I recently attended the inaugural Internet of Things (IoT) World Forum in Barcelona, Spain which was hosted by Cisco. For those that have not heard of IoT, it could even be bigger than the Internet. Check out this infographic from Cisco. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco reckons IoT as a market could generate $14 trillion in profits over the next decade. Yes, you read correctly, $14 trillion! Mr Chambers certainly seems to be one of the most forward thinking CEOs of a large organisation that I've heard speak in 2013.
Reading through the attendee list, I did not see any pharmaceutical companies, neither anyone from the NHS. Oh wait, during the event, I did bump into someone from Eli Lilly. I have no idea why their were so few healthcare organisations at the event, despite a closing keynote delivered by Jay Walker, chairman and curator of TEDMED (more on that later).
Cisco are so excited at the prospect of IoT as the next big thing, they are setting up a new business unit. After coming back from the event, I learnt that Intel, the chipmaker, is also setting up an IoT business unit.
When I imagine IoT and our health, I'm envisioning sensors embedded in everyday objects that are wirelessly connected to the net. An example might be that my sofa, TV, fitness tracking wristband, and my smartphone are all connected. So, I've been sitting on the sofa watching TV for hours, despite my goal being to walk 1 mile every day. My sofa senses my inactivity, knows it's going to rain in 2 hours, and then switches the TV off and sends me a text message saying, it's time to go for a walk before it starts raining. I didn't see anything like this at the event. To be fair, there was one fascinating session on IoT & healthcare, featuring some pioneering work shown by Bill Kennedy, who has been using in IoT technology in telehealth.
The first video at the bottom of this post is of Steve Lucas from SAP and includes a demo of a smart vending machine that can suggest food options based upon your sleep & physical activity [actual demo starts from 4 mins onwards]
The second video is of the closing keynote from Jay Walker. I've included a 10 min video from his speech [unfortunately, ran out of space on my iPhone, so didn't record all of it]
Easier said than done
There was a Smart City Walking tour, to showcase what the city of Barcelona is doing to embrace IoT. Initiatives such as parking sensors that let citizens know where an empty parking spot is located, location analytics that allow the city to understand where pedestrians are walking, sensors in waste bins that inform when the bin is full and free public wifi. All to be applauded. However, when flying back to London from Barcelona airport, and looking to get online, I was in a different Barcelona from the glitzy forum. Not a single power socket at the gate (phone was running out of juice), and 15 minutes free wifi (fee required for >15 mins). So much for a smart city!
Even when departing London Gatwick airport for Barcelona, I spent ages wandering around the terminal hunting for a place to plug my laptop in before my flight. I finally found a power socket, in between two chairs. Plugging in my laptop revealed the socket was not functioning.
More recently, attending the Health Tech Summit by Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, held at University of Cambridge. An illustrious panel flown across from the USA to share their vision on the future of healthcare. Exciting stuff! Oh wait, I struggled to live tweet during the event. No public wifi in the venue. On top of that, my mifi device had no signal, and my mobile phone's signal was often too weak for a data connection. These incidents make me feel like I'm living in a real-life Dilbert cartoon!
As inspired and excited as I am by the vision of a hyper connected & programmable world, the on the ground reality in healthcare is very different. I remember a business trip when I worked at GSK. I took the Eurostar train from London to Brussels one morning to visit the Vaccines division. A taxi had been booked for me at Brussels station. Upon arrival, I found my taxi driver waiting for me, with my name and the GSK logo on a card he was holding up. Actually, there were many drivers around him, all holding up cards for GSK staff. So, same train from England, with employees from different divisions, all heading to the same GSK building in Belgium, each with their own taxi. Hmmm. We frequently can't get people to talk to one another and share information, and yet, we expect those same people will enable 50 billion devices to talk to one another. Technology seems to be progressing at an exponential pace, leaving many leaders and their organisations struggling to keep up.
I don't see a prosperous future for many organisations in health & social care unless they wake up. I was talking to a friend in the US about IoT and the NHS. He told me "a true IoT means we wouldn't need the NHS at all. It is not about innovating within current structures but innovating and being willing to change the physical geography of healthcare and beyond!!"
Yes, whilst IoT is yet to hit the radar screens of many organisations, visionaries such as Alice Rathjen are already thinking beyond IoT. Alice is a good friend of mine, and spoke at Silicon Valley comes to the UK a few days ago. Her vision of the future is the Internet of Human Beings. Truly fascinating stuff!
So what next?
I applaud Cisco for hosting this pioneering event, and it was a privilege to be there and witness what felt like a turning point in history. Naturally, there will be tremendous hype surrounding the potential of IoT, just like the hype we are forced to navigate in 'Big Data' & 'Digital Health' for example. The dreamer in me wants to believe IoT will solve many of the challenges we face in health and social care. However, looking at recently released data about internet usage in Europe. 100 million people in Europe have NEVER used the internet. Take Greece, where 65% of residents have never used the internet.
60 million Americans don't use the internet, according to Pew research. Many of the people who don't use the internet are poor, disabled or elderly. However, the Greek government have promised to roll out free wifi across Greece in 2014. Looking at the bigger picture, social inequalities in health do exist. Amazing developments in technology including IoT seem to have the potential to either widen or reduce those inequalities around the world. I really hope it will be the latter. As Jay Walker said in his closing keynote, "our biggest challenge is lack of imagination".
Can you and your organisation imagine what a hyper connected world would look like? What will the IoT mean for you? Does the IoT frighten or excite you?
[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with any of the companies mentioned above]