The technology that surrounds us is but a logical and physical manifestation of the underlying social organisations in which we work and live. To complete many relatively simple tasks we need to draw on services provided, albeit digitally, from multiple providers. Aggregation services are popular because they provide some sort of integration layer above the services that are underlying the particular tasks that I want to accomplish.

Often even single providers show evidence of deeply siloed organisations underneath.  My go-to example is the UK’s retailer Sainsbury’s, where the “simple” task of just logging in results in six options…

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As we start to enter a world of previously “dumb” devices becoming connected, the nirvana of seamlessly interconnected smart homes, factories or cities feels like it will be quite some time coming. That’s not just because the technology is new, or because understanding what to do with all this new data is a challenge. Primarily, I believe, it’s because it will expose intra- and inter-organisational silos that previously haven’t been important but in an interconnected device world will become so.

My friend and WB-40 co-host Chris Weston told me the story last week of a fast food restaurant. Chris has a wealth of experience from the world of facilities management, and in a previous employ was working with sensor data from the refrigeration systems of a fast food chain. One branch in particular seemed to have a problem. The freezers alerted that they kept going into defrost mode.

On investigation, it turned out to be the result of a complex series of inter-relations. The restaurant kitchen was in the basement. There was an air-conditioning unit to keep the space cool. There was an extraction system to keep the space free of grease and smoke. Unfortunately the air-con was installed in such a way that it disrupted the extraction systems. Smoke-free was more important than cool. And anyway, the staff could leave the freezer door open if it got too hot. Hence the defrost alerts.

At play here are many systems and actors: the HVAC, extraction and refrigeration systems. The providers of those systems. The installation people of those systems. The ongoing service providers for those systems. The overall facilities management provider. And, too often missed, the poor souls having to improvise to be able to flip burgers in an environment where the systems were battling against one another.

Thing is, adding sensors and data to all of these previously dumb systems isn’t going to solve anything – but it is going to highlight a whole series of human factor design problems that might be quite costly and complicated to resolve.

Look at the world of home IoT and you have both silos of traditional systems providers (power, water, security, fire and C02 alarms, entertainment systems, white goods, heating and cooling, lighting, soft furnishings, windows…) but also distinctly siloed network layers from providers who really don’t play well together (Google, Apple and Amazon in particular).

Connecting devices and interconnecting them to one another is going to open up a world of possibilities, but don’t be surprised if it opens up a world of people who currently don’t work well with one another first. The biggest barrier to IoT will probably be people. Who’da thunk it?

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