The Digital-Physical Transformation Imperative for the Public Sector

By Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

Executive Summary

We live in a digital world founded on data generated by humans creating text, pictures, audio, and videos using digital tools and by, cyberspace applications and automated systems.  Digital has invaded private enterprise and is the way of living and working through public big-platform social media and business services and offerings.  Consequently, we are in the midst of massive digital transformation creating new digital and human processes which are changing our human behaviour, societal characteristics, and economy – compelling new digital governance and policies to amplify digitalization benefits and mitigate risks.

But wait – the physical world is also undergoing rapid digitalization – sensors, actuators, everyday objects, intelligent devices, and more.  The resulting digital-physical transformation also has tangible impacts on individuals, businesses, and organizations that manifest in broader, higher-level economic and societal transformation.  And yet, digital-physical transformation significantly lags the public policy and digital governance attention compared to digital transformation in the enterprise and big-platform contexts noted above. 

At its core, Digital-Physical Transformation is the endowment of digital personas to physical things through embedded computing and Internet connectivity, or Internet of Things (IoT).  What used to be inanimate objects (doors, cars, trees, etc.) are undergoing physical animation, transforming into smart and autonomous things that are seemingly coming to life.  And, what used to be spaces where our only intelligent interactions were with other humans are now transforming into spaces that include interconnected intelligent digital-physical personas, creating human-aware ambient intelligence around us with which we can have “intelligent” interaction.

The mingling of humans and ambient intelligence in cyberspace blurs the boundary between our interactions with humans and the physical environment, creating a new and ambiguous model of our world.  With that, we can no longer accept the physical world as being somehow separate from the digital world, so it’s imperative that digital-physical transformation is brought under the overall digital transformation big-tent – including related digital governance and policy innovation.

To achieve the above, the public service must elevate their digital literacy around physical digitalization and its societal and economic impacts.  That means knowing the essential concepts and terminology, understanding their inter-relationships, and applying it to user-centered governance and policy innovation, and government services.

Consequently, we must have an effective way for policymakers to acquire that technological intuition.  To that end, Design Thinking is an invaluable tool to elevate digital literacy, help innovate digital-physical solutions and governance, and ultimately bring Digital-Physical Transformation into the fold under the Digital Transformation big-tent.

Digital-Physical Transformation is real.  It is not separate from the overall Digital Transformation efforts, including the Digital Governance innovation it compels.

Ignoring Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means stalling economic transformation and accepting a less competitive economy and nation.







3   SO WHAT?





1  Introduction

We are in the midst of accelerating digital transformation, and with it, we have evermore technology and data, driving automation and greater efficiencies.  The pandemic has further spurred digital transformation due to physical distancing requirements, reducing human workplace activity and interaction, and compelling even more automation to mitigate pandemic risks and effects.

Digital Transformation is the adoption of digital technologies and processes to make our work and lives easier.  It has, so far, been a convergence of humans and cyberspace in the enterprise and social (big-platform) contexts involving co-production and co-consumption of data by humans and cyberspace.  That convergence includes using digital technologies to take on mundane or repetitive tasks or to gain better insights through data analysis to achieve higher operational efficiencies and service quality (to name a few).

Human and enterprise-systems-generated data and communications have dominated digital transformation efforts for over two decades.  Human-generated data comes from digital technologies that humans interact with – such as text documents, pictures, videos, emails, forms, tweets, etc.  Enterprise-systems-generated data comes from digital computing applications and background processes in the enterprise cyberspace, such as gathering and managing data (e.g., inventory, billing), performing analytics, bots of various sorts, and more.

But wait – the physical world is also undergoing rapid digitalization – sensors, actuators, everyday objects, intelligent devices, and more.  The resulting digital-physical transformation also has profound and consequential impacts on individual humans, businesses, the economy, and society.  And yet, digital-physical transformation significantly lags the public policy and digital governance attention compared to digital transformation in the enterprise and social contexts above.  The physical is becoming digital, and the corresponding digital-physical transformation must be brought under the big Digital Transformation tent to systemically and systematically address the full human-cyberspace-physical convergence.  And that starts with literacy in digital-physical transformation to create the digital-physical solutions and governance that our new world compels.  Without it, we give up on economic growth and a smart, safe, and inclusive society.

2  Enter Digital-Physical Transformation

At its core, Digital-Physical Transformation is the endowment of digital personas to physical things and their consequential transformative impact through interaction with other physical and digital entities – and humans.

2.1   The Basics

By “physical things“, we mean, literally, the material objects and spaces we interact with and occupy.  Everyday things like doors, cars, rooms, sidewalks, thermostats, trees, gardens, cows, drones, and robots – the list is endless.  These are things that we humans can sense and feel through our touch, vision, smell, and other human senses and can physically manipulate directly with our body or the mechanical (dumb) tools we use.

A persona[1], typically referring to humans, is a role or behaviour that is externally or publicly observable.  That means it has a set of characteristics and states that are communicated (or perceived) outwardly.  A digital persona is a role or behaviour whose attributes are digitally encoded and communicated.  It can represent different types of entities, including applications in cyberspace, humans, or physical things.

So – how do physical things acquire digital personas?  That’s accomplished by embedding computing and communications microelectronics into physical things.  Computing that can range from simple and minute eight-bit microcontrollers to sophisticated high-end processors and even specialized AI-purposed processors – depending on the role and complexity of the thing.  And digital communication can be of various feeds and speeds, and protocols.  This hyperconnectivity includes wireless technologies ranging from Bluetooth to 5G, fiberoptics, and wired connectivity, such as Power over Ethernet (POE).

2.2   The Transformation Begins

The acquisition of digital personas by physical things, call them digital-physical personas, gives rise to two fundamental and critical transformational characteristics:

  • Smart things – The exponentially advancing computing is enabling more complex thing functionality with greater awareness of its environment and interaction capability – resulting in “smart” things.
  • Internet communication – Despite the advancements in various communication speeds and feeds technologies, the Internet Protocol (or the IP layer) is ultimately the standard layer where the thing or thing-related communication occurs.

In effect, the digital-physical personas are smart things that communicate over an internet, and that is the basis of the Internet of Things (IoT) – a collection of connected communicating digital-physical personas.

The smart things or digital-physical personas that comprise the Internet of Things generate and consume a lot of data.  The data they transmit represents the physical world around them or their internal state – e.g., temperature, humidity, location, orientation, human presence, battery level, etc.  The data they receive constitutes information from other physical-digital personas or applications in cyberspace that they need to act out their role – e.g., control commands, state of other personas, etc.

That data must be managed, communicated, secured, stored, and analyzed over the Internet, in the cloud or locally, to extract value from it.

Why is the Internet of Things so transformative?  IoT drives digital transformation at several layers, including the higher economic and societal layers (covered later), but they are all grounded in the following fundamental transformations.

  • Physical Animation – What used to be inanimate objects (physical things like doors, cars, trees) are now transformed into intelligent and often autonomous things. They seemingly come to life due to their animated interaction with each other and humans – physically and digitally.
  • Ambient Intelligence – What used to be spaces where our only intelligent interactions were with other humans are now transformed into spaces that include intelligent digital-physical personas. They collectively create a human-aware ambiance with which we can now have “intelligent” interaction (e.g., human-aware sidewalk robots, mall kiosks, smart speakers, factory cobots, etc.).

2.3   A Unified Digital Realm – same-old but new?

Once we endow physical things with digital personas, making them smart and communicating over an internet, how do we combine them into solutions and derive value from them?  Do we build a separate infrastructure for the Internet of Things – a separate internet, dedicated cloud, or IoT-specific connectivity?  Do we use/create commercial and public infrastructure or build private enterprise structures?

Fortunately, the same-old Internet/Web we’ve been using in enterprise and social IT contexts is both a model and an available infrastructure to support IoT. That’s because there are significant needs and characteristics overlaps between the digital-physical personas and the digital personas in the enterprise and social IT contexts.  All of these personas

  • rely on the Internet,
  • store, manage, and analyze via cloud services,
  • use access technologies like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, cellular, optical, other, and
  • can build solutions on public or private networks and clouds

What’s new?  Compared to human-generated or enterprise-systems-generated data, physical devices produce real-time data that require deterministic, resilient, and low-delay communication.  Also, the device density (devices per unit area) can far exceed most enterprise or public device situations – e.g., hundreds of thousands per square kilometer.  In addition, IoT devices, unlike enterprise computers and terminals, are often deployed in very remote locations without access to electrical power, requiring battery operation.

The solutions to such IoT requirements are new add-ons to the existing Internet/Web paradigm, primarily in the form of new communication technologies.  For example, 5G was designed to address super-high device density (up to one million per square kilometer), low latency, and low-power communication requirements.  Other communication technologies, like LoRa, offer super-remote access for very low-power devices.  In addition, cloud extensions add real-time data services to align with the IoT device data qualities and volumes.

But – what’s really new?  The really new and most transformational aspect of Digital-Physical Transformation, with IoT at its core, is the situation we now have where humans, enterprises, applications in cyberspace, and smart physical things cohabitate on the same Internet/Web – creating a new Unified Digital Realm.  In addition, the number of devices, or digital-physical personas, will far exceed, by many multiples, the number of humans in it.  The expected 75 billion IoT devices will dominate Internet activity in the next few years compared to the eight billion humans.

What will it mean to have so many smart physical devices digitally mingling with humans?  What tremendous benefits will industry and humanity enjoy?  And, if we thought we were already stressed about dealing with the insidious aspects of the existing Internet, how will we cope when 75 or 100 billion smart (often autonomous) devices join in?  In addition to addressing the issues like privacy and cybersecurity at a much larger scale, we’ll now also face physical risks that Digital-Physical Transformation introduces.

Digital-Physical Transformation is real.  It is not separate from the overall Digital Transformation efforts, including the Digital Governance innovation it compels.

3  So What?

We can no longer afford to treat the IoT-based physical digitalization and the resulting Digital-Physical Transformation separately from the broader Digital Transformation discussions and efforts.  After all, the Internet of Things space or paradigm has made its way into every corner of the global economy, substantially impacting our work, lives, and society. 

It’s everywhere, including vertical digital solutions such as connected transportation, smart buildings, smart cities, wearables, connected health and others.  Its architectural components, such as 5G and other types of networks, cloud installations and data centers, and user applications, are also the bits and pieces involved in enterprise and social digital transformation.  And the enabling and impacted disciplines and domains like AI, semiconductors, cybersecurity, numerous digital algorithms, and business models and processes are at the forefront of digital innovation and transformation.

The above result in tremendous impacts and, therefore, reasons why we should care about IoT and its transformational forte, as expressed in this “Internet of Things – why should you care” video brief.  

The reasons and impacts why care about IoT can be divided into several broad categories, including

  • tangible material benefits,
  • tangible material pitfalls,
  • economic transformational impacts,
  • human and societal transformational impacts, and
  • governance transformation

The above constitutes a layered framing of impacts where the immediate tangible IoT benefits and pitfalls at one layer drive the higher-layer economic and societal impacts and transformation.  Both layers and the IoT layer compel systemic human-centered governance transformation.

3.1   Tangible Benefits

There are many recipients of tangible benefits from IoT and the Digital-Physical Transformation it drives.

For individuals, IoT means better health and fitness based on biometric and activity data from wearables, for example.  Or more convenient, safer, and energy-efficient homes from smart thermostats and security systems.

In business, IoT underpins automation, which increases product and service quality, and lowers operating costs through reduced human involvement.  It enables faster and more reliable supply chains, reduces equipment and facility costs, and makes work safer.

The economic benefits, for example, include safer, faster, and more efficient movement of people and goods through connected and autonomous transportation, more reliable energy distribution such as through electrical smart-grids, and more.

Communities and society, in general, get benefits such as better quality of life through Smart Cities founded on IoT, with efficient mobility, greater safety and security, reliable infrastructure, and more.  IoT also elevates public health effectiveness – including earlier infection detection and pandemic mitigation through touchless automated interaction and connected medical devices for diagnosis, treatment, and care.

All levels of government benefit from improved service delivery, operational efficiencies, and reduced cost and risk through asset management, regulation compliance monitoring, automation and other operations areas. 

In addition, Digital-Physical Transformation is essential for executing the climate plan, which, among other initiatives, must include the Circular Economy.

