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The Internet of Goods and Services: Emergent Logic in the Development of the Digital Ecology


Figure 1, the Four Quadrants of Economic Development from a Digital Eco perspective

Since the late industrial age, computerization of our economy has played a key role in the development of our society. The development is not limited to business models; it has developed individuals and groups. The latter is only recently becomes apparent from the important of the rise of the models of social networking. In addition, the ‘internet of things’ has created new business models such as Telemedicine and Smart Grids. So, the impact is not only seen at the corporate level, it has also seen in specific individual behaviors within the home, corporate and other group behaviors.

Figure one presents an approximate model of this development based (loosely) on Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant integral development model. This model is useful to understand and predict the characteristics of the next movements in technology, corporate behavior and the actors that will participate. More specifically, the diagram depicts how software technology has become an exogenous expression of group and individual behavior. It has been used successfully to predict and model movements in a number of other areas, especially sociology.

Figure one is centered on the corporation specifically, and the economy more generally. The four quadrants are categorized as it and ‘its’ (ecology or eco) on the right and I and we (ego) on the left. Roughly speaking, the left corresponds to an explanation of "what it is" and a right corresponds to an explanation of "what it means". Development of the economic entities including corporations, governments, and other broader groups radiates outward in time from the center. Figure 1 is centered in the late industrial age, roughly a decade after World War 2. The center of the diagram corresponds to the earliest mainframe that supported basic record sorting and data processing. The central corporate ecology was based on an industrial model. From that point, development spirals outward.

As the technology progress, corresponding structures and concepts in the economic eco (businesses and government entities) progress outward. For instance, most business historians and economists believe the progress of Wal-Mart to be a phenomenon. Wall-Mart owes a large portion of its success to technology. It is well known that their technology contributed to a unique model for retailing and supply chain management. Yet, as we well know, there are risks to progress. Equally compelling arguments for technologies’ effect on the economy were the broken sub-prime business processes (BPM) that led to the numerous closed Wall-Marts (the Ghost Box effect).

Most broadly, for modern business models, in advanced segments of the world, we have moved from the command and control management (i.e. manager-secretary, supervisor-worker) structures to a more decentered management structure. This also corresponds to the current decentralized management structure of the Global Fortune 100. This is the transnational corporate-state in the lower left. Even within these ‘advanced’ societies there are businesses that operate at the lower levels. For instance, ordinary retail or factory production does have the complex needs of the goal-oriented transitional corporation. Again, these points correspond to characteristics of Wilber’s model for the progression of human development. It would be easy to develop this theory, but for the purposes of this discussion, we should note that companies that operate at the advanced corners of the quadrant are the most competitive and profitable. They draw the brightest employees and executives and have the best business opportunities.

The Evaporating Trade/Professional Divide and Effects on Software

 Examine the upper left quadrant. As technology progresses the line between the trades and professions merge. In the medical profession, nurses use complex instruments and software and increasingly act more like doctors. In engineering, engineers develop their own drawings.

This effect is strongest in business. Employee become more self-sufficient and empowered to create solutions to technical and business problems, with less involvement from IT. This movement started with ‘Groupware’ software and applications such as Access, FoxPro and spreadsheets. As software designers noted this trend, they created powerful applications such as Microsoft’s SharePoint in concert with InfoPath. Another outcome is the success of Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) and the many business process suites that support these.

Yet the wide-spread adoption of BPMN and other “software-through-pictures’” technologies would not be possible without the rapid evolution of the job skills and technical capabilities of the employee. Some analysts call these ‘purple’ people. Yet, this is a reactionary viewpoint based on an outdated model of the roles and capabilities of the business managers and analysts. In many of today’s organizations, the business analyst, manager or subject matter expert design and maintain processes and applications and they do this with skills previously considered technical. These organizations operate in areas where multi-week development cycles would be intolerable. These areas include risk management, fraud detection and complex areas of finance and investment. They make (again, would have been considered) highly technical changes to the applications. This is especially true in the areas of Business Process Management, Decision Analytics, Business Rules and Business Intelligence.

The Characteristics of the Phases

 From the viewpoint of this frame of development, many computer scientists, engineers and innovators have a distorted picture of Digital Eco technology. Proponents of one movement or the next believe that their favored method (Relational Data, Object Orientation, Business Intelligence, etc.) should overcome and replace the other. In fact, as components of technology develop, they become parts of the latter phases—analogous to the rungs of a ladder. For instance, the relational database is still a critical component for nearly every enterprise application. Moreover, the relational database remains mature and little unchanged over the last decade. Batch processing is still utilized in many applications, especially in certain financial markets. This is not to say that the lower rungs remain stagnant, advances are made at the earlier phases of development.

Consider China, where the economy is less advanced that the in the west. Mainframe-oriented, batch processing is a predominant computing approach.

Evolving to new Forms

 Another characteristic of the quadrant model of development is the consolidation of the technology industries. The consolidation is not only driven by efficiencies it is also driven by corporate expectations for increasingly more useful and comprehensive solutions. It is clear that, for the most developed and sophisticated consumers, new form of technology will have these characteristics:

  • Elimination of development cycles (requirements), after a short start-up phase, changes to the processes, events, services and applications areas will be made rapidly in a disciplined and precise manner, mostly by the business side of the operation.
  • Support for increasing levels of technical complexity, applications support will require increasingly fine-grained distinctions.

The combination of these components will evolve to more complex forms that would not have been envisioned. To stay ‘on the quadrants edge’, the companies that market these products must merge and integrate them in seamless ways. Clearly the new forms will emerge from the five metaphors that bind all of the components of the quadrants: Data, Processes, Events and Business Rules. This binding occurs in a holography.

The Evaporating Information/Services/Goods Divide

 As mentioned earlier, technology is merging the line between the trades and professions. In the medical profession, nurses use complex instruments and software and increasingly act more like doctors. Yet, with the Internet of things, telemedicine devices can act like nurses. In the US Veterans Administration, many vets have telemedicine stations in their home. This equipment measures a patient’s weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen and other clinical measures. In addition, it asks questions concerning a patient’s main symptoms as directed by their medical history.

This is an example of the Internet of Goods and Services (IGAS) that is emerging from the ‘things world’.

Other examples include:

  • In next generation electrical services, solid state transformers will provide different types of current including 380V DC bi-directional, 24V direct current, standard 50Hz AC, and Square Wave current.
  • Smart-grid services will provide life-style choices and different tariffs
  • Next generation water services will deliver different grades of water to commercial and industrial areas according to needs. For instance, recycled mineral oil might be used in toilets, untreated water would be provided for irrigation. Finally, various levels of treated water will service industrial processes.

I define the Internet of Goods and Services (IGAS) as a cloud computing and sensor-based network that delivers, literally, goods and services to customers. The IGAS network uses intelligence to control the delivery of goods such as electrical, water, and other goods in an optimal way. In the same way, medical and security services can be delivered to the consumer.

IGAS: The Customer Builds the Application

 Just as in the previous rung of the ladder, the customer, knowledge worker or support team member design and maintain IGAS processes and applications and they do this with skills previously considered technical. Customers will create processes that meet their own energy objectives. They will also design their medical care and transportation system.

- Tom Debevoise

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