Expert Interview with Kabir Ahmad at Mind Commerce

Q. Many observers follow the Gartner hype cycle methodology as a way of describing the state of a technology. Do you think there is an underlying causal model, or is it purely descriptive?

A: Actually most of the models follow a descriptive approach to explain technology hype, adoption and/or trend. Even if we talk about models other than the Gartner hype cycle (such as the Technology Acceptance Model, Diffusion of Innovations, or Technology adoption Lifecycle), each depicts things partially (either impact or adoption) with the same descriptive approach.

Q. Will the Internet of Things benefit firms already positioned for wider adoption, such as Cisco or Intel, or will new leaders emerge that we haven’t yet heard of?

A: Most importantly the Internet of Things (IoT) market is in a nascent stage — providing silo solutions such as vehicle fleets, M2M sensors, home automation and management, healthcare, manufacturing, smart grids and ATMs. The large players like Cisco or Intel are already positioned well to leverage vertical opportunity, but the future definitely lies in horizontal growth like offering value added service & application based on real time consumer data. Thereby a maturing IoT industry will embrace a common protocol and many players will emerge as market leaders; indeed IoT won’t be a result of single entity’s work.

Interestingly most of the future IoT solutions will be bottom-up, will be built either by entrepreneurship or as experiments. The biggest growth will be in enterprise and industrial IoT areas — connecting existing products into IoT environment. Xively and ThingWorx are vibrant examples I look at.

Q. An oft-cited truism holds that large firms are poor innovators? If that is true, should analysts like Mind Commerce focus more on smaller firms than public companies?

A: Large firms usually follow a slow process for disruptive innovation when considering their process innovation or continuous innovation approaches, but in most cases it turns out these are sustainable solutions. I prefer to call them “Slow Innovators” rather than poor innovators. So I believe we need to have a balanced focus on both smaller and larger firms.

Q. In addition to better embedded systems security, what is needed to bring the Internet of Things to the next level?

A: As mentioned earlier, the IoT ecosystem needs to have a common but defined protocol, massive convergence of IT, integration with cloud technologies, and disruptive solutions at the IoT application level. Before that, the psychology of the industry needs to be transformed from “what and why” questions to “when and how.” Only then can we unleash the full potential of IoT and be able to leverage the potentiality of offering new consumer level solutions made out of RTOS (real-time operating systems).

Q. Can you name three potentially hot areas of Big Data where the Internet of Things will fan the flames?

A: First, human data is the next hot data source to be used to manage an organization’s health and to become a leading indicator. This human data will be powered by massive adoption of IoT solutions thereby creating a bigger challenge to organizations by shortening the data-information-insight-decision cycle.

Second, IoT will fulfill the need of location intelligence, but the major challenge will be mapping offline data with online data for better decision making.

Lastly, the massive human data generated from IoT devices will create security challenges for organizations. Ensuring user privacy will be a crucial threat area.

Q. Will increased data stream volume associated with the Internet of Things increase the demand for ELT solutions?

A: Yes, obviously. As the data-information-insight-decision cycle demands faster response, the demand for better ELT solutions will be of paramount importance.

Q. Among the Big Data “V” dimensions, which interests you the most: Volume, Velocity, Variety, or Veracity?

A: It’s the Variety dimension, to me; it resembles the everyday discovery process for new meaning in life. Digging out meaningful and amazing insights from tons of unstructured data streams is enticing.

Q. Do you feel that public concerns about threats to privacy are overblown? Or is this simply a generational shift, with younger citizens accepting of the tradeoff between low cost access to technology in exchange for giving up personally identifiable information?

A: I think both sides are right. I do think that the privacy concern is somewhat overblown in the media.

On the other hand, there is no absolute definition of a “privacy concern.” It depends on users’ subjective perception about what are they willing to trade off in exchange for benefits. In usage of technology, younger generations are simply following the expectancy theory of marketing: maximizing positive outcome by trading off personally identifiable information.

Q. Salesforce.com is almost 15 years old now. How has the cloud proposition that exchanges CapEx for OpEx changed since 1999?

A: In last one and half decades, cloud adoption has successfully changed the whole business-IT ecosystem, potentially reducing IT and non-IT costs by factors of 5-7X. However, for some sectors like Government (where CapEx and OpEx are still high) and public facing websites (where OpEx is unpredictable), the cost challenge remains high despite the cloud’s greater flexibility and scalability. But in any situation, cloud-like pay-per-use is always a better option for SMBs.

Q. Some analysts believe that Software-defined networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) are not yet widely adopted? What is your take? What’s needed to speed adoption?

A: Yes, I do agree that both SDN & NFV deployment are still in a trial stage, despite having enormous benefits for carriers. It is believed that perhaps 30 carriers may roll out deployments by 2016, perhaps 30%-40% of their technology budget. Other carriers will simply sit back and wait till the industry matures; this is the single reason of not seeing wider adoption so far. To speed adoption, the industry ought to consider multiple approaches such as:

  • Show the emerging business opportunities around SDN & NFV to large technology vendors
  • Demonstrate how carriers can measure reduced CapEx and OpEx, and can explore new business models based on a virtualized telco network ecosystem
  • No single vendor can build all the support functions needed to deploy this technology; partnerships between large vendors, IT suppliers and independent software vendors are key.
  • Ensure greater involvement of independent software suppliers. A vibrant ISV community can speed innovation

Q. Advocates for public education are concerned that the absence of U.S. K-12 public school education in computer science will widen the Digital Divide. Do you feel this trend is fundamentally different from weak public understanding of specialized topics in astrophysics, cellular technology, or the metabolic pathways for widely used drugs?

A: Unlike those other specialized topics, computer and computer applications have become more commonplace and integral parts of daily life. Moreover, computer programming is not just for gaining some technical skill; it is to learn a language that can be applied to control any computer driven functionality. There is a missing link between advocates for public education and public perceptions about computer science; people still consider computer science as a highly specialized area. To make our kids fit, next-gen citizens, this societal mindset needs to change.

Q. What is the best sort of background to develop analytical skills for studying technology industries?

A: A technology industry analyst bridges the gap between the technology producer or investor and users. To do the job well, an analyst needs to develop insights into technology, potential applications, user preferences and potential markets. A combination of business and technology management education would be a great background to start with. In addition to education, the crucial traits for an analyst are having a good knowledge of statistics, broad technical perspective, and a life-long commitment to education.

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