Remaining unaware of Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means hindering the tangible benefits for constituencies ranging from individuals to society, businesses to the economy, and government.

3.2   Tangible Pitfalls

As with any disruption or transformation, Digital-Physical Transformation comes loaded with pitfalls or negative impacts, including the two very tangible and ever-present cybersecurity and privacy risks.

Cybersecurity risk is a top-ranking IoT concern stemming from Things, or the Digital-Physical personas, effectively being connected computers.  Consequently, they are vulnerable to cyber-attacks and are hackable to become platforms for launching attacks.  Cyberattacks disrupt the digital functioning of Things and cause physical faults that can cause serious bodily harm or death by, for example, releasing hazardous industrial gases, disrupting patients’ I.V. drips, or disabling residential or business machinery (like cars, drones, and HVAC).  And with the billions of Things deployed, they are ideally suited for supporting massive botnets.

Privacy is a big concern stemming from the IoT sensing and monitoring capabilities.  For example, the wearables we sport can transmit our intimate bodily information and location.  And the ambient intelligence around us, the various sensors in the space we move within, can track and analyze our behaviour, generating data about us that can be put to malicious or unwanted use.

Unfortunately, digital governance concerning IoT cybersecurity and privacy is in its infancy.

There are even more pitfalls from the higher-layer economic and societal transformation induced by Digital-Physical transformation, covered below.

Illiteracy in Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means being unaware and accepting tangible pitfalls of cybersecurity and privacy risks and the physical and bodily harm that smart Things can impose.

3.3   Economic Transformation

Digital-Physical Transformation is a significant driver of economic transformation.  IoT application in industry or IIoT (Industrial IoT) revolutionizes industrial activity through increased automation, connected manufacturing and supply chains.  Cyber-physical Systems, or the coupling of massive data generated throughout these physical systems and ubiquitous connected computing, drive innovation in digital algorithms, analytics, and AI to create value.  That digitalization of industry is one of the main pillars, the digital pillar, of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 – a new competitive landscape for companies and nations.

Cyber-physical Systems are not just present in manufacturing.  They are also applied in other economic sectors, including Smart Agriculture, Smart Mining, Oil and Gas, and more – all aiming to increase efficiency, product quality and quantity, and financial return to stakeholders.

While Cyber-physical Systems and Industry 4.0 drive demand for new types of higher-skill economic jobs, they also fundamentally shift demand and costs away from labour, blue-collar, and some white-collar work to more efficient smart machinery, robots, and AI.

Ignoring Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means stalling economic transformation and accepting a less competitive economy.

3.4   Human and Societal Transformation and Impacts

Like the Internet, which has recently driven human and societal transformation, the Internet of Things is poised to amplify that transformation from the intensified physical digitalization.  That transformation comes in the form of beneficial behavioural changes and better quality of life, but also the seemingly intangible, though genuine, concerns around the future of work, human agency, and cyber autonomy.

Human Behavioural Impacts

Physical digitalization brings with it human behavioural impacts – both intentional and unintentional.  For example, that includes behaviours like greater motivation from wearables for healthy activity due to their motion and biometric sensing capabilities rather than friends and coaches.  Or, taking cashless and payless shopping to the next level, like walking into a brick-and-mortar store, grabbing what you want, and just walking out without stopping to pay.  That’s made possible by IoT-based shelf inventory, customer tracking, and surveillance automation, with charging/billing in the background.

The above are just two of many consequential behavioural changes from Digital-Physical Transformation, which, at their core, have ever-diminishing interaction and dependence on other humans while increasing reliance on smart Digital-Physical personas.  With that, we have to ask who is accountable for things we depend on and, therefore, where are the related transformational public policies and governance.  For example, in a world where we can buy IoT things from anywhere globally through sites like Amazon that don’t necessarily comply with product regulations, what protection do we have?  What responsibilities do developers of physical products (IoT devices and applications) need to take on – in terms of human behavioural impacts and accountability to humans?

Also, as the physical transforms to digital (i.e., becoming virtual), it further reinforces the already prevalent virtualization of humans – i.e., somewhere in cyberspace without a physical location or even physical body association.   For example, one of the authors recently talked on the phone with a new consultant in a different area code about working together.  The image of the consultant being in cyberspace, not in any particular location, came naturally, especially due to the area code difference.  As they spoke, they realized they were just two physical street blocks apart, immediately ascribing physical attributes to each other as humans and realizing that it could have been more productive and relationship-building to meet in person.  Our physical vicinity still matters, and cyber-human-physical integration and physical awareness are vital, paradoxically, to leverage our physicality for good and to protect against physical privacy intrusion.

Societal Impacts

In addition to driving the transformation of human behaviour above, Digital-Physical Transformation presents some seemingly intangible, though real, higher-level negative societal impacts.  IoT challenges the future of work with its fundamental role in automation – not only for labour but also for cognitive and decision-making functions.  Consequently, our human agency will be challenged, diminishing the feelings of relevance and societal inclusion.  That threatens to destabilize and fragment human and class relationships.  It could further escalate the social and political turbulence we are already seeing if it’s left unaddressed through missing transformational social policies.

Another potential danger lurking in Digital-Physical Transformation is the possible erosion of cyber autonomy.  Given some of the benefits of wearables and ambient intelligence enabling continuous digital tracking of humans, will cyber-tracking become the norm, and will we become permanent residents of cyberspace, not allowed to be disconnected and losing our autonomy?  That is not just a hypothetical but already a reality in less democratic jurisdictions.

To facilitate the positive human and societal impacts of the Digital-Physical transformation and mitigate the negative, we must ensure the survivability and resilience of the digital-physical space and personas.  For example, it’s essential to understand and deal with the implications of devices creating radio-frequency (RF) interference with other devices, unintentionally or maliciously rendering them inoperable or allowing security breaches into our home or workplace networks.

Understanding Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT enhances the human experience and societal interest.  It identifies the future-of-work, human-agency, and societal-inclusivity risks that lurk in digital-physical intensification that we must tackle.

3.5   Digital Governance Transformation

As Digital-Physical Transformation with IoT delivers tangible benefits along with tangible risks, it also drives profound broader socioeconomic transformation.  Those benefits, risks, and transformations stem from the IoT-created ambient intelligence, which shifts how we see and experience our lived environment and deal with the world.  

Until this age of IoT, we had the human-to-human environment and its (intelligence-to-intelligence) interactions and the separate human-physical environment and its (intelligence-to-inanimate) interactions.  As a result, our governance and policies dealt with human-human relationships, expectations and boundaries on behaviours, and separately with our rights and responsibilities for property and movement within the inanimate physical environment. 

But things are different now.  The mingling of humans and ambient intelligence comprised of digital-physical personas is increasingly blurring the boundary between our interactions with humans and the physical world, creating a new and ambiguous world model.  We are no longer concerned with just siloed human-human and human-physical (inanimate) interplay to drive our policies, but the wholistic realm converging humans, cyberspace, and the (intelligent animated) physical world.

Additionally, new technologies have historically given diagonal (parallel but delayed) rise to new policies and often entire governance models.  And for good reasons – accelerating and scaling adoption and mitigating adverse effects.  It’s not too different today.  However, the digitalization of everything and the rise of exponential advancement of technologies surrounding digital-physical transformation is creating a gaping and ever-widening governance hole – not just in digital governance but also in broader socioeconomic policies.  When governance policies are not developed, that’s a de facto decision not to govern.

This situation compels a corresponding governance transformation.  That certainly includes new policies to deal with the new digital-physical world and its socioeconomic impact.  But it also compels transformation of the policy-making process to simultaneously ensure the creation of human-centered policies and innovate governance faster to close the widening digital-governance hole.

Unfortunately, many quarters in public and private organizations are unaware of Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT, resulting in missing or incomplete policies.  That means missed opportunities for economic growth, national competitiveness, and societal good and protection.  For businesses, this also means missing opportunities for revenue generation and efficiencies.  One of the many benefits of Digital-Physical transformation is enabling more efficient and effective services and allowing for enhanced customization.  Without this, organizations are susceptible to profit decline, liability and irrelevance.

Digital transformation started in the digital enterprise converging humans and cyberspace, enabling the creation of better digital services for citizens and customers.  How can we now create better services for citizens by heeding Digital-Physical Transformation?  How do we include Digital-Physical transformation as an inextricable and necessary part of the overall Digital Transformation?  That is, to bring intelligent physical objects and spaces into the fold – as part of the broader digital strategy and digital operations implementation, including monitoring and maintenance.  And what do we need to know, understand and be able to use for a systemic and systematic approach that involves all three digital-realm components – cyberspace, humans, and the physical?

Unaddressed, digital governance will remain incomplete, leaving to chance the impacts of IoT and ambient intelligence and where we ultimately end up as a civilization.  As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it, “Tis the set of the sails and not the gales which decides the way to go” – so we must set the sails in our quest for digital governance in a seascape that includes Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT.

Physical things and IoT now compel digital-governance transformation as sure as screens, clicks, scrolls, swipes, and social media have, but with property integrity and human bodily well-being and risks at stake.

4  What should we do about it

While it’s critical to appreciate the above opportunities and challenges of Digital-Physical Transformation, what do we want to get out of it, and what is our way forward?  That is, ensuring that we reap the corresponding benefits and mitigate the risk deliberately – rather than leaving ourselves, as a society and economy, exposed to where the wind may blow or letting the chips fall where they may.

Whatever we do, we must ensure to put humans as individuals and citizens of society at the center.  But, we should do it in a way to maximize technological benefits for humans within an intelligent, just, and inclusive society.

That objective and its realization are aptly represented in the far-reaching aspirational model and a growing movement for Society 5.0.  Initially devised as a blueprint for a “super-smart society” for Japan, Society 5.0 merges cyberspace and physical space with humanity.  It’s enabled and driven by digital-physical transformation, including cyber-physical systems, IoT, and related technologies and systems such as AI, robotics, hyperconnectivity, autonomous driving, and more.  It’s a human-centered model that balances economic progress with a just and inclusive society, where technology plays critical roles in both aspects

To realize the aspirations of Society 5.0, we must start from a position of strength in digital literacy around digital-physical transformation and IoT.  

We must have an effective way for policymakers to acquire technological intuition around IoT, to develop policies for IoT innovation and adoption and the related social and digital governance.

4.1   Digital Literacy

We must elevate our literacy in IoT and Digital-Physical transformation to fill out our overall digital literacy and complete the whole digital transformation journey.  That means knowing what is out there, understanding it, and using it to innovate solutions and governance around it, as we explain in our article on IoT and Digital-Physical literacy.

Knowing means having access to, and being able to take in information about, IoT and Digital-Physical mechanisms, their concepts, terminology, who’s doing what, and knowing where to get it.

Understanding means finding patterns and associations between the concepts to critically analyze, interpret, gain insights and infer consequences and conclusions from the information.

Using means applying the gained understanding of IoT and the physical-digital realm toward innovation of new solutions and related digital governance.

It’s apparent that digital literacy means more than just being able to use and operate the technology.  It, more importantly, enables us to innovate products, policies and services in an informed and reasoned way, but with one crucial bias.  A human-centred perspective is needed to understand the people, how they use IoT products, and what should be done for citizens or customers through policy.  As part of digital transformation so far, we have only been looking at the cyber-human interplay aspects, but the physical aspect, more precisely the digital-physical aspect, has been overlooked.

Digital literacy in physical-digital transformation requires not just literacy of IoT or the digital-physical components and applications but must also include that human-centric focus.  Consequently, we must use a human-centric methodology to innovate solutions and governance – and that’s where design thinking comes in.

4.2   Design Thinking for Digital-Physical Innovation and Literacy

Design thinking is an invaluable method of ensuring the integration of cyberspace, human, and physical components in a way that serves humans and societies.  Design thinking is about looking at challenges from a human and end-user perspective.  We look to understand the end-users’ challenges before identifying the problem we aim to solve.  Creating technologies for the sake of creating technologies may be fun, but at the end of the day, the technology needs to solve a challenge for end-users – customers or citizens.  

