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The Rise of the Machines

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Last week, I shared three themes percolating in the dynamic Internet of Things (IoT) movement: 1) Wearable Devices driving health and wellness breakthroughs 2) Embedded Sensors “incrementally” improving industrial productivity, and 3) The converging trends of miniaturization, affordability, and “de-wireization” driving energy efficiencies and cost reductions the world over.

These are big themes - breathtaking in their “macro” - but sometimes very difficult to translate to specific opportunities from which we as entrepreneurs and investors can individually benefit.

But try we must, both because of the sin that it is to see an opportunity and to not pursue it, and if we don't

…we run the very real risk of being overrun by transformations so profound and all-encompassing as to threaten to the point of obsolescence virtually every business and investment model.

Overly dramatic? I don't think so.

For if the last 20 years of technology advances have taught us anything, it is that global, online connectedness naturally creates conditions where choosing winning strategies don't just give companies a leg up, but allows them to capture all of the market (including its profits).

Examples of this phenomenon?

Think Google for search, Facebook and LinkedIn for social networking. Twitter for one-to-many communication.

And how about SpaceX for rocket technologies? WhatsApp for free SMS? EBay for online marketplaces? Craigslist for classifieds?

The list goes on and on.

And this coming Internet of Things - with estimates as high as 25 Billion devices being online in some form by 2025 - will provide far greater opportunities for new entrants to rapidly scale and for incumbents to be rudely displaced than your “Father's Internet” ever did.

The revolution here can be boiled down to one word.

Data.

And the need to manage and interpret the vast and ever-streaming treasure trove of it that will always be flowing from these billions of interconnected devices.

I thought General Electric's Head of Software Bill Ruh, explained it best at Kamal Ahmed’s and Ali Tabibian’s IoT event last month. The example he used was of the jet engines that GE makes for Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers that both create and allow for tracking on huge amounts of performance data.

Now when that data confirms the belief of the technicians managing those engines, it is used.

But, when it contradicts long held assumptions and beliefs, more often than not it is ignored.

In an IoT world, this belief system, this hubris, one’s qualitative judgments in contradiction with “the facts” needs to be quickly and ruthlessly discarded.

And it must be replaced by the conviction, faith, and sternly pursued managerial practice that these facts, this data above all else is king.

Sound harsh? Un-feeling?

A foreshadowing of a Rise of the Machines world where we humans are regulated to a feeble processing power second class?

Perhaps.

But the optimists among us see many examples of long-held human prejudices cracking and disintegrating in the face of impersonal yes but also agenda-free data.

And another point – quality data analytics drives efficiency which in business and in life ranks right up there with sound strategy and impeccable ethics as pillars of asset and profitability growth.

When looked at this way, that in an IoT world good data analytics and analysis no matter the business trumps all, what naturally follows is that the particular business that one intends to start, build or invest in is almost secondary.

More important is one's relationship, one's willingness to let the data - well collected, accurate, and regularly and properly analyzed data - guide ones business decisions, strategies and tactics.

This is very hard to do in practice, as old habits and ways of thinking and doing die very hard.

But, as the habit is built, the competitive cost, and positioning advantages - built up incrementally over time in a business’ product and service offerings, in its marketing and sales conversion funnel, in its operational efficiencies - become unassailable.

And then, in the eternal words of the great Charlie Munger - Warren Buffet's investment partner for over 50 years - a business approaches a Low Cost, Hiqh Quality nirvana where assets and profits build steadily and wildly over time.

Hail to the Machines.

To Your Success,


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