IoT vs GoT: Is Winter Coming?

Along with a bunch of other Game of Thrones (GoT) fans, I overwhelmingly supported George RR Martin’s decision to delay the release of book six in an already classic series. He has often said that he doesn’t like to write to deadlines, and it’s no surprise that six books have taken him twenty years to write.

If I were Martin’s publisher, I probably would have thought about the following in the decision to delay the publication date by a few months:

  1. Leadership and Culture – George RR Martin is not getting any younger, and while he has outlined book seven, it hasn’t been written yet. This may be a legitimate concern, although Martin has made it clear where he stands on the press’s concerns for his health.
  2. Delayed revenue – Unless the publishers are about to go bankrupt, this is not a problem for them.
  3. Lost profits – Not a problem. Readers of the first five books will not abandon book six. The HBO series has opened international markets for the books.
  4. Regulatory or legal hurdles – Again, not a problem, unless the FCC suddenly declares fiction illegal or HBO sues publishers for allowing the books to use the term “Winter is coming.”TM

Of course, the book comes with a TV series that’s launched content very similar to book six, no regulatory or legal hurdles to clear, and a horde of raving fans.  As investors, publishers take very little risk by having waited for a nearly guaranteed winner.

Life is less rosy in the world of Internet of Things (IoT). Start-ups (where the most IoT innovation has begun) live or die by ROI.  Investor-driven deadlines often force choices that shortcut design, testing, and overall quality of IoT solutions to be “fixed” in later versions.

Sadly, images are hard to fix once broken. The IoT “brand” took a hit from a well-meant experiment wrongly labelled as a remote car hijacking. FitBit was named in a class-action lawsuit because heart monitor readings were off by a significant margin. As the big-name players race to build a reliable IoT platform – many of whom are gobbling up start-ups – these shortcuts may continue and lead to lawsuits similar to what several retailers faced in 2015 with financial data break-ins.

With policymakers generally unprepared for IoT and trying to stay out of the way, are we really asking startups to self-regulate (click here for editorial comment)? How will we find out that the internet-connected thermostat has an expiration date for support and security? Will judges find it “fair and reasonable” to expect consumers to sift through layers of web pages to accept legal terms and conditions on how data is used? What is “harm”?

In trying to find needles in the IoT haystack, I focus on four questions that seem simple enough but have far-reaching implications:

  1. Leadership and Culture– I listen carefully for how owners of these new IoT companies address likely ethics challenges ahead such as how to share information without being creepy about it.
  2. Delayed revenue – One of these ethics challenges is how willing the leaders are to delay a launch in order to ensure a high-quality product. Thinking through use cases – and resulting impact on the users – will separate the wheat from the chaff.
  3. Lost profits – The threat of competitor entry is very real. The opportunity cost of waiting three months to fix an issue may allow an unknown competitor to hit the market first – even if the product or service is inferior – and erode margin and return on investment (ROI).
  4. Regulatory or legal hurdles – With the IoT landscape fraught with landmines, some parts of the marketplace will be really hard to enter first. Healthcare is a good example. Imagine the political outcry if protected health information (PHI) were hacked. It only takes once.

As consumers and businesses drool over the potential promise of a concierge-like service, investors will be less patient with a start-up than with George RR Martin’s next instant classic.  The threats raised by self-regulated IoT are too real to ignore. “Winter is coming”TM and will last until the leading IoT companies provide a secure, and reliable platform to safely deliver data.

“Winter is coming” is a trademark of Home Box Office (HBO).

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