Design thinking is so effective because time is taken to empathize with the end users to understand the end-users’ real needs, achieving clarity before we define the real problem to be solved and its scope.  Once the problem is clearer, it is easier to make decisions along the way, including the essential tasks of ideating, prototyping, and testing the solutions.  It’s a recursive process, ultimately converging onto one or more solutions.

Design thinking has been used widely for some time in the private sector by organizations like Procter & Gamble to understand their customer’s needs better and create more innovative products.  And the public sector has leveraged design thinking more recently to develop better services internally within the government and create better services for citizens.  That is, analyzing and working with internal and external end clients to better understand their pain points and develop solutions with them to increase services’ ease of use and effectiveness.  

Businesses like Telus used design thinking to foster 5G adoption innovation among potential partners and customers.  Design thinking was used to identify customer and partner challenges and how to support people to understand better that 5G is here to help solve their problems.  The outcome was the Telus innovation hub strategy.  They also use design thinking within the innovation hubs to issue challenges based on knowledge and understanding of end users.  The solutions to challenges are then presented back to users (a city, a hospital, an enterprise, a mine, or an agriculture farm) for validation and eventual productization.  That is a much faster and higher-quality go-to-market approach than traditional methods.  

In the public sector, design thinking supports agile procurement of products and services, such as at Shared Services Canada, by first talking with end users to better understand them and their needs before articulating a better-defined challenge to vendors.  Once conversations and a selection process are completed, fewer vendors can prototype and test their solutions and select the best solution for their end users.

Design thinking serves to innovate Digital-Transformation and IoT solutions and governance.  It also aids literacy development by applying it to use cases that are part of a group-based human-centered interactive learning process.

Design thinking is an invaluable tool to bring Digital-Physical Transformation into the fold under the big Digital Transformation tent.

5  Conclusion

We are in the thick of Digital-Physical Transformation with the Internet of Things (IoT) at its core, where everything and every Thing is connected.  Physical Things (with their Digital-Physical Personas) are digitally interconnected with cyberspace and humans, resulting in a new unified digital realm with powerful socioeconomic benefits and some significant pitfalls.  Therefore, the technological innovation it drives must also be coupled or interconnected with digital-governance transformation to reap the benefits and avoid those pitfalls.

We can no longer afford to think, let alone accept, that the physical world is somehow separate from the digital world.  As such, Digital-Physical Transformation is an inextricable part of overall Digital Transformation pursuit and innovation.  To innovate IoT, its related technologies, and the required digital governance, a baseline level of digital literacy is needed for public servants – including technological intuition among public-sector executives and policymakers.  Since governance is all about meeting citizens’ needs, it’s important to empathize with citizens and uncover their real and diverse problems and requirements.  That’s where Design thinking steps in – for human-centred and inclusive digital governance innovation and digital literacy elevation.

Everything and every Thing is digital.

Everything and every Thing is connected.

(V1 2022-10-30)


RELATED TRAINING: To elevate your literacy in Digital-Physical Transformation and the Internet of Things register for this course: Digital-Physical Transformation for the Public Sector


Thingking for Smart Cities and Municipalities - with Internet of Things and Design Thinking

By Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

COVID-19 has accelerated the use of existing digital technologies and new digitalization everywhere by individuals, enterprises, industries, and governments – e.g., working from home, online shopping, logistics, automation, physical distancing, and other pandemic mitigation measures. That includes the accelerated adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is a big part of the overall digital realm.

Municipalities have borne the greater part of the mitigation effort, significantly impacting their budgets in the immediate term and, therefore, their ability to address their intended focus areas such as infrastructure, public transit, sustainability, and others. Nevertheless, most municipalities forecast increased digitalization to recover from the pandemic and grow their economies and citizens’ quality of life.

As we’ll see below, IoT plays important digitalization roles in several key focus areas and is an inextricable underlying layer for Smart Cities – including such notables as Singapore and Barcelona. Consequently, municipal recovery and growth’s success will significantly depend on systemically leveraging IoT across all areas.

Ultimately, success will be founded on:

  • Position of strength in Digital Literacy in IoT, including its uses, benefits, and pitfalls.
  • Understanding the ecosystem of IoT providers, talent, funding, and investment sources to execute focus areas or Smart City initiatives.
  • Sharing of knowledge and experiences in IoT adoption models among municipalities.
  • Citizen-centric digital governance policies to maximize IoT-based solution benefits and mitigate risks – ensuring both citizen and government problems are solved.
  • Systemic or holistic approach to solutions in focus areas and the broader Smart City.
  • Knowledge of and the ability to use innovation techniques for solutions and digital governance.

Step in – the Internet of Things

Despite the mythical notion that the Internet of Things allows fridges to talk to stoves, IoT is much broader than that and is not any single technology, economic sector, or use case. It is a paradigm with connected physical devices at its inception but extended to envelope much of the overall digital realm. When we talk about IoT, we are also talking about digital. The IoT space encompasses architectural components such as devices, communication networks such as 5G, and cloud; vertical digital solutions such as connected transportation, smart buildings, and wearables; and various domains or disciplines such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, privacy, and others.

So why should we care about IoT?  In a nutshell, IoT has made its way into every corner of the global economy and is increasingly impacting our work and lives. It is everywhere. It has effectively become a mindset on building the world around us and relating to it, consequently compelling new digital governance around it. 

Among the various verticals and broader paradigms such as Industry 4.0, where IoT plays, IoT underpins many individual focus areas of cities and municipalities and serves as a common base layer that ties them together in a Smart City paradigm.

How does IoT Underpin Key Municipality Focus Areas



National infrastructure – the shared roads, bridges, sewers, street lighting, and other substructures that underpin community life reside mostly within municipal jurisdictions. IoT plays a vital role in gathering data about such substructures’ physical aspects and provides the means for an immediate reaction or longer-term proactive measures to best serve the community.  For example, it could be as simple as sensing both the ambient light and the presence of people in the immediate area to turn on/off street lighting, pole-by-pole, or block-by-block.  Or, it could be something more enduring, like having concrete-embedded sensors in roads or bridges to monitor usage over time or detect concrete deterioration to trigger preventive maintenance – ultimately improving cost, safety, and citizen convenience.

Public Transit

The role of public transit consisting of buses, light rail, and other means is to provide efficient mobility with reduced commute times that result in increased productivity, reduced rider stress, and greater convenience. Public transit, however, does not stand alone but is a part of the overall transportation system that also includes private vehicles. IoT plays an essential role in that combined Connected Transportation system. For example, sensing and communicating the geo-location of public transit vehicles combined with real-time traffic data from curbside sensors or intersection machine-vision-based analysis provides accurate arrival-time forecasts. The same data is used to control traffic by changing traffic-light timing or through short-range electronic signaling (DSRC) to vehicles according to municipal policies – whether favouring public transit over private, avoiding certain roads or areas, minimizing overall GHG emissions, or other objectives.

Public Safety

Assuring public safety comes in many forms ranging from street lighting to managing COVID pandemic-compelled infection avoidance to environmental monitoring. IoT shines here again. For example, IoT has a role in the touchless operation of public facilities to minimize infection spread by sensing human proximity and intention and actuating drinking fountains, doors, or elevators as needed. IoT also supports fixed or robotic roaming U.V. based sanitization. IoT is also involved in monitoring physical distancing in public spaces through machine vision on mounted or drone-borne cameras or apps on personal smartphones. That is not a thing of the future – it is here now.

Aside from pandemic-driven public safety, IoT is used to monitor the environment by sensing harmful atmospheric emissions, water pollution, flooding, or wildfires, among other conditions. In addition to the smart street lighting mentioned above, various sensors can be deployed where needed to prevent impending crime or shorten first-responder response times. That can be accomplished by extracting and predicting potentially aggressive behaviour through machine-vision, prioritizing paths to emergencies for first responders, or in extreme cases (neighbourhoods), gunshot detectors and locators.

Rebalancing streets is an essential measure for public health and safety during the COVID-19  pandemic, and where IoT can also play a role in the demarcation between vehicular and pedestrian spaces.


IoT is instrumental in creating Smart Buildings, making residential and commercial buildings more energy-efficient, safe, and resilient. It makes buildings less costly to operate, last longer, and generate cleaner air.

IoT’s sensing, data communication, analytics, and actuating characteristics underpin the management of security, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to be delivered where and when needed in the building, personalized to the people occupying the rooms or spaces.  IoT also optimizes and coordinates energy exchanges between the public smart grid and any privately (or municipally) owned energy sources such as solar panels, heat pumps, and battery storage. Also, IoT has a significant role in building access, security, and emergency response.

Climate and Sustainability

Mitigating and reversing the climate crisis and living within the natural environment’s sustainable capacity can take many forms. In general, across the many forms, it involves sensing the physical environment and automating processes that reduce our take and discard, from and to, the environment (including carbon) – another forte of IoT.

Climate change mitigation and sustainability are achieved implicitly through the above municipal focus areas involving IoT. As municipalities and cities strive to become Low-Carbon Cities in Canada (LC3), they will inevitably converge on adopting the Circular Economy where IoT has a big play.

Municipalities will be the main contributors to executing Canada’s Climate Plan, which is destined to benefit from IoT – both within municipal jurisdictions and higher government levels.

How Does IoT Interplay with Other Focus Areas

Connectivity is a central aspect of IoT to enable communication among devices, cloud or edge services, applications, and humans. That is aligned with municipalities’ focus on Telecommunication infrastructure and, more specifically, Broadband. IoT needs deterministic real-time communication such as that offered by 5G and relatively high-bandwidth broadband in the core or back end to provide end-to-end implementation. IoT-based municipal solutions go hand-in-hand with related telecommunications and broadband evolution.

International engagement by municipalities in terms of export and provision of expertise or attracting investment and talent into the community is another key focus area, as a pillar of economic development. That includes technological engagement, requiring demonstration or commitment to technology innovation and a modern, livable city.  Adopting IoT grows and shows a municipality’s technological mindset and expertise since IoT pulls on many different technologies such as A.I., cybersecurity, 5G, and others. Also, IoT-based solutions, such as those described above, create a livable municipality, which is fundamental to attracting new talent and citizens.

IoT is not just for operational efficiency and quality of life but also a contributor to economic development.

Systemic Thinking and Governance

While municipality focus areas are tagged as separate items, they are not, in reality, independent silos but overlap and interplay in support of each other. For example, good infrastructure supports efficient public transit, reducing GHG emissions to support climate change mitigation and sustainability. Similarly, public safety depends on, in part, the availability of public housing. And there are other such interdependencies.

This interdependence requires a systemic thinking approach leveraging the technologies and processes for solutions in one area toward solutions in others. It also means considering the impacts or outcomes in one area on others.  That is what differentiates in large part Smart Cities from disparate projects in area silos. It aligns well with the IoT space, as IoT is itself a systemic paradigm – involving many different digital technologies that can be reused or adapted across various solutions.

Smart Cities and IoT are paradigm shifts, and paradigm shifts have resulted in new governance models, too-often being reactive rather than coactive. Smart Cities and IoT’s systemic nature also compels a systemic digital governance approach that cuts across seeming silos.  This, in turn, requires digital literacy around IoT by policymakers for the most effective and timely digital governance policies. Additionally, collaborative innovation techniques such as Design Thinking will be needed to innovate, be coactive, and deliver systemic digital governance.

Design Thinking Steps in

Design thinking is a solution-based way of thinking that leverages a user-centric methodology. It provides the structure and methods for advanced collaborative and creative problem-solving for complex environments. It focuses on understanding the users’ needs and delivering on what is possible.

Design thinking has five phases – Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. It involves empathizing with end-clients’ challenges from their perspective, working with them to define their problem clearly, co-create solutions, and test solution options. It is a mental model for decision making and a roadmap to innovation based on real problem definitions.

Design thinking is an inclusive approach involving collaboration among stakeholders that examines alternatives and works to reduce limiting ideas and constraints through critical questioning, data, and analysis. Perfect for bringing independent silos that overlap and interplay together. It also involves looking at things from many perspectives to fully understand the challenges faced by all stakeholders.  

Design Thinking is a well-practiced methodology applicable to various situations in different domains, levels of complexity, and scope. For example, to name a few, it can be used to innovate specific physical products, software, services, business strategies and processes, or governance.  It can also be applied at a higher-level scope systemically combining several systems or policy areas or coordinating projects. Additionally, it can be used for problems of budgets, funding, and investment.

