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This weekend, IBM invited me to help host a global “jam” session, pulling thousands of thinkers into a conversation about the “Internet of Things” (IoT). You can join the three-day (Oct 14-16) global event by clicking here.

If you are not yet thinking about how the IoT will affect your business, you probably should start soon. Below we cover:

  • Four sets of opportunities you will want to consider in the near term.
  • Why we think, in the long-term, IoT could transform your business in yet-unimaginable ways.

When I heard that I would be in the company of people like Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association; Bruce Anderson, general manager of IBM’s Electronics Industry; and Dr. Richard Soley, executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, I thought, “Am I qualified?”

But, when I started to think more deeply about the challenge – trying to understand how the IoT will impact the future of organizations – I thought, “Are any of us qualified?”

Four sets of near-term opportunities
At Outthinker, we have been working increasingly with clients around the challenges of digital transformation. As companies embrace new ways to communicate and deliver value to customers, we are witnessing exciting strategic opportunities. Digital is certainly transforming how businesses organize, strategize, and perform. The IoT is pushing us further into the unknown.

In general, there are four sets of IoT opportunities you should be considering. They fall into four stages of evolution:

  1. Stage 1: Could you build devices like Progressive’s Snapshot, which captures useful information about their customers?
  2. Stage 2: Could you create “simple networks” like Google’s Nest, which allows devices inside your home to better regulate the environment, heat up before you come home, cool down when you are asleep under your covers?
  3. Stage 3: Could you create more complex networks like Apple’s HomeKit, which links the “simple networks” that control your heating, lighting and sensors, and locks into one larger network?
  4. Stage 4: Could you create the network services that enable complex networks to store data, analyze macro information, etc., in the cloud?

With between 30 billion and 50 billion devices expected to be connected to the internet in the next five years, the business opportunities represented by these four stages could be massive.

The long-term unknowable possibilities
But we believe that in the long-term, the IoT’s impact could be evolutionary. To see this, consider that until now, the dialogue of innovation and growth has sat within a paradigm of machine-to-human communication. Each of the most impactful innovations of the last 30 years – email, the internet, DNA sequencing, PCs, mobile phones, office software, GPS systems, etc. – has opened up new ways for people to get faster and more useful information from machines.

But the IoT is enabling machine-to-machine communication, pulling humans out of the center of the dialogue.

Sociologist Gerhard Emmanuel Lenski dedicated his life to understanding how societies evolve – why humans evolved from hunting tribes to agricultural communities to empires, cities, and states. His conclusion was that communication is the ultimate driver of development.

  1. At first, humans passed down knowledge through DNA, so we were relatively undifferentiated from other animals.
  2. Later, we learned to communicate with gestures and movements, and this set us on an accelerated evolutionary path.
  3. When we learned to apply signs and logic, being able to verbalize these, we further accelerated information sharing.
  4. When we developed writing, we broke the time barrier, being able to share information across generations, on cave walls and paper.

What will the world look like when the steps of communication that trigger stages of our evolution for the first time in human history become no longer about people communicating with people but with machines communicating with machines? What will happen when the human is no longer at the center of the dialogue? Could we begin entering a fifth stage of human evolution?

Surely we will dig into the near-term opportunities during the IBM Jam. But I hope we will also begin to glimpse around this corner, beyond what the Internet of Things will make possible for human-machine communication. What will the next Gerhard Emmanuel Lenski be writing about when communication has moved in a significant way beyond humans?

Please join in the IBM Jam conversation. Learn more and register here.

“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?