gift for others. It had gotten some great reviews, but, whether I end up gifting it or not, it comes with some interesting features.

First, like most electric toothbrushes, it has a handle and separate brush heads that you attach to the handle. Unlike most brushes, however, the Philips brushes come with an embedded computer chip. The toothbrush has a number of settings, and the chips for that are in the handle. But specific brushes are designed to do different things – such as focus on gums, or on whitening, etc. When you put on a brush, the chip in the brush tells the handle what settings to use. But that’s just the beginning.

Once you acquire the toothbrush, you can download an app onto your Apple iPhone. The App, from Philips, manages your brushing sessions. You set your iPhone on the counter, then pick up your toothbrush and turn it on. Immediately your Sonicare app comes up and suggests where you begin, how long to continue in that area, and where to move next. At the same time, the app monitors your use of the brush and lets you know if you are pressing too hard, moving too fast, and so on. A diagram of your teeth appears and adequately-brushed teeth are highlighted. Each week a report is generated letting you know how much you brushed, how long, and whether you did it right or not.

If you switch brush heads, then the settings are changed and the information recorded and fed back change accordingly. I have a good friend who laughed at my report and explained that she could have told me all of this in 10 minutes, which is, of course, true, but there’s something to be said for being constantly reminded of it and monitored. (My weight app isn’t as automated, I have input most of the information, but over the long run, the app definitely helps keep me on a given diet.)

I mention all of this, not to sell Philips Sonicare toothbrushes, but to point to the trend that is usually referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Real fans will know that I first reported on this way back in 2005 – when I described how Levis were embedding chips in their high end jeans to make it easy for stores to track them and let customers know if they had specific jeans in specific sizes on the premises. There have been lots of mentions since and most people have heard about the concept. What Philips’ Sonicare toothbrush demonstrates is that the idea is being rolled out to the public in everyday products.

There are a lot of electric toothbrushes available. Philips gets rave reviews for the quality of their product, but they get a lot of additional attention for its added value, as provided by those chips and the “intelligence” and additional coaching they provide. It’s easy to imagine that lots of products will soon be valued more for the “intelligence” embedded in the product’s components than in the quality of the product itself. The product will become a commodity and the added “intelligence” will become the feature that really sells the product.

Obviously this has implications for process people. Those in design will look for opportunities to improve products. As our examples illustrate, some improvements will make it easier for employees to organize or manage the products, and other improvements will provide direct services to consumers. Increasingly, we will use computers and wireless systems (like those in iPhones) to interact with products or components of products. In some cases auto repair mechanics already use computers to “check with “subassemblies” in autos to find out which one has a problem. It’s easy to imagine that, soon, almost all complex machines will incorporate self-diagnostic elements that will communicate information to various monitoring devices (as, for example, apps that one can download on ones phone).

I immediately imagine a father on Christmas Eve, picking up a part from the robot he is trying to assemble for his daughter, and having the piece communicate with his phone, telling him how to rotate and then add the arm to the robot he is building.

Obviously my Philips toothbrush isn’t very intelligent, but today’s chips that know how to set up the toothbrush to deal with gum problems, can just as well include small neural networks the do much more elaborate analysis and make much more sophisticated suggestions. The Internet of Things will blend with Analytic techniques to gather data. The current toothbrush already gathers data on use and suggests when heads should be replaced. By gathering more data, in can presumably make more complex recommendations. And, obviously, other IoT systems can incorporate Cognitive Applications that not only diagnose but recommend various intelligent courses of action.

During the late Industrial Revolution, the world was lit up. Electric lights made the world sparkle, as we see when we look at photographs of earth from space. Now we are about to add intelligence to all our artifacts, creating a world in which information will be gathered by all out devices and used to make everything more intelligent and more useful. It should easily keep process practitioners busy for the next decade.

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Paul Harmon

Paul Harmon

Executive Editor and Founder, Business Process Trends In addition to his role as Executive Editor and Founder of Business Process Trends, Paul Harmon is Chief Consultant and Founder of BPTrends Associates, a professional services company providing educational and consulting services to managers interested in understanding and implementing business process change. Paul is a noted consultant, author and analyst concerned with applying new technologies to real-world business problems. He is the author of Business Process Change: A Manager’s Guide to Improving, Redesigning, and Automating Processes (2003). He has previously co-authored Developing E-business Systems and Architectures (2001), Understanding UML (1998), and Intelligent Software Systems Development (1993). Mr. Harmon has served as a senior consultant and head of Cutter Consortium’s Distributed Architecture practice. Between 1985 and 2000 Mr. Harmon wrote Cutter newsletters, including Expert Systems Strategies, CASE Strategies, and Component Development Strategies. Paul has worked on major process redesign projects with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Security Pacific, Prudential, and Citibank, among others. He is a member of ISPI and a Certified Performance Technologist. Paul is a widely respected keynote speaker and has developed and delivered workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics to conferences and major corporations through out the world. Paul lives in Las Vegas. Paul can be reached at pharmon@bptrends.info
Paul Harmon

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