With that in mind, Design Thinking is well suited to tackle the challenges of municipality focus areas and Smart City involving IoT. Among others, the following are just some examples:

  • Uncover real needs related to different focus areas (transit, housing, safety, other) through empathy with citizens.
  • Bring municipal internal functions together – planning, economic development, policy, maintenance, construction, I.T. – to understand individual problems and constraints and together ideate IoT-based solutions and implementation.
  • Select the right technologies and partners and get them to work together.
  • Develop budgets, funding sources, or investment options.
  • Innovate new systemic digital governance parallel with the IoT-based focus areas solutions, involving citizens, municipal stakeholders, and partners.

By leveraging design thinking at the onset, there is no predetermined outcome, providing opportunities to root out real needs and the most appropriate solution. There will be less time wasted creating and implementing products and solutions that don’t solve the underlying problems. And, products will not be created or purchased just for the sake of having the latest technology. We implement because it solves real problems we are facing or will face in the future. We have had municipalities tell us that they ruled out, through design thinking rigour, projects that weren’t ready to go. When more thought is put into the people who will be using systems, processes, products, and services, they have a higher chance of successfully solving the problem for which they are developed. Delivering innovations and new solutions in new ways improves lives.

The above are just some situations and reasons for applying Design Thinking. However, Design Thinking is also valuable for learning and attaining digital literacy in IoT by working through representative IoT use cases – whether product or service related or the governance surrounding IoT. In our complex world of ever-changing environments, we require the ability to look at things from many perspectives to deliver new options for citizens, whether improving operational efficiencies, quality of life, or economic development. Design Thinking makes that all possible.

State of IoT

The Internet of Things is a globally accepted paradigm, achieving penetration in all parts of national and global economies, changing the way we live and work, and a foundation of all Smart Cities.  While Canada’s relationship with IoT is still evolving relative to global jurisdictions, the following places can be leveraged to ramp up on IoT:

Digital Literacy through the Internet of Things and Design Thinking training is available to quickly ramp policymakers to a level of technological intuition needed to innovate solutions and policies involving IoT. 

ThingkFest events by IoT North provide a virtual platform for Canada’s Internet of Things Conversation, offering opportunities for Canada’s IoT providers, users, innovators, and thinkers to share their IoT involvement.

AIoT Canada, a non-profit organization, supports its members’ growth, competitiveness, and influence, locally and internationally, in the rapidly evolving Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) space.

 Alberta IoT Association, a non-profit organization with a mission to position Alberta as the worldwide center of excellence for the Internet of Things technology.

Everything and every Thing is connected

As we, nations and the international community, take strides to mitigate the current ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation and recover from it, municipalities will account for most of the effort. The various municipal focus areas, while seemingly separate, are interconnected, as is the underlying layer of the Internet of Things that underpins solutions across the board.  The Internet of Things interconnects the municipal physicality – various sensors, devices, buildings, and infrastructure, Things – with municipal operations, administration, and, yes, the citizens themselves.

That interconnectedness will require systemic innovation and systemic digital governance approaches and collaborative methods surrounding IoT. Consequently, to address municipal focus areas, policymakers, municipal planners, and economic development managers must acquire a level of technological intuition in IoT. That means elevating their IoT Digital Literacy and using innovation techniques such as Design Thinking.

Everything and every Thing is connected!


The Climate Plan and the Internet of Things

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

The Canadian government announced the Climate Plan with the objective “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, grow the economy, and build resilience to a changing climate”.  This is a significant proclamation and a step up from previous attempts. But, of course, only time will tell how well it succeeds.

The success will depend on many interconnected factors, including collaboration between society, industry, government, and academia, not to mention dealing with international economic and political stresses and an amenable civic mindset.

Success will also depend on technology innovations and applications, including digital technologies. However, it’s not about having siloed technological innovation or application, but how they are applied in systemic ways to address the multifaceted climate change problem of the physical world around us. What’s needed is a new paradigm that brings them together to create value.

Fortunately, the Internet of Things (IoT) is one such digital paradigm that straddles into the physical world. If appropriately applied, it will significantly contribute to the Climate Plan’s success – notwithstanding the critical other factors noted above.

Step in – the Internet of Things

Despite the mythical notion that the Internet of Things allows fridges to talk to stoves, IoT is much broader than that and not any single technology, economic sector, or use case. It is a paradigm with connected physical devices at its inception but extended to envelope much of the overall digital realm. When we talk about IoT, we are also talking about digital. The IoT space encompasses architectural components such as devices, communication networks such as 5G, and cloud; vertical digital solutions such as connected transportation, smart buildings, and wearables; and various domains or disciplines such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, privacy, and others.

So why should we care about IoT?  In a nutshell, IoT has made its way into every corner of the global economy and is increasingly impacting our work and lives, and compels new digital governance.  It has also effectively become a mindset on building the world around us and relating to it.

IoT will have a significant role in the Circular Economy, which significantly overlaps with the Climate Plan’s objectives. The Circular Economy objectives are to reduce or eliminate the draw of new resources from the environment and discarding waste by recirculating materials and products into new products through MAKE-USE-RECOUP cycles. It’s a cradle-to-cradle approach, compared to the cradle-to-grave model of the current Linear Economy.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise IoT has a significant role play in the Climate Plan, including in each of the following key areas identified in the Plan..

Clean Electricity

Clean electricity comes in many forms – from new renewables such as solar, wind, and biomass and more efficiently produced legacy sources like hydro, nuclear, and the tail end of fossil fuels. The common denominator is the Smart Grid for electricity distribution.  Here, IoT has an essential role in electricity generation automation, whether sensing wind direction or solar intensity or automating bioreactors.  Further, it has a vital role in coordinating electricity generation onramps to the Smart Grid and the offramps for consumption. That includes commercial electricity generation and prosumer business and residential participation with private solar panels, wind turbines, or excess energy stored in on-site batteries or electric vehicles.

Clean Transportation

Using renewable energy for powering vehicles or the transport infrastructure is undoubtedly very important in achieving clean transportation. So is the efficient use of vehicles and the infrastructure – and that’s where IoT shines. For example, autonomous vehicles (which, by the way, are IoT systems on wheels themselves) provide an opportunity to reduce energy through automated convoys enabled by sensors and machine-to-machine communication. IoT also steps in to help coordinate between electric vehicles and the availability of charging stations or parking spaces. This reduces the energy consumption needed to hunt for a place to park or recharge. IoT also aids in traffic management by sensing traffic volumes and speed, then varying traffic signals, whether visually to humans or electronically to vehicles, reducing idle times, and therefore overall energy.

Clean Industry

IoT is, without doubt, one of the main pillars of Industry 4.0 and its underlying cyber-physical and automation systems. Consequently, it enables higher-scale and more efficient production and plays a crucial role in the drive to Clean Industry.  For example, IoT’s sensing, analytics, and control aspects minimize the energy used in production, reduce waste, increase recycling, and monitor environmental (air, water, soil) quality surrounding manufacturing sites. Also, IoT is central to the Digital Twin paradigm, which aids maintenance and repair of equipment and products. It involves tracking product or equipment health and predetermining their maintenance or removal from use, resulting in lower effort and energy by pre-emptive action compared to post-fault reactive repair. It also extends product life, reducing the need for new materials.

Clean Industry also means having efficient supply chains and logistics, where IoT also plays an important role through parameter sensing and location connectivity. That includes tracking containers of materials and parts on the supply side, finished goods delivery, or placement within stores, resulting in less stranded or spoiled products and materials. Efficiency, just-in-time operation, and diminished waste mean reduced energy consumption.

Homes and Buildings

Novel construction and materials play an important role in delivering clean net-zero buildings, but equally important is their efficient operation.  IoT plays several pivotal roles, including achieving the best energy efficiency by managing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to be delivered where and when needed in the building or home, personalized to the people occupying rooms or spaces.  IoT also optimizes and coordinates energy exchanges between the public smart grid and any privately owned energy sources such as solar panels, heat pumps, and battery storage.

Climate-smart Agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture compels precision agriculture where resources used in operation, including water, fertilizer, pesticides, feed, energy, or others, are applied precisely when and where needed to individual spaces, animals, or plants. IoT plays a significant role here by sensing various parameters such as soil moisture, cow body temperatures, air temperature, animal location and feed consumption, then analyzing and prescribing exact amounts of resources to be applied.  That reduces the resources needed and their transport, correspondingly reducing the needed energy.  Additionally, IoT enables greater local food production through precise automation and greenhouse environment control, correspondingly reducing the energy needed for long-distance trucking between consumers and continental growing regions.

Reducing Waste

A key aspect of reducing waste is clearly using less. Using products and materials wisely involving collecting, recycling, and sharing is also very important.

IoT enables collecting and recycling used products and materials by sensing their availability and location, such as the fill status of recycling or waste collection bins and depots. The result is less stranded material, earlier return into circulation, and reduced effort and energy used in the collection process.

IoT also enables the sharing economy that allows sharing products such as equipment and appliances among users through its ability to sense product availability, location, and per-user usage. This reduces the amount of product and material in circulation within the technosphere and correspondingly reduces the energy needed for new product manufacturing.

Smart Cities and Communities

A city is a system of systems, whether infrastructure, technological, social, or commercial.  A smart city relies on smart systems enabled by IoT (some noted above) such as connected smart transportation, electricity smart grids, utilities and waste management, public space maintenance and management, and others. They already individually benefit from IoT, but they create increased opportunities for climate change mitigation when they are systemically combined.

Greening Government

As with any enterprise, IoT has a role in greening government through smart building operation, connected transportation and logistics, and other IoT-assisted measures that reduce GHG-emitting energy.  Also, IoT plays a role in environmental monitoring to measure the Climate Plan’s overall progress and monitor compliance with environmental and other types of regulations.

Natural Climate Solutions

Perhaps contrary to initial thought, even natural climate solutions have a role for technology, including IoT.  IoT has a substantial role in monitoring the progress of natural climate solutions such as sensing environmental conditions (water, soil, air), or wildlife or marine presence and movement, or monitoring human interference or encroachment on protected habitats.  Also, IoT can play an active part in setting up or initiating natural solutions such as automated tree seeding by drones (which are IoT devices themselves).

Systemic Thinking and Governance

Executing and achieving the Climate Plan objectives will compel new systemic ways of thinking about technologies, business cycles, and governance (digital and social).

A systemic approach and thinking are needed in the technology and business realm to ensure multiple cradle-to-cradle product/material cycles. This will necessarily need to incorporate the Internet of Things, which, as we saw above, is engrained in various economic sectors and correspondingly the Climate Plan. Industry will need to innovate to design-in Climate Plan objectives into products and services from the start, with increased reliance on collaborative innovation techniques such as Design Thinking.

The Climate Plan is a paradigm shift, and paradigm shifts have resulted in new governance models, too-often being reactive rather than coactive. The Climate Plan is no different and will compel a systemic governance approach as it cuts across socio-economic apparent “silos”.  With the Internet of Things playing a crucial part in the Climate Plan as described above, corresponding coactive digital governance innovation, which includes IoT, is needed. This, in turn, requires digital literacy around IoT by policymakers for the most effective and timely policies underpinning the Climate Plan. Additionally, collaborative innovation techniques (such as Design Thinking) will be needed to innovate and deliver systemic digital governance.

State of IoT

The Internet of Things is a globally accepted paradigm, achieving penetration in all parts of national and global economies, changing the way we live and work.  While Canada is a home of great technological innovation, it has a meager relationship with IoT.  Our leverage of IoT as an overarching paradigm for economic gain is still rising, and consequently, so is digital governance around it.  With the Climate Plan proclamation, it’s even more imperative we step up and tightly embrace IoT, as the plan’s success depends on it in no small measure.

With this in mind, there are several places to turn to ramp up on IoT.

Digital Literacy around IoT is equally important for policymakers as for business leaders. Digital-Physical Transformation for the Public Sector training is available to quickly ramp policymakers to a level of technological intuition needed to develop policies involving IoT.  Not just for the Climate Plan, but also other areas such as transportation, health, smart cities, next-gen manufacturing, and others.

