Episode 22: The OG of IoT: A Chat w/ Rob Tiffany (Part 1)

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With Rob Tiffany

VP & IoT Intrapreneur at Ericsson

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There are a select few who were there at the dawn of IoT. 

Rob Tiffany, VP & IoT Intrapreneur at Ericsson, is one of those. 

In fact, Rob is known for showing up in the monumental stages of the IoT evolution and transitioning into the behemoth that it is today.

Our conversation is so jam-packed with IoT insights that we had to separate it into two parts. 

In part one, Rob discusses the early days of IoT — pre-cloud, pre-sophisticated development tools, pre-wireless data networks — and weighs the cost and value sides of IoT.

We'll discuss:

  • The inventive spirit of the early days 
  • The current state of consumer IoT
  • Why the value of industrial IoT lies in moving users from guessing to knowing
  • What the future holds for automation and the workforce

This post is based on a podcast episode with Rob Tiffany, VP & IoT Intrapreneur at Ericsson. To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Over the Air wherever you listen to podcasts.

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The Dawn of Time

Rob joined his first startup when Windows95 was the operating system of choice. 

A kid fresh out of the military in the mid-'90s, he joined a team trying to devise a wireless inventory system for vending machines — and literally having to build modems “by hook or by crook.” 

Back then, you had to pay by the byte to send packets of info over community radio towers. There were no large cellular networks. Dial-up internet was in its infancy. 

He realized the critical importance of wireless connectivity early on, before the cloud, before sophisticated development tools. His timing and hard work in those long-ago days of Windows Mobile and the Blackberry paved the way for the effortlessness of IoT today. 

Rob is immensely grateful for the “greybeards” who gave him a real-world education on being a software engineer and developing large-scale architecture. 

Being on the bleeding edge of building the internet as we know it may have left some scars, but it was definitely worth it.

In addition to driving strategy at Ericsson, he’s also a best-selling author, a keynote speaker, host of a popular podcast, and the Executive Director of the sustainability-focused Moab Foundation.

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Interconnectivity

A little over a decade ago, the first strong wave of consumer IoT had investors stoked to make big piles of cash. 

Brands were launching what they thought was cool at the time — “just stupid stuff, your IoT coffee pot, your IoT toaster,” anything they could think of. However, Rob knew there would be no massive success there because the cost ratios were horrendous.

True IoT innovation takes you from guessing about something to knowing. It has a much greater impact than kitchen appliances. 

Rob helped construct Azure at Microsoft, then at Hitachi he was the CTO and the Global Product Manager for the Lumada industrial IoT platform. 

This kind of tech enables sensors that are far faster and more responsive than a human, thereby saving manufacturing downtime and costly repairs. And we’re still in the early days. Rob envisions a macrosystem of billions of connected devices.

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A Pitchfork Moment?

Advancements in AI and machine learning are still viewed with suspicion by a not-insubstantial segment of the population. Too many killer robot movies and the intensifying pace of change can strike fear in the heart of the average blue-collar worker. 

Or as it’s sometimes referred to, “economic anxiety.”

Pictures of the Tesla factory floor show a chilling lack of humans. But we’ve always done this, as Rob points out. The human race evolves to improve. It’s just the newest iteration of the industrial revolution. 

Thanks to the effects of the pandemic, people are realizing that there’s going to be some weirdness ahead. Not everyone will be a fan of automation and the IoT. 

The future strength of our workforce lies in an increasing focus on education, as well as exploration into concepts like universal basic income. 

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