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



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


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.

Scroll to Top

Subscribe to Praxiem or start a conversation

Use this form to subscribe to Praxiem’s newsletter or occasional communication, or just to start a conversation with us. 

Be sure to tick the SUBSCRIBE and/or START CONVERSATION box(es) to intentionally engage.  Don’t forget to confirm your email address when you receive the email we’ll send you.

Your information is confidential, and you may unsubscribe at any time.

NOTE: please confirm your email address through the email message we just sent you