Additionally, IoT North provides a virtual platform for Canada’s Internet of Things Conversation, such as through the ThingsHappen podcast.  The ThingsHappen podcast hosts and engages Canada’s IoT providers, users, innovators, policymakers, and thinkers – to help you stay in touch with Things Happening in Canada’s Internet of Things community.

Also, AIoT Canada, a non-profit organization, supports its members’ growth, competitiveness, and influence, locally and internationally, in the rapidly evolving Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI) space. They provide a place and a focal point for businesses and organizations in the Canadian IoT and AI ecosystem to connect, interact, and learn to mutually accelerate collaborative ideation, development, and implementation of technological solutions.

In addition, the Alberta IoT Association is a nonprofit consisting of organizations with a vested interest in the success of the Internet of Things in the province of Alberta. Their mission is to position Alberta as the worldwide center of excellence for the Internet of Things technology.

Everything and every Thing is connected

Hopefully, with the announcement of the Climate Plan, we have crossed the Rubicon into new territory. A territory where retarding Climate Change and economic growth based on sustainability go hand in hand. However, this will require systemic and multidisciplinary approaches interconnecting different technologies, industry and societal sectors, and governments. The Climate Plan compels the cultivation of a new civic mindset, not just attuned to our individual and economic needs but also the planet’s health and future.

That also includes leveraging the Internet of Things in the Climate Plan execution and policies around it. As the Climate Plan addresses the malaise of the physical world around us, and the Internet of Things interconnects Things representing the physical world around us, there is an inescapable synergy and interplay between the Plan and IoT.

Everything and every Thing is connected!


The Internet of Things Space – Thingk 3D

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

When you think about the Internet of Things (IoT), what do you think of?

Do stoves talking to fridges come to mind? What about smartwatches and intelligent fabrics? How about self-driving cars and connected transportation, smart buildings, precision agriculture, smart cities, wind farms, and smart grid? Do sensors, actuators, digital, data, networks, the Internet, and the cloud ring a bell? And, then, there’s machine learning and AI, algorithms, cybersecurity and privacy, and the future of work – right?

Yes – all the above and more.

At first glance, the Internet of Things might seem like a cauldron of terms or a black hole that draws in all the terms around it. As a result, the idea of IoT can be confusing.

So how do we think about and navigate the Internet of Things?

Despite the popular and simplistic notion of IoT as just interconnected sensors, or worse, fridges talking to stoves, the IoT is much broader, with far-reaching effects and consequences. IoT is a driver of technological innovation and economic activity, with both positive and concerning societal impacts.

To begin to understand the breadth of IoT, we must, at the outset, admit and accept that IoT is not any one product category, technology, or sector. Although conceived in a connected-devices context, IoT is a paradigm and a space which has expanded to envelope much of the digital realm. And, as a space, it is defined by a set of dimensions, which include the following key three:

  • Architecture
  • Verticals
  • Domains (and disciplines)

This 3D construct creates the scaffolding onto which the IoT terms and attributes can be attached or mapped to help us navigate IoT.

The ARCHITECTURE dimension includes a set of architectural building blocks used to construct IoT-based solutions. It envelops physical sensing and acting devices, wireless and wired networks, the cloud to store and manipulate the data, and applications that run in the cloud or other platforms.

However, like a hammer, an IoT architecture is only a means to an end, not the end itself. The real value is determined by how it’s used and applied. IoT application or solution verticals, such as autonomous vehicles, smart cities, health, precision agriculture, and more, constitute another essential and value-creating IoT dimension – the VERTICALS dimension.

Though the architecture and verticals comprise IoT’s means and value, they are enabled by innovations in numerous domains and disciplines. The verticals and architecture also drive impact and transformation in other domains of human and societal endeavours. Together they constitute the third essential dimension of the IoT space – the DOMAINS (and disciplines) dimension. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, and hardware and software innovations such as SaaS are just some of the enabling domains. In return, IoT disrupts and drives reactions in areas such as privacy and network autonomy, human agency in work and society, legacy business models, and others – all of which ultimately compel new public policy.

So what?

It’s clear that IoT is a vast space and much more than a bucket of random terms and concepts. It constitutes a new paradigm for creating, living, and working in an animated physical world around us. A world where everything and every Thing is connected. Where the boundaries between the physical and virtual digital worlds are dissolved, forming a cyber-physical continuum in which we interact with not just other humans but also the pervasive ambient intelligence that IoT creates. A world where great IoT-created benefits are confounded by equally-created societal and governance challenges, requiring IoT-inclusive digital literacy by leaders and policymakers. IoT’s breadth spurs a cross-disciplinary mindset for technological solution creation and compels a systemic approach to digital governance – where Design Thinking can aid their innovation.

We are entering a new era of global civilization, which is as transformational as the printing press, where IoT is a major defining force, and digital literacy around it will be crucial to growth and relevance.

See Thingk3D video on YouTube



Ottawa Shows its Product Management Colours

By Walter Knitl – CEO at PraxiemChief Business Development Officer at IoT613

It’s no surprise that the Ottawa area is a top technology hub in North America. With that comes a thriving Product Management community, which was on display at ProductCamp Ottawa 2019, produced by the Ottawa Product Management Association (OPMA). The event, hosted by Invest Ottawa at Bayview Yards, brought product management and related professionals together to exchange ideas and learn from each other about the leadership, development, and the scaling behind successful products.

It doesn’t shock anyone to know that the product management function is critical for product success, but the large spectrum of issues and entanglements with other functions and stakeholders is often an eye-opener for the uninitiated.  After the opening address by Andrew Faulkner, CEO of OPMA, this spectrum, the tone, and theme for the event was laid out by a great opening keynote from David Ross, CEO of Ross Video. The discussions that followed the rest of the day, through a select panel and participant-defined sessions, layered the event with the colours of the product management spectrum. What follows are some of the key areas of discussion.

What’s in a Name

It wouldn’t be a product management event without questioning the definition of the name or the term “Product Management” function itself and the role of a Product Manager. The answer invariably differs, even among product managers, depending on one’s experience in different types of companies (product providers) with different structures, sizes, maturity, and culture.

The consensus, however, converges on product management and product managers seeing the whole product picture and being accountable for product success. This was compared, by Steve Johnson in his talk, to being a conductor of an orchestra engaging the players to ensure the musical piece is delivered to the audience.  A reference to the way that product management engages different stakeholders from development, to marketing, to support, and customers and others to deliver the product to market.

So, with this in mind, what makes a good Product Manager?  David Ross provided his five-point take in the opening keynote – a product manager must

  • understand the customer and their problems,
  • understand the technology needed to solve it,
  • be a good communicator,
  • have a passion for the problem and solution, and
  • never give up even if other people find you annoying.

He added that “you guys and gals have an impossible job”, and managing a product is “like raising a child”. Alternatively, I would say managing a product is like conducting a symphony, and maybe even writing it.

It’s not Either-or

Much is said about the importance of product managers understanding customers and their problems and being a customer advocate. And for a good reason – without solving a real pain, a product will fail. The ways to elicit needs and define features to satisfy customer needs  was duly covered in sessions by Malik Jumani and  Colin Moden. Not to mention frequent references about building product UX that aligns with the customer way of working.

While the above was going on, there were other non-customer related discussions.  That is, about the requirements of the company or product provider – the need to stay in business and provide a return to owners.  To that end, Mark Lindsay provided a compelling discussion on product management’s accountability for ROI (return on investment) and the need for entanglement with internal functions ranging development, testing, procurement, production, and many others.

So, which one does the product manager focus on?  It’s not an either-or answer. It’s clear the product managers must have their feet simultaneously in both realms – the customer’s, and their own company’s.  The main job is to align the interests of the customer and their company to ensure a successful product.

Master Influencer, but Master Not

Given the communicator and the persistence traits noted in the keynote, and discussions around engaging a plethora of stakeholders, it’s a no brainer, and without objection, to say that a product manager must be a good influencer. For example, influencing development on features and prioritization; C-suite or owners on why the company should enter or exit markets; customers on the merits and values of a new product line; and many other situations.

The product manager as a master influencer was addressed by a number of sessions aimed at elevating the influencing skills of ProductCamp goers.

One of the interactive session was headed by Amanda Holtstrom on the importance of the product manager’s status. It included role-playing interactions with stakeholders from simulated positions of low and high status.  Status is important for product managers to be respected and taken seriously.

Another important part of influence is networking, which was expertly covered by Michael Hughes. That is, creating new and cultivating existing customer, partner, and generally stakeholder relationships. The all-important thing to remember, he asserted, is that we buy people first, ideas second, and things last. Consequently, it’s important to first establish a personal human connection by demonstrating a genuine interest in the other person.

Video, as another tool in the influence toolbox, was covered by Darryl Praill. Short videos are a great way to cast out your take on the industry, technology, or products, to provide a platform for feedback into your processes, and generally to establish thought leadership and influence with your stakeholders. It’s important, however, to set an objective for each video and do it with confidence.  The ROI on this is not hard to prove, especially due to the availability of reasonably low-cost video gear.

With the pervasive influence needed in many directions, it might seem easier at times for product managers to delve into narrow areas themselves for apparent expediencies – such as, for example, do detailed R&D budget planning, or debug code. This would be wrong.  An overwhelming consensus says that a product manager cannot be, nor should be a master of all areas. This would be akin to, as Steve Johnson put it, the conductor playing the trumpet if the trumpet player doesn’t play their part correctly. The conductor’s influencing role is to set the piece objectives and help the player understand their role in it and to understand their problem, but leave it to their professional skill to interpret and execute.

Yes, but don’t SaaS me

Software as a Service (SaaS) has become a dominant way of delivering applications and software-based services. It leverages the ever-growing network performance and capacity to offload much of the previously needed on-premise IT functions into the cloud. In the process, it provides better cost performance, service/application continuity between desktop and mobile devices, and many other benefits.

It’s no surprise, then, that a panel on SaaS Product Ecosystem was an important session at ProductCamp, and of great relevance to product managers.  The panel moderated by David Mennie that included Catherine CormierAaron EvansLibby Robinson, and Kari Simpson also discussed the role of UX.  One of the takeaways was that UX isn’t just about pretty panels, but also a way to build relationships with stakeholders. Furthermore, properly designed, UX can help discover innovation opportunities by assessing its impact through continual measurement.

The panel also concurred that an effective and sustainable SaaS road map should have three areas – to grow the business, defend it, and explore new possibilities. Tracking feature requests to opportunities is also important, as is tracking deal wins/losses with or without features.

With all the talk of SaaS greatness, one might conclude SaaS is the only way to go for all software solutions.  But, don’t sass me about SaaS. That was the sentiment expressed by David Ross, as SaaS still doesn’t cover many solutions. One assumes he comes from a place where specialized hardware in the solution is needed to do high-speed processing with stringent real-time response. Here SaaS, with limiting cloud compute performance and long and non-deterministic delays, just won’t cut it for real-time on-location video production. He contends that selling software and maintenance contracts is still a valid way to go.

Shares or Sharing

Undeniably, to bring products to market or to grow a business requires resources and money – a well-trodden and inescapable quarter for product managers. A common form of money is external investment, such as by Venture Capitalists (VCs), which, while offering faster growth ramp potential, results in diluting founder and existing owner equity, by shares issues to VCs.

But, you don’t have to go down this road – you can grow through profit reinvestment. This, likely slower growth rate, can be accelerated through debt. Get to know your banker. They want to see you succeed.

There are two types of companies, according to David Ross. Carnivores that acquire companies for growth, and herbivores that grow organically.  While acquisitions are not entirely unavoidable, remaining herbivorous has its advantages. Forming partnerships among herbivores for sharing development, IP, and other resources can provide huge leverage to organically amplify product portfolios. This may also be possible with competitors in a co-opetition relationship.  Further, customers can also potentially finance scale. Growing herbivorously like this, without VCs, reduces risks and various associated problems such as founder dilution, having to know your exit date before starting, and others.

It’s a Community

ProductCamp Ottawa 2019 is a proof point of the Product Management community and talent that exists in the Ottawa region.  This well-attended event was the product of many in the community, but the driving force behind the event and much thanks go to Hala Hawa for her organizing expertise, perseverance, and long hours.

