Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, once managed to speak directly to the Pope by using a toy whistle.
I’d love for this to be the feed line of a great, if geeky joke, but in fact it’s true.
In the days before such things were engineered out of the system, it was possible to fool the global telephone network into providing free access to the entire infrastructure, by playing a sequence of 2600 Hz tones – from a toy whistle. The so-called phone phreaking was initially all about making free long-distance and international calls, but soon developed into what we today know as hacking.
Which is where Wozniak came in, when he phreak-called the Pope masquerading as Henry Kissinger, no less.
Good-natured pranking always, inevitably, has the potential to become something darker and more nefarious which was one reason (the other being purely commercial) that phone phreaking was illegal from the very outset.
Of course, nobody would ever build a network of any type that would have such a fundamental security flaw baked into it, would they?
Oh, wait. That’s exactly what the internet is.
Do any amount of research into the origins of the internet (and the World Wide Web) and you’ll find a consistent theme amongst the reminiscences of its founding fathers — “what were we thinking?”
The open, virtually anarchic nature of the internet, and the very untraceability of its users makes it a far more successful vehicle for nefarious activity than the phone network ever was. And yet, we often rely more on the internet than the phone network.
And now the Internet of Things is set to extend the Internet’s reach in what may be a geometrical progression.
In the last couple of years, this blogger’s household has become inhabited by many connected devices. Not just new devices, per se, in terms of their function, such as the voice activated interfaces for shopping and media streaming. Our home has gone from having a couple of computers and a couple of smart phones, to internet-connected devices numbering well into double figures.
We have wristwatches, fitness devices, heating and cooling controllers, televisions, light bulbs, doorbells – and even our cars that now connect to the internet as we drive into the garage. And all these things are always on, always connected. And this wasn’t a result of a conscious effort to drive home automation either. It was more a matter of an increasing number of things having internet connectivity, as standard.
The Internet of Things really is a thing, and it really is here.
But what does it mean – both for us as individuals, and as procurement pros?
Well, security issues aside – and only because it’s too big a topic for a procurement software blog – IoT is set to change procurement practices more fundamentally than other emerging tech trends that get more airtime , RPA and AI for instance.
IoT will let us change HOW we work. It is already changing how we do all sorts of things, outside of the business space, and as those behaviours become the standard operating procedures in our daily lives they will inevitably become part of how we work.
From the perspective of a visitor from the past to our time – even from just a decade ago – I can talk to my house, ask it to arrange for something to be delivered and the house will tell me the moment the package is dropped at the door. The very moment.
Because everything is connected. Indeed, I met a delivery guy half-way down the drive the other day to collect a parcel and he insisted on carrying it to the door. Yes, he was being nice. But also when he scanned the barcode, the scanner recorded the precise GPS coordinates and were I not home I could look through the camera in the doorbell and confirm that location before the delivery guy reached his vehicle.
This extraordinary power to plan, act, execute and witness – in real time – regardless of physical location has the potential to fundamentally change our ability to direct our lives in a way that suits us. Why should procurement and supply chain be any different?
Because it’s more complex? Because failure carries bigger penalties? Because the risks are greater?
These are true but not reasons as to why IoT-enabled workflow and control wouldn’t work for procurement. They are, granted, reasons why IoT will take longer to penetrate the B2B space as a significant factor. But it’s probable that there are no good reasons as to why we shouldn’t be able to interact with our extended corporate supply chain in exactly the same manner as we do with our personal supply networks.
The technologies exist and can be exploited with astonishing transformational potential. The natural inertia in giant corporate business will see this being a long game. But don’t be surprised if you’re talking directly to your procurement software within the next couple of years.
We’ve published a recent Perspective on the Internet of Things. You can download it here.