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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Tego Talks AWS Greengrass, IoT and Edge Computing

interview tego 

I recently had a conversation with Timothy Butler, CEO and founder of Tego, Inc.  Timothy told VMblog that he has been hearing a lot about employee satisfaction becoming an overlooked factor in integrating IoT into business operations.  This sentiment has been reflected in conversation after conversation with companies who are grappling with IoT integration.  In fact, he sees edge computing as a prime opportunity for enhanced employee performance and contribution to the whole.  

VMblog:  Why do you believe AWS chose to reverse course and launch, in effect, an on-premises compute solution?

Timothy Butler:  Interestingly, AWS has been expanding its on-premise presence for the better part of three years with its Snowball data transport service and otherwise, but Greengrass seems to explicitly acknowledge and attempt to address a wide-scale barrier for IoT adoption: constant data connectivity on edge devices isn't easy, and it isn't cheap. The "always on" dynamic that's come to be synonymous with the IoT is a bit ironic when you stop and think about it, because the value to be gained from digitization does not actually require sensors or IP connections. Instead, an approach that focuses on the "T" in the IoT (i.e. the "Thing"), which turns parts, components and other objects into smart conveyors of information, does not require constant connectivity or complex software integrations. The trick is in finding an easier way for these things to share their data, which is where AWS appears to be devoting its attention with Greengrass.

VMblog:  Is there an appetite for this kind of solution among enterprises?  Do you foresee a sales challenge for Greengrass?

Butler:  Closing sales is always about drilling down to specific use cases, and the value for IoT-driven solutions has suffered amidst concerns that they require a large-scale, expensive roll-out of connectivity systems and infrastructure. As a result, potential users generally come from a place of skepticism; questions about where to begin, when they'll see return-on-investment, and functional ownership plague IoT initiatives from the get go.

So there's plenty of work to be done in communicating the business case, but it has to come from a place of proving concrete improvements that edge-connected assets can produce. And that starts with small, specific use cases. AWS will probably find it needs to shift away from its traditional focus on large-scale compute dynamics and technical features. Descriptions of Lambda and stateless functions will not be adequate to make the case among this crowd of buyers.

VMblog:  AWS notes that local data processing can fuel more timely and accurate decisions.  Can you help our readers understand what kinds of decisions they mean?

Butler:  Tego has understood for years, since it co-authored the automated identification and data capture standard for the Air Transport Association, ATA Spec 2000, Chapter 9-5, Version 2013-1, that giving assets their own, digital intelligence could produce more accurate supply chain collaboration, as well as much more efficient and safe maintenance programs downstream. Today, airlines are using edge computing to empower their ground crews to reduce their planes' time on the tarmac and thus improve the airline's overall profitability. In other industries, a medicine might prove its authenticity to an aftermarket caregiver through an embedded, digital signature with NSA-level encryption, and expand trust for the pharmaceutical brand. Line workers in an aseptic pharmaceutical plant are using edge assets to discover non-sterile exposure points, and thus protect the company against batch-level contamination and the specter of a vast recall. Using edge computing to solve small, pragmatic issues like this adds up to big value.

VMblog:  In your estimation, does Greengrass give the IoT a boost to "cross the chasm" into large-scale digitization initiatives?

Butler:  If done right, Greengrass can help push the industry's IoT mentality to more widely recognize the value of placing intelligence on the "T." This is analogous to companies realizing in the 1980s and 90s that moving away from mainframe computing architectures to desktop PCs could empower their companies to accomplish more. Instead of being locked into singular work streams from their "dumb green" digital terminals, employees could now read, write and store data locally, further their knowledge and understanding, broaden their work context, and produce more powerful daily outcomes.

VMblog:  What do you characterize as the primary value that edge computing brings to an enterprise organization?

Butler:  The real transformative effect is to provide, like never before, a way for IoT to sustainably inform decision making. Sometimes, the most important decisions can only be made with the assistance of local data, and then only if the data gets seen and acted upon at a precise moment in time. Once that moment's passed, the opportunity can be lost. There is tremendous power in putting data processing closer to assets, so that better decisions can be made by workers who are in the fray.

Edge computing is the missing link to the IoT vision where assets tell employees, quickly, what needs to be done!

VMblog:  Edge computing tends to be synonymous with automation.  How do you see the human dynamic changing as edge computing gains steam?

Butler:  In today's work environment, it is not uncommon for an employee at the edge to start to feel disconnected, or to feel like they've been made into an automaton. However, when data travels with an object, and that object becomes progressively more informed each time it interacts with a human, a funny thing happens. Humans can suddenly absorb and contribute to the organization's intelligence in ways that add more meaning and context to their roles. Workers no longer merely receive static readings on a paper handout, but are constantly privy to a flow of input from their surroundings. Humans, after all, are the ultimate sensors in that they have distinct knowledge and understanding about how things should be, which a machine cannot necessarily spot. Sometimes, all they need is for the right alert to enter their purview.

We believe edge computing will yield a better sense of engagement for employees at the edge, empower them to more personally contribute more often to a final outcome. It may just become the perfect expression of man and machine working together.

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Published Thursday, July 27, 2017 7:31 AM by David Marshall
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