The ProductCamp would not be possible without the participation of the keynotes, guest speakers, sponsorship, and support from the following companies:

Assent Compliance 

Bayview Yards


InGenius Software

Invest Ottawa



Pragmatic Institute



Tweet Beam


And, of course, kudos goes to the Ottawa Product Management Association and its leadership and volunteers who run monthly networking and learning events. They provide continuity and a hub for the region’s Product Management and related professionals, which culminates in the annual ProductCamp.

Product Management is not a linear process but a space with several dimensions that product managers breathe and live in, in their quest for product success and accountability.

Come out to the next event, and join OPMA to SHARE your knowledge, LEARN from others, and GROW yourself and the region – and in the process, become a true Product Management space navigator.


Circular Economy and the Internet of Things - doing more with less

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

We still live in a linear world. A world dominated by linear economies that have contributed to the deterioration of the atmosphere and biosphere from waste materials and substances – a cradle to grave mentality. Fortunately, the Circular Economy is stepping in as the new paradigm founded on recirculation of all materials to stem these harmful effects – a cradle to cradle approach.

The Circular Economy is a mix of different technologies, solutions, business models, and governance. Among them, and playing a significant and central role, is the Internet of Things or IoT.

The Internet of Things is an extension of the Internet that interconnects Things, humans, and applications. It is a digital paradigm with connected physical sensors and devices at its inception. However, it has expanded to a broader multidimensional space defined by architectural pieces (e.g. sensors, devices, 5G, edge computing, cloud, and other), related applications and verticals (e.g. smart homes, connected transportation, and other), and related enabling disciplines and technologies (e.g. machine learning, digital twins, cybersecurity, and so on). IoT is fundamentally transforming our economies, society, and personal lives.

Round and Around We Go

The linear economy is conceptually straightforward. We Take resources from the earth, the biosphere, and atmosphere that make up our environment, Make products out of them, Use the products, and Discard waste. Here, the Make and Use constitute the core human activity and economy – or the technosphere. The technosphere and the benefits it provides rely heavily on externalities through Taking and Discarding. Taking means getting resources from the environment – the minerals, the water, the plant and animal life, oxygen, and other resources. Discarding means shedding waste – the unwanted products, industrial process byproducts, and byproducts, such as GHG’s, from the energy used for these processes. The latter is significant as the production of goods accounts for 45% of all GHG emissions, of which making of steel, aluminum, plastic, and cement account for most of the industrial emissions.

There are two main problems with the linear economy – scarcity & damage. The first is the scarcity of raw resources either due to their finite supply on earth, such as oil and gold, or due to long replenishment cycles such as wood or fish stocks. The second is the damage to the biosphere and atmosphere from discarded waste and emissions, resulting in such quandaries as the climate crisis, microplastics pollution, fish stock extinction, and others. It all boils down to capacity depletion and possible extinction of the very externalities the economy and society depend on.

The circular economy drastically minimizes or eliminates economic dependence on externalities by recirculating the material already within the Technosphere. Here again, the core of the technosphere consists of the Make and Use, but it now adds a new Recoup phase to the cycle. That is, recouping material from unwanted products, process byproducts, and byproducts of energy use everywhere. It means collecting, separating and recovering the material, and where needed post-processing to make it usable again by the Make part of the cycle. It also recovers energy from recouped material – such as biomass.

The circular economy will eliminate the taking of new resources, except to address incremental demand that can’t be satisfied from within the Technosphere, such as new types of minerals needed by new technologies, or due to population growth (which is another concern). It will also eliminate discarding. While there may still be marginal material transfer out of the technosphere, it’s better characterized as Returning benign material back to the environment. The circular economy has the potential to reduce emissions from heavy industry up to 56% by 2050. Any harmful material will remain stocked and managed within the technosphere, such as, for example, spent uranium fuel bundles from nuclear reactors. In addition to the ecologic benefits, the circular economy has absolute bottom-line economic benefits for manufacturers through reduced costs.

The overarching principle of the Circular Economy is to do more with less by remaking from recouped materials and energy.

Step in – the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) plays an important role in all parts of the Circular Economy. Here are just some of them:

  • Automation– throughout all parts of the Circular Economy, especially in the Make phase. This means connected sensors, devices, machines, and robots coordinating to transform raw materials into technical materials, produce parts, and assemble into products according to design with minimal material and energy. And not just in manufacturing, but also many other sectors such as precision agriculture where IoT sensors and devices enable recirculation of water and other resources through automation.
  • Logistics and distribution– enabled by device status and location connectivity. This includes, for example, tracking containers of materials and parts on the supply side, finished goods delivery, or placement within stores, resulting in less stranded or spoiled products and materials.
  • Maintenance and repair – of products ranging from vehicles to wind turbines, enabled by telematics and Digital Twin technologies. It involves tracking product health and predetermining their maintenance or removal from use. The result is lower effort and energy by pre-emptive response compared to post-fault action. It also extends product life, reducing the need for new or recouped materials.
  • Sharing products and services– among users enabled by connectivity and location information. For example, sharing vehicles, various types of equipment and appliances, floor space, parking spaces, and so on. It results in a reduced amount of material in circulation within the technosphere and correspondingly reduced energy consumption.
  • Collection and recycling– of used products or materials relying on knowledge of their availability and location – whether embedded in the product itself or the fill of recycling or waste collection bins and depots. The result is less stranded material, earlier return into circulation, and reduced effort and energy used in the collection process.
  • Prosumer Energy– enabled through sensors and connectivity, allowing citizens, small businesses, and farmers to both produce and consume (prosume) electricity for and from the grid. This includes renewable sources like private solar panels, wind turbines, bioreactors as well as any excess energy stored in on-site batteries including in electric vehicles. The result is less Take from the geosphere (e.g., oil, coal) and corresponding emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Smart anything– can generally aid efficiency by reducing the Take of resources from the environment, and the energy involved in the Take, thing operation, and rendering it benign before its return. This includes things like smart cars, smart cities, smart buildings, smart agriculture, smart energy, and many other smart things.

These are just some underpinning functions of IoT, without which the Circular Economy would not happen.

Systemic Thingking and Governance

Making the Circular Economy happen will require new systemic ways of thinking – about technologies, about the business cycle, and about governance.

On the technology and business side, a systemic approach and thinking will be needed, not just over the full cycle, but over multiple cradle-to-cradle spins. This will undoubtedly incorporate the Internet of Things, which is itself a poster child for systemic innovation and application. It includes designing-in material, energy, and function circularity into product and processes from the start, as well as business return expectations over several cycles rather than a single cradle-to-grave path. This must involve all functions and areas of an organization, brought together through collaborative innovation techniques such as Design Thinking, including Internet of Things incorporation – or Thingking.

Paradigm shifts have always resulted in new governance models, too-often being reactive, and ultimately forced by lingering socioeconomic dissonance. The circular-economic shift will be no different and will itself compel a systemic governance approach – to foster innovation, level the playing field, and respect social values. It must obviously be systemic due to its cut across all socio-economic “silos” and its systemic technology and business character – further propelled by the inherent systemic governance demands of the Internet of Things.

Let’s go Circular

The world, as we knew it, based on linear economies, can’t continue if we are to avert the depletion and potential extinction of our environment – the biosphere, atmosphere, and even the geosphere – with spillover social and political effects. We must put the linear approach itself on the extinction list and embrace the circular economy, not just for economic reasons, but also as a lever to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This will require us to use all the tools at our disposal, including the employment of the Internet of Things in its solution and effective collaborative techniques such as Design Thinking for systemic echnological, business, and governance innovation.

RELATED: For more insight on IoT and its role in the Circular Economy enroll in Digital Literacy through Internet of Things and Design Thinking workshop.


Systemic Digital Governance - Compelled by the Internet of Things, Supported by Design Thinking

By Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

We live in a digital world, immersed in digital information not just generated by humans but also by the pervasive Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is an extension of the Internet, which now interconnects Things, humans, and applications. 

While on the one hand, IoT drives innovation, creates economic value, and improves quality of life, it also, on the other hand, introduces challenges such as privacy, security, and diminishing human agency. This demands digital governance, simultaneously involving multiple economic and societal areas and consequently compelling a systemic governance approach.

Systemic digital governance requires that we more widely understand citizens and their needs, and uncover diverse solutions – leveraging the strengths of the Design Thinking process and mindset.

IoT – A Systemic Digital Innovation Driver

The Internet of Things is not any single technology, economic sector, or use case. It is a paradigm with connected physical devices at its inception but extended to envelope much of the overall digital realm. When we talk about IoT, we are also talking about digital. The IoT space encompasses architectural components such as devices, communication networks, and cloud; vertical digital solutions such as connected transportation, smart buildings and wearables; and a variety of domains or disciplines such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, privacy, and others.

Due to its breadth, IoT is a natural driver of digital innovation in the above and other individual areas. Moreover, IoT is a poster child for Systemic Innovation. NESTA defines Systemic Innovation as an interconnected set of innovations, where each influences the other, with innovation both in parts of the system and in the ways in which they interconnect. Systemic innovation manifests itself in IoT in at least two ways.

  • Systemic innovation between parts of the IoT space itself
  • Systemic innovation across (or between) the IoT space and the social space

An example of systemic innovation within the IoT space includes advancements in sensor technologies that enable scale and diversity of real-world sensing points, which then spur innovation in networks and communications (e.g., 5G, LoRaWAN) to deal with that scale. They also drive innovation in analytics and machine learning to extract insights from the mass of generated data. Or, conversely, machine learning algorithm advancements in the cloud drive microelectronics innovation to space-reduce and cost-reduce machine-learning-purposed compute engines. This then enables inexpensive machine learning at the edge or device level, fostering new generations of applications.

An example of systemic innovation across IoT and social realms includes the case of IoT providing the ability to monitor one’s own electrical energy consumption and production, involving domestic solar panels, electric vehicles, and household appliances. This changes human energy consumption behaviour that can also benefit the electric utility, other vested organizations, or society at large, motivating them to provide rewards to reinforce the IoT-facilitated behaviour. Such reward systems, in turn, create a need for secure transactions and contracts among people and organizations, driving Blockchain innovation (for example). These, in turn, drive technological innovation back into the IoT space to robustly identify and track devices. There are many such cross-realm examples of systemic innovation, not the least of which involve the cybersecurity and privacy risks presented by IoT. These demand social innovation and regulation to deal with it, consequently driving mitigating technology innovations back into the IoT space.

Design Thinking for Innovation

The word “innovation” is easily thrown around and studied, but to actually become innovative is more challenging. Organizations often don’t know how to innovate or where to begin. Fortunately, Design Thinking provides an innovation mindset and a method for innovating. Design Thinking is, in general, a tool for uncovering end-users’ or clients’ real problems and for exploring possible diverse solutions. In our context, it’s not just applicable to individual innovation areas such as AI or cybersecurity, but it’s also critical for effecting and leveraging systemic innovation.

Systemic innovation not only amplifies the diversity of needs, expectations, and perspectives but also introduces the need to deal with cohesion between different identifiable areas. Design Thinking is especially suited to deal with this expanded diversity, cohesion, and the permutations of solutions. It helps to expose possibilities and to converge on the optimum systemic solution, the commonalities across constituent areas, and any specializations within.

Digital Governance

Innovation and new technologies have historically given diagonal (parallel but delayed) rise to new policies and often entire governance models. And for good reasons – to accelerate and scale use, and to mitigate negative effects. It’s no different today. The exponential digitalization of everything is demanding Digital Governance – with IoT as a main culprit.

While Digital Governance is now a serious objective, under which umbrella important work is done globally, it is a broad and still a bit foggy term. Does it mean governing and managing the digital data? Is it the governing of people that use digital? Or, is it governing jurisdictions using digital? Irrespective of the specifics, the overarching rationale is to address the interplay between digital technological structures and social structures, to both foster digital use and mitigate the negative impacts.

As each new digital technology emerges, work on new governance and policies is spawned for that technology silo. For example, 5G demands new telecommunications and spectrum policies; AI is spawning ethical AI standards; Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain are also creating the need for regulation; and so on. Design Thinking aids in innovating and developing the governance models and policies both within the silos and in between. The collaborative and co-creative nature of the methodology allows for open development of inclusive digital governance.

Systemic Digital Governance

Governance based on technological or sectoral silos may be organizationally convenient, but just like siloed technological innovation, doesn’t leverage the benefits of a systemic approach.

