Simplicity, the next big thing?

Complex processRecently, Dynatrace conducted a survey of CIOs on their top challenges. Of the top six, almost all deal with concerns about complexity. There is no doubt there are numerous technologies being injected in almost every industry from a range of vendors. Integration of this multivendor cacophony is ripe with security risks and misunderstanding – whether it is your network or IoT vendor environment.

Humans have a limited capacity to handle complexity before they throw up their hands and just let whatever happens wash over them. That fact is one of the reasons AI is being viewed as the savior for the future. Back in 2008, I wrote a blog post for HP that mentioned:

“the advent of AI could allow us to push aside a lot of the tasks that we sometimes don’t have the patience for, tasks that are too rigorous or too arduous.”

IT organizations needs to shift their focus back to making the business environment understandable, not just injecting more automation or data collection. Businesses need to take latency out of decision making and increase the level of understanding and confidence. A whole new kind of macro-level (enterprise) human interface design is required. Unfortunately, this market is likely a bit too nebulous to be targeted effectively today other than through vague terms like analytics…  But based on the survey results, large scale understanding (and then demand) appears to be dawning on leadership.

The ROI for efforts to simplify and encourage action, should be higher than just adding a new tool to the portfolio ablaze in most organizations. We’ll see where the monies go though, since that ROI is likely to be difficult to prove when compared to the other shiny balls available.


Adding more complex triggers with IFTTT to control your home IoT

IoT HomeI have been using IFTTT for quite a while with my various IoT devices, doing simple things like turning on lights when my garage door opens or when there is motion near my home. One of the great things about IFTTT is its simplicity. If ‘this’ triggering event happens, do ‘that’. This simplicity is also one of the frustrating limitations of doing more complex tasks.

If I want to only turn on the porch lights when it is dark out, but keep them off when it is light, there is no way to do that natively within the system. They have thought about expansion capabilities through the ability to send and receive information from websites that can provide stateful information – IFTTT supports both trigger and response through a capability called webhooks. There are some free services to support this capability that you can experiment, if you don’t want to bring up your own website.

The one I looked at is: and there is a good explanation of it on Medium. It is still in beta though.

Apilio has three building blocks:

  • Variables – to contain state information
  • Conditions – to evaluate variables
  • Logicblocks – to determine the actions from a Boolean analysis of the conditions

As an example, I decided to use Apilio with IFFF to turn my lights on when there was motion in front of my house but only when it is dark out. To accomplish this, I had to perform the following steps:

  1. Configure your IFTTT webhook connection on your webhooks settings/documentation page in IFTTT and enter that key into your Apilio profile. This key enables a secure connection between the website and IFTTT.
  2. Next define the variables in Apilio where you would like to store state information. In my case, I created a Boolean variable darkOutside. Note that there are URLs that when accessed will set the variable to True or False. You’ll need these URLs in the next step.
  3. Define two IFTTT rule Applets that set the variable to True at sunset and False at sunrise, using the capabilities of the Weather Underground trigger supported by IFTTT.
  4. Define a condition in Apilio that if darkOutside is True then it returns true, otherwise False. I named it DarkOutsideCondition
  5. Next, I made an Apilio logicblock that performs a simple logical AND operation that if it is triggered and the DarkOutsideCondition is True, it triggers applets back in IFTTT. I called the logicblock lights_on_when_dark. It has a URL to force its evaluation (from the logicblock show command) and a place to store a IFTTT trigger event name, if it is evaluated. One for True (called LightsOn) and another for when it is evaluated False (called LightsOff).
  6. Since I have a Ring doorbell with motion sensing that interfaces with IFTTT, I made an IFTTT Applet for when motion is sensed to initiate the evaluation trigger of the logicblock lights_on_when_dark.
  7. Now I just needed to create 2 more Applets, one to turn on the lights if it gets a webhook event called LightsOn and another if IFTTT gets the webhook event LightsOff that turn the lights on accordingly.

This may seem a complex but really only consists of:

  • a variable, a condition and a logicblock in Apillio
  • five applets in IFTTT:
    • set the darkOutside variable to true at sunset
    • set the darkOutside variable to false at sunset
    • receive a LightsOff trigger and turn the lights off
    • receive a LightsOn trigger and turn the lights on
    • catch the Ring motion sensor trigger and force and evaluation of the lights_on_when_dark logic block.

This is a fairly simple example. There are also some additional examples on the Apilio site, but hopefully this walkthrough will help you get started with enough context to overcome some of the areas that confused me.

