Imagine the unimaginable

Let’s put our cards on the table. The very concept of connecting everything to everything else and then doing useful stuff by adding intelligence is tremendously exciting, and many of us believe that this vision of a hyper-connected society is the next revolution in the way we live our lives. In the words of Victor Hugo, the 19th Century poet, it is “an idea whose time has come”.

In the M2M field in particular, I have been writing about today’s opportunities. If you look at various analyst forecasts for connected devices you can see that even if you take the lowest values this is going to be big. But the missing piece for me has always been what do we do with this hyper-connectivity? How do we bring real value to this future capability?

My thinking has been that the short term business case for Network Operators this time (for once) requires no leap of faith, but beyond what we can see and quantify, the true evolution comes in the form of an unimaginable and unpredictable range of new applications and services that add real value to our lives and to our society. A typical example of marketing fluff, you may be thinking, and by its very definition impossible to quantify. But as I look around I think we are starting to see tangible examples of this happening:

Driving our behaviour

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ilkerender

Take the example of an insurance company in the UK who has decided to tackle the problem of young drivers and the enormous premiums they are being charged due to the risk associated with their driving. In the UK market it is usual for a newly qualified driver to be charged between £2,000 and £5,000 per annum for the privilege of exercising their new qualification. In response to this the Co-Operative Insurance company has come up with a device which is installed into your car, and monitors your driving behaviour and modifies the premium you are charged (up or down) based on the results.

Here is a very real opportunity to solve a real life problem with innovative thinking. In the early stages I don’t believe the insurance companies will erode their revenue too much, but if you let your imagination work, why can’t we imagine that this system is applied to all drivers, and as a result it “drives our driving behaviour” and results in a safer road system and less deaths? It is exactly this type of innovation and thinking which will reap the short term benefits of allowing greater efficiency in our lives, but behind it is a perhaps (so far) unimagined bigger picture.

Healthy progress

I was at an M2M conference earlier this month, M2M Forum Europe, in London, and m-Health or e-Health was a big part of the programme. I think we can all imagine the benefits of e-Health in terms of a more efficient interface with the medical profession. In fact 75 to 85% of healthcare spending is on chronic disease management, and one presenter highlighted that in Germany alone it is estimated that €2.6b of savings per annum could be made in hospital beds through the use of remote monitoring of patients. The trial in Austria with Alcatel-Lucent and Orange is a perfect example.  When you add to this picture projects such as the ecoBus project in Belgrade, Serbia where air quality in the city is continuously monitored via devices on the buses and published via a special smartphone application, we can begin to see how a new level of environmental intelligence can improve the way we manage ourselves and our communities.

And again, the bigger picture that can be imagined is a society in which all of us can have more control over our health management, resulting in a healthier population and all the benefits that come with it – not just quality of life but tangible effects – healthier populations have a higher GDP, pay more tax etc.

So let’s not restrict our thinking. Organisations such as ng Connect are the catalyst for new ideas and new thinking in the sphere of connectivity, but while we are at it let’s not be ashamed to expound the benefits of our solutions beyond the commercial side.

I love the story of three bricklayers working on a site. When asked by a passerby what they were doing, the first one said “earning £100 per day”. The second one said “laying bricks for money”. The third one said “building a cathedral”. Are you designing an app or changing the world?

Rob Parkes

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