Since everything is digital today, and “the digital” crosses technological, sectoral, and societal boundaries, especially in the case of IoT, digital governance requires a systems and integrative thinking approach. Like systemic innovation, systemic digital governance is a path to best overall policies.

Knowledge of IoT is essential for the best outcomes of systemic digital governance innovation, as it exposes the breadth and interconnectedness of needs and issues across a wide range of areas. Design Thinking naturally fosters the systemic approach, especially in the empathize and define stages of the process, helping to consider a variety of viewpoints. As in the case of systemic digital innovation, Design Thinking has a central role in the development of systemic digital governance.

Digital literacy in the intrinsically broad IoT space, aided by Design Thinking, enables policymakers to see the big digital picture, serving to inform and facilitate their policies and underpin the systemic governance approach. This is the case even if they are accountable for specific individual technologies or sectors, such as:

  • Connected transportation and mobility
  • Industrial and advanced manufacturing
  • Smart buildings and facilities
  • Health and elderly care
  • Precision agriculture
  • Physical safety and security
  • Smart energy and smart grid
  • Circular economy and environmental sustainability
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • Wireless and mobile telecommunications
  • Edge and fog computing
  • other


Every Thing and everything is connected – whether it’s the IoT connecting Things, people, and applications, or the interconnectedness among the IoT paradigm, Digital Innovation, Digital Governance, and Design Thinking.

The Internet of Things occupies a wide swath of the digital space intrinsically driving systemic digital innovation and compelling systemic digital governance. To innovate and develop effective systemic digital governance, a baseline level of digital literacy is needed for every public servant, including technological intuition among public-sector executives and policymakers. IoT must be a big part of that, given its breadth, pervasiveness and impact. As governance is about meeting the needs of citizens, it’s important to empathize and uncover their real and diverse problems and requirements. This is where Design Thinking steps in – to support achieving digital literacy and inclusive systemic digital governance innovation.

RELATED: To elevate your IoT digital literacy enroll in the Digital Literacy through Internet of Things and Design Thinking


Internet of Things & Design Thinking Pave the Way to Digital Literacy

By Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

We now live in a digital world, immersed in lakes and rivers of digital information not just generated by humans but also by bots and other autonomous systems. This is made possible by a wide range of exponentially advancing technologies such as AI and ever-increasing digital connectivity and Internet capacity.

As if that wasn’t enough, the situation is compounded by the digitalization of the physical world through the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT pushes the info rivers and lakes into digital tsunamis by hugely adding to the number of data generators, the volume of data, and types of data.

This exponential advancement in digital technologies and information is not matched by advancements in digital literacy in different quarters of society, economy, and governance. Lagging digital literacy not only prevents us from fully reaping the benefits of these advancements, but it also stifles the de-risking of their negative impacts. Often, it’s a case of not knowing what we don’t know, and what questions to ask. 

What is Digital Literacy Anyway?


To better understand Digital Literacy, it’s useful to first look at literacy in general. Being literate means, you have the ability to know, understand, and use information toward a desired end.

Knowing means having access to information or data, and the ability to decode its symbols (letters, words, acronyms) to form and retain mental dictionaries of individual concepts and meanings. It includes the ability, through thought, to remember, identify, and access them.

Understanding means having the ability to find patterns, associations, and comparisons between point concepts and meanings. It includes the ability to critically analyze, interpret, gain insights and infer consequences and conclusions from information.

Using information, more precisely using the understandings from information, toward a desired goal can take many forms. It could be innovating or creating new value in the form of products or services. It could be synthesizing and deriving new information and higher-order knowledge. Or, it could be making more informed decisions, policies, and processes by evaluating the relative merits of diverse knowledge and understandings.

Digital Literacy includes the above aspects of literacy applied to the Digital – the digital technologies and information we are immersed in. And, that involves just about everything except for our direct human bodily senses. It includes human-generated information in the form of e-books, blogs, videos, podcasts, social media, email, and other. It includes computer generated information from bots, games, UX interactions, and autonomous systems. And now it also includes information about the physical world manifested through the Internet of Things. IoT extends the legacy Human-Compute digital paradigm into the Human-Compute-Physical or the Cyberphysical paradigm.

While Digital Literacy in many quarters also envelops skills needed to use digital-era tools and applications, the critical aspect for business leaders and policymakers is knowing about and understanding Digital in its various dimensions. It means attaining intuition about digital technology, its capabilities, drawbacks, and impacts to be able to drive or protect business or develop informed governance.

Knowing and Understanding the Internet of Things, coupled with Design Thinking to facilitate Using, is an important path toward overall digital literacy.

Internet of Things – Knowing and Understanding Digital

The Internet of Things paradigm is an extension of the Internet, which newly interconnects Things (devices), analytics, control, applications, autonomous systems, and humans over a common communications infrastructure. It increasingly underpins economic activity and societal function, creating economic value across a spectrum of verticals, such as connected transportation, connected manufacturing, wearables, drones, smart cities, smart buildings, and other.

IoT is digital end-to-end and greatly overlaps with the overall digital space. As such, it largely uses and leverages the common underlying digital technologies and infrastructure, including analytics, AI, Internet connectivity, algorithms, cloud and other. It also shares the impacts of the broader digital space, including efficiency and convenience benefits, as well as privacy, cybersecurity, and human agency concerns, to name a few.

There are, however, important distinctions between IoT and the rest of the digital space – stemming from the inclusion of Things. For example, at a very personal level, IoT augments our bodily senses with greater information about the world and extends and amplifies our motor capacity within it. That alone presents greater bodily risks from potential malfunction or malice. IoT also breaks the default notion of having only inanimate objects in our physical environment over which we have direct control. Because IoT extends and distributes computation and algorithms into devices (or the edge), our physical environment is becoming animated almost as a default. Whatever concerns there are around cybersecurity, privacy, and AI-based autonomy around current relatively centralized autonomous systems or personal devices, these are significantly amplified by IoT. IoT offers a greatly expanded surface for launching cyber attacks and autonomous behaviour. In addition, new technologies such as 5G networks are needed by more demanding and stringent performance needs of devices, compared to human-generated information.

Digital literacy that only includes human-generated information and centralized autonomous systems is not sufficient to deal with the new reality that IoT brings to the digital space. Conversely, by knowing and understanding the Internet of Things from the start, the broader digital literacy is also attained due to the technology and effects commonality with IoT.

Design Thinking – Using and Understanding Digital


The Knowing and Understanding abilities are necessary but not sufficient for digital literacy. The ability to purposefully Use them to solve challenges with people at the center makes literacy whole. But, simply creating digital products, services, or policies without knowing the people’s real needs and challenges is unlikely to have them used or adopted, diminishing their value. We need a way to ensure the attained knowledge and understandings are usefully applied. This is where Design Thinking steps in.

Design Thinking gets at who will use digital and how they will benefit from it. It’s a journey that takes us from Empathizing and Defining real needs, through Ideating and Prototyping solutions and Testing their use. As creators of digital products and services we don’t always know, nor can foretell how they will be used, so it’s important to take users along for the journey. Only by incorporating diverse perspectives of user needs and testing the prototypes can we ensure the usefulness of the attained knowledge and understandings to ultimately fulfill digital literacy.

Design Thinking is not restricted to product and services solutions. It is equally important for making use of attained digital knowledge and understandings for developing digital governance, and economic and social policies while involving citizens and industry along the way.

It is also part of how we can de-risk challenges around digital literacy and IoT. By understanding the challenges better and the people involved in the challenge, we can co-create solutions with the end users. The outcome of applying Design Thinking to IoT challenges will be to drive or protect business, and develop informed governance and policies

In addition, applying the Design Thinking process to different digital use cases further bolsters our understanding of the Digital, consequently increasing our literacy. Also, Design Thinking naturally elicits information on human needs and requirements as part of its process, again adding to the Knowledge aspect of literacy.

Summing Up


Digital Literacy – Knowing, Understanding, and Using Digital – is key to growth, governance, and relevance in today’s age of exponential digital advancement. The Internet of Things, while hugely overlapping the overall digital space, also presents one of the largest and fundamental digital literacy challenges. At the same time, Design Thinking is an important method for innovating, de-risking, and creating solutions. Digital Literacy is greatly advanced by Knowing and Understanding IoT, in combination with Design Thinking for Using the attained knowledge and understanding – ultimately enabling growth, governance, and relevance.

About Authors:


Nilufer Erdebil – CEO at Spring2 Innovation

Nilufer is the award-winning founder of Spring2Innovation and a leading innovation and design thinking consultant experienced in telecommunications, application development, project management & information technology management.  Her firm focuses on strategy and vision development, design thinking, creating and managing innovation programs, and change management.

Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem, Chief Business Development Officer at IoT613

Walter is founder and consultant at Praxiem, empowering organizations to discover and deliver the right product to market, leveraging his extensive technology Product Management and Product Development experience. He is also a co-founder at IoT613, enabling the IoT community to learn, interact, and connect, including at the IoT613 Conference.


Design Thingking: Internet of Things with Design Thinking

Co-authored by Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

The Internet of Things (IoT) has emerged as the new paradigm underpinning most of economic activity and social being. It extends the Internet to also connect physical objects with the people and computers already there.

To many, IoT means a network of sensors generating data about the physical world, and other devices that act on the data. While true, IoT is much broader than this simple siloed definition, and has far reaching effects and consequences beyond these physical endpoints. The massive volumes of generated data must be transmitted, stored, managed, interpreted and acted upon in ways that add value or benefit. Consequently, the IoT architecture also includes many different types of networks, cloud and data centers, analytics and control software, and human interactable applications. 

Then, there is the questions of IoT value or benefit. That can only be answered within contexts of identifiable solutions where IoT is applied – such as autonomous vehicles, wearables, industrial automation, smart cities and many other. These verticals, which together constitute another important dimension of IoT, share architectural aspects and components, but also demand specialization – especially at the analytics and application level.

IoT applications and verticals deliver many benefits that include increased business productivity and better quality of life. However, IoT also presents societal challenges. For example, increased productivity often means reduced costs from reduced need for human work. And, better quality of life, which often depends on data representing personal attributes and behavior, is confounded by security, privacy and network autonomy concerns. Ultimately, these challenges will also spill over into legal and public policy domains.

IoT is an Innovation Driver

The Internet of Things has arisen from past innovations in packet communication, computing, algorithms, sensors and other fields of technology. While these current successes inspire even greater visions of new possibilities for quality of life and productivity, ongoing gaps and challenges exist in making possibilities into realities. For example – technological gaps such as better algorithms and device powering, or gaps in business organization and processes to achieve maximum returns from IoT. Then there are challenges such as privacy and security, or reduced employment and social agency that put pressure on public policy and law. As result, a new era of intentional innovation will be needed in many areas to deal with gaps and challenges posed by IoT.  

Innovation moves faster with intention and effective methodologies. Design Thinking gives you an effective method for intentional innovation in all IoT dimensions.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is all about how you can develop end user focused solutions to complex problems. 

It starts out by looking at the end user’s needs, challenges, interests and only then identifying the real problem that needs to be solved. These are the first two of five phases of Design Thinking that include Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. 

The Empathize phase involves identifying your end users as well as getting to know what they’re thinking, saying, feeling, hearing and doing. These all help to get to the bottom of the real problem with current technologies, processes and products they’re using. The Empathize phase needs to be done in person with end clients to be most impactful. After analyzing the input from end users and other gathered data, you can then start to Define what IoT related problem you will be solving.

The Ideate phase involves coming up with as many ideas as possible to solve the newly defined challenge. Best ideas are then selected to Prototype. The difference between Design Thinking prototyping and engineering or science prototyping and Testing is that in Design Thinking you are actually testing multiple prototypes and looking for more input from end users. This input will then be used to make the product, service, process or policy even better. 

There are many examples of effective use of Design Thinking within and outside of the IoT space. For example, Design Thinking is used in the federal government of Canada to develop citizen centric services and policies – for instance in the regulatory space for displaying regulatory guidance, the team used design thinking to co-create with those that would be using the guidance. This produced results which were easier to use for regulatory guidance users.

