Two Questions, One Answer

In 2004 I published my first book, The End of Software. At the time I was the President of Oracle On Demand, so many people found it a curious title. In the book I discussed the fundamental economic reasons software should be delivered as a service. As an example of new startups in the field I highlighted four companies: VMWare, salesforce.com, Netsuite and OpenHarbor, which were all pre-IPO companies at the time. While I didn’t get all four correct, three of the four have gone on to be major companies driving the second generation of enterprise software.

When I left Oracle, I started to wonder what was next for enterprise software. We’ve built CRM, ERP, HR, supply chain and purchasing software for on premises deployment and now all are being delivered as a cloud service. While delivery as a cloud service provides both lower cost and higher quality, the functionality has remained largely the same.

So, are we at the end of innovation for enterprise software?

In 2010 I started a cloud computing class at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The Amazon team was kind enough to give me $3000 worth of AWS time for the students to use. I showed up in class and told them it would buy a small server in Northern California, Virginia or Ireland for 3 ½ years. They looked bored; after all, they could also get a server in China for 3 ½ years. Or, I said, $3000 will buy you 10,000 servers for 30 minutes.

So, what could you do with 10,000 servers for 30 minutes?

Like you, I’ve heard the buzzword IoT for quite a few years. I mostly ignored it because I wasn’t sure why my toaster should talk to my coffee maker. But a few years ago I invited Bill Ruh, CEO of GE Digital, to deliver a guest lecture at my Stanford class and his talk raised my curiosity; so a year ago I decided I needed to learn what was going on in industrial IoT, or some would call enterprise IoT. With the help of a crowd of at least a hundred experts, I documented nearly twenty different case studies spanning all of the major industries: power, water, oil & gas, agriculture, healthcare, construction and transportation.

Mid way through building all of these cases the answer to my two questions became obvious. While second generation enterprise software has helped reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of some enterprises it has done little to transform our physical world. With the decreasing costs of sensors, compute and storage we now have the ability to create a more precise planet. And unless we all move to Mars, we’re going to need to produce energy, water, healthcare and food more efficiently, more precisely. And if you consider that all developing  economies require fundamental infrastructure, shouldn't we engineer next generation healthcare, power, and agriculture using powerful new IoT software? In the developing economies we skipped land line telephony, will it not be possible to skip ahead in these other critical infrastructure areas?

A few weeks ago we launched my new book: Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things in London on the River Thames. The book is written for anyone who wants to be a student of the subject, whether you're a focused on technology or business.


The first part of the book divides the technology principals into five major areas. We discuss the things or machines themselves, how they are connected, what is done to collect information, how you can learn from things and finally what can be done with what we’ve learned.

While many are implementing IoT solutions using current technology, it should be recognized most of the technology to date has been built for Internet of People (IoP) applications. But things are not people. For instance, there are many more things than people, things can be where people aren’t they have more to say, things talk much more frequently and things can be programmed, people can’t. While there are numerous technology challenges and opportunities within successfully implementing industrial IoT solutions, this distinction has great relevance to those enterprises that build machines (e.g., gene sequencers, combine harvesters, wind turbines) and finally on those that use these machines (e.g. hospitals, farms and utilities).

The second part of the book contains fourteen case studies that span the major industries of power, water, healthcare, transportation, oil & gas, construction and agriculture. You'll meet Nick August, who is a farmer on the Cotswalds, learn about how an autonomous train will run from the north of Australia to Perth this year and how you can use machine learning to predict electric grid failure.

Some companies have already begun to make the investments in industrial IoT. GE Software, for instance, was founded in 2011 with a $1B investment. CEO Jeff Immelt has declared that GE needed to evolve into a software-and-analytics company lest its machines become commodities. Immelt has set an ambitious target of $15B in software revenue by 2020. PTC has taken an M&A path and invested over $500M in a series of companies, including ThingWorx, ColdLight and Axeda. On the venture side, you may not have noticed but Uptake, a Chicago-based IoT startup, beat Slack and Uber to become Forbes 2015's Hottest Startup. They raised $45M at a $1B post funding valuation.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s time to invest in IoT. But whether you’re a student at Berkeley, someone who works for an enterprise tech company, a venture capitalist, a CEO of a textile machine company, or the Chief Innovation Officer of a hospital, I’d encourage you to make Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things part of your summer reading list and start exploring how you’ll be part of creating a more precision planet.


Timothy Chou, Lecturer at Stanford University; Chairman, Alchemist IoT Accelerator; Former President of Oracle on Demand