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Internet of Everything

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 06 mei 2013

Ben van Lier
The American company Cisco has its own ideas about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will develop in the future – it foresees a slow but sure transformation from the Internet of Things to an Internet of Everything. According to Cisco, this Internet of Everything will come into existence once different networks (e.g. Internet, telecom) are seamlessly interconnected. These interlinked networks will make possible billions – and later trillions – of connections, which in turn will create new and hitherto unimaginable possibilities, while at the same time causing new and unforeseeable risks.

Why? ‘The answer lies in the exponential power of networks – commonly referred to as network effects,’ states Dave Evans in a Cisco white paper from 2012 [1]. The network effect means that the value of the network to its users increases in proportion to the number of devices that form the network. Evans observes that a relatively simple network effect can be triggered at the moment the first individual participants (or nodes) are linked to each other within a network. According to Cisco, there are three types of connections within the Internet of Everything: m achine-to-machine (M2M), person-to-machine (P2M) and person-to-person (P2P). Cisco expects that in 2022 the person-to-machine and the person-to-person connections will together form 55% of the total value that will be created within the Internet of Everything, while machine-to-machine communication will represent the remaining 45% [2] .

The added value of network effects

The interconnectedness will bring about a totally new entity based on mutually connecting and interacting individual nodes, predicts Dave Evans. This whole entity will be more than the sum of its individual nodes. Within this new whole, he claims, new network effects such as those outlined above can arise, which can then form the heart of the Internet of Everything. These new connections and the subsequent network effects will cause new added value to be created, or as Evans puts it: ‘the context of a “connections economy” is that value will accrue to those who best foster, embody, and exploit network effects.’

Evans expresses his frustration that much of the current wave of management thinking is still determined by a form of linear thinking – thinking in sequential steps – which will not result in new added value, or will conceal it from view. This linear thinking also determines the way in which Board of Management members and managers nowadays respond to changes in the environment of their organisation. The exponential changes arising from new connections and their corresponding network effects will demand ways of thinking that are radically different to the linear and traditional ways of thinking of these Board of Management members and managers in the private and public domain. The new way of thinking should be more appropriate to deal with the complexity of the interconnected whole, which is after all more than the sum of the individual parts. In the philosophy of Dave Evans and Cisco, an essential factor is that: ‘business and government leaders must move from being buffeted by chaotic network effects to generating and directing them to constructive ends’.

Complex yet flexible

For John Holland [3], this understanding of chaotic network effects will come when we accept that interactions between the separate nodes enable new and unexpected developments in networks, or ‘emergent properties’, as he calls them. In his view, there is an excessive focus within the school of linear thinking on the study of small and isolated elements within a whole: ‘Such analysis works when the whole can be treated as the sum of its parts, but it does not work when the parts interact in less simple ways’ (1998:14). Holland is also of the opinion that the key question for Board of Management members, managers and researchers should be: ‘how can the interactions of agents produce an aggregate entity that is more flexible and adaptive than its component agents?’(1998:248). Although this is no simple exercise, given the increasingly complex situation of ever more interconnected networks, he does not consider it a utopia. It is rather a difficult question that forms a major challenge and demands continued efforts over a longer period. But, Holland stresses: ‘Whatever answers we come upon will profoundly affect our view of ourselves and our world’ (1998:248).

Although John Holland’s message would seem to be rather dated at first sight, it echoed this year in both the agenda of the World Economic Forum [4], the Onlife Manifesto [5] of the European Commission, and the vision of Cisco. I hope that these recent publications will also form a signal for Board of Management members and policy makers that the time has come to pay real attention to the new entity that is being created based on an increasingly extensive interconnectedness in networks, the interactions between people and technology within these networks, and their consequences for our ways of thinking about the individual, the organisation, and society. This focus is essential if we are to respond adequately to the autonomous and continual developments in technology. If we fail to make this happen, we will be increasingly forced to acknowledge and accept that we are becoming fenced in and overwhelmed by technology, with the risk that technological developments will start to determine on our behalf who or what we are.

  • [1] The Internet of Everything. How more relevant and valuable connections will change the world. Cisco IBSG, Dave Evans (2012)
  • [2] Embracing the Internet of Everything to capture your share of 1.4 trillion. More relevant, valuable connections will improve innovation, productivity, efficiency & customer experience. Cisco IBSG, Joseph Bradley, Joel Barbier, Doug handler (2013)
  • [3] Holland J. (1998) Emergence. From Chaos to Order. Basic Books, New York. ISBN 978738201429
  • [4] World Economic Forum. Perspectives on a Hyperconnected World. January 2013
  • [5] http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/onlife-manifesto

Ben van Lier works at Centric as an account director and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.

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