So What

By applying Design Thinking to IoT, you can effectively implement intentional innovation to solve the gaps and challenges in IoT architecture, verticals and various related domains of endeavour. As an IoT products and services provider, Design Thinking will help you discover, innovate and deliver the right product and strengthen your return on investment. As a public policy maker, Design Thinking will help you faster discover and better understand IoT societal impacts, and deliver public policy to amplify benefits and mitigate risks of IoT.

By developing innovation capabilities in your organization through Design Thingking, you will bring out the best of IoT.


About Authors:


Walter Knitl – Principal at Praxiem, Chief Business Development Officer at IoT613

Walter is founder and consultant at Praxiem, empowering organizations to discover and deliver the right product to market, leveraging his extensive technology Product Management and Product Development experience. He is also cofounder at IoT613, enabling the IoT community to learn, interact and connect, including at the IoT613 ConferenceFollow on Twitter: @praxiem @iot613

Nilufer Erdebil – CEO at Spring2 Innovation

Nilufer is an award winning Spring2Innovation founder and a leading innovation and design thinking consultant experienced in telecommunications, application development, project management & information technology management.  Her firm focuses on strategy and vision development, design thinking, creating and managing innovation programs, and change management. Follow on Twitter: @spring2inno @digitalNil


Product Managers - Embrace Ambiguity

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

Less than a week into my role as a product manager, I received some advice which I would only fully appreciate a year or two later.  It came from a senior manager, and the conversation went something like this:

“Welcome to Product Management.  You come from R&D, right?”

“Yes, and proud of it.  It was awesome.”

“Hmm – I see.  You’re a product manager now.  The reality is – you must embrace ambiguity.”

The new reality soon appeared as I had to make the first product decisions.  Actually – it came down with a thud, brutally contrasting from development, where the work was more predictable and set on firmer ground.  Where hardware logic produced the same outputs given a set of inputs, and design trade-offs (power, complexity, performance, cost) were comfortably made thanks to great design tools and the invariability of math and physics.  Software code would also compute predictable results, although more cooks in the kitchen produced more coding “oversights” – nothing that an army of testers couldn’t mostly intercept before serving the broth.

Enter Ambiguity – from left, right and center

But now, as a product manager, new stuff was on the table – and definitely not founded on the firmness of math and physics.  For example:

  • What exactly was the overall business rationale for the product – was it for short-term financial goals or strategic for longer-term growth and company survival?
  • Conflicting analyst reports predicting market timing and size. Hmm, was that a $10B market in 2 years or $5B in three years?
  • Customers A and B wanting different non-overlapping and costly features. And, just how certain was the sales team about the resulting revenue anyway – from either account?
  • Development estimates have inherent risk and incompleteness even when diligently derived. After padding or reduction due to peripheral motivations, just what exactly was the true development cost?
  • Competitive intelligence is always good for adding uncertainty since it’s inherently incomplete and indirect. There is also plenty of room for natural or intentional mutation by the time you get it. 

Awash in such ambiguities, Product Management might seem an impossible role.  And yet, it is precisely the product manager’s job to distil the ambiguity to a level of clarity that stakeholders can commit to, to deliver net benefits to both the company and customers. 

Take a Deep Breath and Work Through It

Fortunately, all is not lost, and there are things you can do to aid the distillation – for example.

  • Develop financial models and P&Ls from the start, even with imperfect data. Play what-if scenarios and do sensitivity analyses.  Revisit often.  Excel and math are still your friends.
  • Employ up-to-date Voice of Customer or pain/benefit discovery techniques to converge on product requirements.
  • Employ Design Thinking techniques to create innovative solutions.
  • Leverage relevant stakeholders and subject matter experts (R&D, sales, finance, etc.) to test assumptions.
  • Employ an appropriate level of agile development to mitigate risks of uncertain product requirements and customer acceptance.
  • Know the internal organizational culture, including individual and group motivations.

Despite the above and other measures, a level of ambiguity will always persist – both at initial product commitment and throughout its lifecycle.  Ambiguity, like cognitive dissonance, doesn’t feel good.  Unfortunately, this feeds a human tendency to shed opposing ideas or aspects just to arrive at a stable or feel-good position.  Relegating the ignored aspects to history never to be revisited may, however, lead to product failure.  While decisions do have to be made, they should be made with cognizance of imperfection, the anticipation of possible scope and course corrections,  and, generally, the tolerance of ambiguity. 

Seed for Innovation

A product manager’s entanglement with ambiguity goes beyond just tolerance – there is also an upside.  Ambiguities in market needs and solutions provide a natural pull for their clarification.  Actively searching out and finding ambiguity will seed innovation and provide opportunities for new products and growth. 

“Take advantage of the ambiguity in the world.  Look at something and think what else it might be”
– Roger Von Oech.

Bottom Line

Sigmund Freud said that “Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity”.  So, Product Manager, embrace ambiguity for your own sanity and product success.


Product Management – Alignment is Job One

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

All product providers “manage” the products they deliver whether they realize it or not. Irrespective of the provider’s size or maturity or the type of product, delivering viable and successful products to customers always demands the following of product management:

  1. Discovery, prescription, and tracking of product objectives, attributes, positioning, and metrics – i.e., Product Scope
  2. Set of progressive innovations, investments, activities, and checkpoints to bring the product to, and off the market – i.e., Product Lifecycle
  3. Participation of a variety of stakeholders both within the provider organization and outside – all focused on both the customer interests and the provider owners’ interests – i.e., Product Stakeholders
  4. Simultaneous attentionto all the above areas, or dimensions of product management, aiming for a viable and successful product.

With that said, however, the definition of product success is not universal and depends on individual provider’s and customer’s objectives at different points in time. For example, provider success might be defined as maximizing product margins or return on investment. In other instances, success may be termed as achieving certain revenues or market share, de-emphasizing margin. Despite this variation, there is a common thread or condition for product success – both the provider and the customer must achieve their-defined net benefit from the product. In other words, there must be a Net Benefits Alignment.

Benefit vs. Net Benefit vs. Net Benefit Alignment


The common mantra says that a product will succeed if it provides a benefit to the customer. While this is a necessary condition, it’s not enough. A benefit occurs when a need is satisfied, or a pain alleviated. Unfortunately, benefits are never unaccompanied by opposing costs, objections or detriments to various degrees.

For example, consider a SaaS product which is a supply chain app/service for procuring least-cost components from the market. The SaaS product is delivered by a SaaS provider and used by a SaaS customer. The SaaS customer may, in fact, derive the Benefit of locating least-cost component suppliers from the SaaS product. However, the subscription Cost and the cost of integrating the app/service into existing enterprise tools, for example, must be weighed against the benefit of reduced part pricing. In the end, it is the Net Benefit or the benefit less the cost or detriments that matters. The SaaS customer will buy the SaaS product only when it achieves its specified Net Benefit from the product – the Customer Net Benefit.

If we, as a provider, achieve the Customer Net Benefit we can sell the product, and we’re done – right? No – not so fast. There remains the matter of care and feeding of the provider owners – investors, shareholders, C-suite. Revenue, for example, is one provider benefit from a product. But this benefit has costs associated with it such as material costs, selling costs, investment costs, and opportunities lost – among others. These must be subtracted from or weighted against the benefits to ensure that a Net Benefit accrues to the provider. It’s the net benefit, in terms of profit or other metrics that matters. No rational product provider will deliver products without deriving its own Provider Net Benefit from it.

So, if a customer doesn’t buy a product without getting its Customer Net Benefit, or a provider won’t sell without getting its own Provider Net Benefit, there’s no viable product. It’s not enough for just the customer to get a benefit (e.g., lowest component pricing from a supply chain app) while the provider loses money providing the product. It’s not enough for the provider to get a benefit (e.g., revenue from selling a supply chain app/service) if the customer incurs excessive costs using the product. The overarching condition for a viable product is the alignment of Customer Net Benefit and the Provider Net Benefit – i.e., Net Benefits Alignment.

Product Manager


A product manager has accountability to deliver viable products, which means ensuring Net Benefits Alignment at inception and throughout the product lifecycle. This involves straddling the provider and customer realms to define the right product function and pricing that will sell, but within the capability and cost structure of the provider to deliver it. This may also mean redirecting to different markets or dropping some customers if needed, influencing capability development and cost reductions at the provider, and if Net Benefits Alignment can’t be found or sustained be brave enough to stop the product or pivot.

Net Benefits Alignment is job one for product managers.


Praxiem – What’s in the Name​

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

At Praxiem we help turn ideas into products through practical actions and the application of our knowledge and real-world experience in product management, high-tech development and commercial management. We are the practice or a shop, a virtual emporium, our clients come to for both guidance on product realization and for hands-on actions and deliverables.

Our name borrows from two words that reflect what we are and what we do – praxis and emporium

The first part praxi comes from praxis, a word with several related meanings – translating ideas into action; practical application or exercise of a branch of learning; application or use of knowledge or skills; the practice and practical side of a profession or field of study; deed, act, action; a practice.

 The second part em and iem come from the first part of emporium (em) and strengthened by rhyming with the last part (ium).  Emporium has several related meanings – a marketplace; a place of business; a shop or retail store selling a variety of items; a commercial center.

Praxiem is a practice where you can shop to turn ideas into practical actions and results, and ultimately successful products, services, and policies.


Product Management - Enter the Dimensions and Zone In

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

Much has been written about product management from a variety of perspectives, including comparisons with roles such as product owner, product prime and project manager.  Product Management and the Product Manager role are well understood by product providers that have them.  Their definition and objectives, however, are not universal and sometimes differences exist even between lines of business at the same provider.

In other quarters, Product Management as function may be confusing.  Because product management involves the breadth of a provider’s organization, it’s not surprising that product accountability is conveniently slotted into any one of the key areas or departments.  Marketing, Development or Business Development often take on product accountability under several role titles, but  the necessity to work the full space of product management considerations still remains.  Unfortunately, this type of arrangement often does emphasize certain considerations over others based on the natural bias and specialized skills of the accountable group.  It can result in poor alignment of provider and customer net benefits and ultimately diminished business outcomes.

A number of product management frameworks or models are offered by various consulting concerns, practitioners and in literature.  They are sometimes disguised under marketing, product owner, project management and other monikers even if they do provide reasonable breadth beyond their namesake.  In other cases they do in fact live up to their narrower billing emphasizing particular aspects of product management while glossing over the rest.  For example – customer related aspects may be emphasized while the importance of development or regulatory concerns and constraints are underrepresented.  The full product management universe has many considerations, some of which are depicted below.

It’s clear that product management isn’t just a process or just a linear set of checkpoints, and is not just customer facing or just internal development or testing, and is not just technology focused or just business minded. It’s all of these considerations and more. Organized in a framework or space. Its dimensions requiring simultaneous recurring attention.

The following are the key dimensions of the product management space:

  • Product Scope  embodies the set of product attributes and their interrelationships which define the product that best aligns provider and customer net benefits.  It includes product objectives, requirements, specifications and metrics across several domains including technical, commercial, operational and others, and from several perspectives and contexts including the provider, customer, market, and regulatory.
  • Product Lifecycle  includes progressive activities, states and checkpoints over time from concept through incubation, delivery, useful life, retirement, to eventual end of life.
  • Product Stakeholders  include those that benefit from the product (namely provider owners and customers) and also those that influence, constrain and deliver the product.  They may be internal provider functions, customer functions, or other market or regulatory influencers and bodies.

Zones of Accountability


So – must every product manager cover the full product management space?

Individual product manager’s accountability may vary from responsibility over the whole space to just a subset – or a zone of accountability.  A zone is defined by a combination of segments (or ranges) along each of the dimensions.

To illustrate, a product manager may be accountable for only product inception and initial strategy.  This zone might be characterized by early lifecyclescope dominated by technology trends, market share and high level needs analyses; and stakeholders mainly representing owners, lead customers, and market and technology analysts.

Which zones are actually defined and worked depends on factors such as product maturity, product complexity, individual product manager skill set and availability.   Situations with in-house skills or resource gaps can be addressed by services from reputable external product management practitioners.  For example – managing introduction of opportunistic products, tutoring skills in a particular zone (e.g. competitive and market analysis), or retiring old products.

Voluminous, Not Linear


In summary, product management is a complex space of considerations and actions needing simultaneous attention, rather than a routine linear process.

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