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Why the Internet of Things is about the data, not the ‘Thing’

What fitness bands teach us about the Internet of Things

The thing about the Internet of Things is that it is not about the Thing! It’s actually about how the data collected by the collective Things can be analysed to provide outstanding goodness, whether that be personal or business goodness.

Let me explain by using a Fitness Band as an example of a Thing and its data.

Wouldn’t it be nice if …

As the Beach Boys said wouldn’t it be nice if we were older … and we knew that we weren’t going to have to pay $1000/month for our life insurance premium? Take note if you are younger than 50 and paying for life insurance, because if your baby boomer parents haven’t yet told you that they can no longer afford the $1000 / month then they soon will. That’s why the Australian life insurance industry is in crisis, because they are selling a product that most of you will never get to use even though (I presume) most of you will not live forever.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a fitness band could give the insurance company the information it needed to reduce your premiums by 80% and make the product actually worth buying?

Wouldn’t it also be nice if you could learn the following about yourself and your lifestyle:

  • when you haven’t had a good enough sleep to undertake hard physical exertion without risking more fatigue;
  • when you seem to have an identifiable chronic bad sleep pattern that needs attention from an expert;
  • when your heart is healthy, and when it is needing attention;
  • your level of real fitness, and how your activity patterns are changing it for better or worse;
  • your real level of exertion, and which exercises/activities give you best fitness benefits;
  • When you are in danger of over-exercising and weakening your immune system;
  • how you compare to your peers and community and what you can learn from them?
Sharing the data shares the goodness

All of this could be derived from today’s fitness bands, plus heart rate data. My own fitness band was bought by a friend in Shanghai for $15. It’s a Xiaomi Mi Band and it does almost everything those that cost 10x and 15x the price do. I’m saying this in order to emphasis that it’s not about the Thing (unless you’re addicted to branded Things). The reason that today’s bands are so basic and can only make gross interpretations of walking, running, cycling, sleeping is because of data. More specially, the lack of data to analyse.

Heart and breathing rates as well as our sleep efficiency, especially when tracked over a period of time, can tell us a great deal about how healthy we are, says IBM in this article about Big Data and Analytics, and go on to say that “the next step would be to introduce cognitive algorithms into the platform so the system can help a person learn what might indicate a potential wellness concern such as sleeplessness”.

Without sharing and processing data on a massive scale the fitness band’s value is severely limited. For example whether I am doing chin-ups, walking the dog, or simply washing my face means nothing more than so-many steps to the fitness band. Yet clearly the level of exertion and the fitness benefits vary enormously between these activities.

Of course every fitness band producer is always improving their own analytics to be able to track new things.

But the power of collaborative sharing and making massive data sets available to data scientists will yield far greater benefits, faster, to the whole community.

But just imagine if all my fitness data was made available anonymously, tagged with some necessary descriptors such as gender, age, weight, height, race, country for example. Suddenly the sleeping and activity patterns of hundreds of millions of people is made available for analysis each day. When every fitness band wearer shares this data, and data scientists get excited about understanding patterns of activity in fine detail, then the value of the Thing – the fitness band – increases exponentially.

Think of the way Google and Apple collect millions of voice requests every minute from all over the world and respond to them in a way which is continuously analysed and improved on a massive scale. We witness this improvement month by month, let’s get that same level of data analysis helping us manage our fitness.

It’s nothing personal, except that it is

For fitness, being able to correlate activity data with other personal health data such as heart rate data would enable huge new insights would be made available. Remember that here we are talking about sophisticated analysis of patterns, using massive collaborative data sets. Nothing has to identify me, it’s just that my data needs to be associated with my personal descriptors. The data scientists would develop activity/ heart-rate profiles which would then be embedded into the new fitness bands, or the associated apps, and by matching those profiles to my activity be able to give the personal advice I mentioned in the opening section.

The point is that this can only happen through the massive sharing of data and probing analysis of the data scientists. That’s where the benefit of the Internet of Things emerges, not in the Things, but in the data sharing and analysis.

As for the life insurance companies, well if you were willing to share with them your fitness data, or selected results derived from your fitness data, then they might give you a specific tailored premium – for better or for worse.

More reading:

The Internet of Things is here & it’s going to change everything (again)
Big data knows things you’d never tell a market researcher
How big data, cloud, mobile, & social will change our world

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