Throwback Thursday: 5 IoT Lessons from SXSW Interactive 2014

Originally posted on iotworld.com 3/27/2014:

I had the opportunity last week to attend my first South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. SXSW began in 1987 as a music festival designed to bring together creative people from all around the world.  Today, SXSW also includes an interactive portion of the festival focusing on discussions and new ideas surrounding emerging technology. 

With 10-15 sessions related to IoT over the 5 days of the interactive portion of the festival there was plenty to learn in the IoT space.  Though tucked away in the smaller venues throughout Austin, the topic was very prevalent among the interested attendees.  I have taken the significant themes from each presentation and boiled them down into five key takeaways about the Internet of Things.

1. Just because things can be smart doesn't mean they should be

As networking becomes cheaper and easier to integrate into everyday devices there will be a mad rush of manufacturers to put these capabilities into everything.  The goal of connected devices is to enhance our lives and make things simpler, but if everything is connected and done poorly, this goal will not be accomplished. Poor execution and planning will instead make our connected world more complicated.  For example, do we need a smart toaster? What are the safety hazards and other consequences associated with such a device?  These are questions that manufacturers, thought leaders and others in this industry need to be asking as we add networking capability to the vast array of things.

2. Standards need to be established to move the industry forward

 Currently, there are too many different proprietary systems being used, none of which talk to each other.  Devices utilizing open APIs are a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.  To be truly successful, the industry will have to establish specific standards for devices to communicate with each other both locally and via the cloud.  This will take time but it is one of the most important aspects of device connectivity to accomplish that will allow the IoT industry to flourish.  Only once we start sharing data between devices will we truly start to see real benefits.

3. Open architecture in hardware and software will help make IoT more accessible and grow the industry

Open source software is not a new topic and there have been plenty of great examples where open source has been successful in the commercial space.  A fairly new concept in the industry is the idea of open source hardware.  With the success of the maker movement, 3D printing and other advances to make hardware more accessible is becoming a reality.  Companies will always have to find a way to make money at their various endeavors but the message from the sessions at SXSW was that there is a way to find this balance providing open source designs to the community. Doing this benefits both companies and the greater community while helping to push the industry as a whole forward. 

4. For IoT to succeed we need to lower the barrier to understanding it

Consumers don't know or care about Z-Wave, ZigBee, protocols and standards.  Most consumers likely don't even know what the Internet of Things is.  In the end, what matters is what it can do for people, what are the applications and how can it improve peoples lives.  We need to apply the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!) principle here and not let the technology overtake the functionality.  In the end the devices that solve real problems and are the most accessible to consumers will win out. In addition to that, the industry needs to be transparent with consumers and make them fully aware of the technology they are bringing into their lives and the implications around it.  Often IoT manufacturers and distributors sell based on the utility without fully educating consumers of the privacy and other consequences of the technology. While consumers may be willing to trade privacy for utility, this needs to be an informed decision.

5. The IoT Movement is just getting started

While IoT was not in the large lecture halls and keynotes at SXSW it certainly had a growing presence.  I found a great value in all the sessions I attended and even more in the discussions at other various events throughout the week.

With a growing marketplace and a number of new companies and products entering the space, I am sure the Internet of Things will continue to grow in presence at SXSW and similar events.  It’s important that businesses continue these discussions to help grow the IoT industry successfully.