I also have a IFTTT applet to turn the lights off at sunrise, just so there is another way to turn the lights off. I should have the ability to add some delay sensing so that I can turn the lights off after they have been on for a defined period (say a half hour), to keep my energy costs down.

IoT starts to come home

Over the years, I’ve played around with a few IoT solutions. Sunday, I decided to seriously tackle some outdoor lighting, by replacing one of my light switches with one that can be controlled from the Internet.

372.jpgI looked at a number of solutions and found that there are surprisingly few that will replace a 3-way switch (in fact the only 3-way switch I found was from GE and then I would need a controller…). After looking at my requirements, it appeared I only needed normal light switches and the one I chose was the Belkin Wemo® Light Switch. Fortunately, my house was already wired with switches that looked fairly similar, so my wife was happy with the result.

Thanks to Amazon same day delivery, the new switch was at my house at 6PM on Sunday.

I had it unboxed, wired in and controlled by IFTTT in under an hour. So now I can control when the light go on and off automatically and can turn them on manually from my phone. Not bad… for an hours work.

I have a few more projects that I am planning to do around the house, so I’ll write about those too, as well as anything I learn along the way. An example setting up a dedicated wireless LAN just for the IoT devices (to localize any security issues).


Action as a services moving forward…

action 002Had to laugh when I saw this post from Forrester titled: “Big Data” Has Lost Its Zing – Businesses Want Insight And Action since this is a song I’ve been singing for a number of years now. The first post about this I could identify was back in 2007.

Big data efforts should be measured in time-to-action, not time-to-insight. IT organizations need to be defining, developing and deploying systems of action.

To quote myself: “the organizations that can understand “normal” and focus the people on the areas that need their creativity will shine in the end. This relationship between situational awareness and automation needs to be part of organizational strategic planning, much more than what most architectural processes allow.”

Glad to see that analysts are recognizing this.


General fact checking falls to automation too?

true or falseFact checking by humans cannot keep up with the tremendous volume of information generated online. Now, computers can do fact-checking for any body of knowledge, according to Indiana University scientists, writing in a paper titled: Computational Fact Checking from Knowledge Networks. Computational fact checking may significantly enhance the ability to evaluate the validity of all the dubious information, the Internet is known for.

Using factual information from summary info boxes from Wikipedia as a source, they built a “knowledge graph” with 3 million concepts and 23 million links between them. A link between two concepts in the graph can be read as a simple factual statement, such as “Socrates is a person” or “Paris is the capital of France.”

The researchers aim to conduct additional experiments using knowledge graphs built from other sources of human knowledge, such as Freebase (the open-knowledge base built by Google).


The future of work…

working at a deskFast Company had a thought provoking post on The New Rules of Work – What Work Will Look Like in 2025. The focus of the article is on the technology enhanced human, enhanced by offloading many of the mundane elements of work on automation. Some of those elements (like recognizing faces) may weaken some of our mental faculties but the automation of other areas will likely refine our skills.

One statement that holds true today though is:

Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace

There is also a few expressed that the automation could eliminate bias from the hiring process. Personally, I doubt that since it would just codify the bias into the selection algorithm through the encoded selection criteria. Granted it may not bias based upon race or gender, but for those who really want a diverse set of perspectives in their workforce employee selection will still be difficult to do well.

One of the best elements of this article though is the number of links to other material on a range of topics. There were a number of links related to the topic of the redefinition of retirement.

In any case the workplace and the type of work being performed will be shifting and this article is food for thought.


Automation and leadership

automation2One topic that has been getting people excited over the last few years is that robots are going to replace many jobs or make some jobs much more boring. That is not even touching on the whole autonomous robot rebellion crowd’s concerns (I posted about an AI risks related podcast on NPR just last week).

Robotics is taking important roles ranging from milking cows, to working in kitchens, to logistics and order fulfillment. Now they are taking on more important functions in our business processes that used to be the domain of knowledge workers (even though it is happening slowly).

I do believe that the increased use of automation should shift how enterprises architects think about the enterprise and how that environment is structured. Automation is just another enterprise resource that needs to be defined, understood and optimized. The leaders are going to have to include these possibilities in their thought processes too.

These changes are inevitable. That got me thinking about a post that McKinsey put out about beating the transformation odds – after all automation efforts will be a transformation. Most of the article focused on the need for executive vision, clarity and communications. It also discussed the need for continuous improvement as part of the plan. Too often teams and breathe a sense of relief once a project is deployed, when in reality that is just point where it was given birth and now needs to develop and mature. Automation efforts are no exception.

Transformation is hard work, and the changes made during the transformation process must be sustained for the organization to keep improving.