When you embrace digital technology and think digitally all kinds of good things can happen. This story began with a fun home automation project and provided an interesting benefit in my day job.
While developing UltimateBusinessContinuity.com and info on digital transformation, I was eager to begin building a smart home using off-the-shelf Internet of Thing devices, platforms and software. The unlikely starting place for my home digital transformation was Walmart. Don’t laugh. I know, it is not as hi-tech as the MIT Media Lab but smart technology is now mainstream and you just never know when inspiration will
I was wandering the aisles and of course found my way to the electronics section. A new showcase caught my attention. It was filled with smart light bulbs, electronic sockets, thermostats and smoke detectors. It was love at first site.
As a hard-core techie and lifelong innovator, I was embarrassed that I had put off playing with smart home devices for so long. I had been so laser focused on implementing enterprise
systems and developing apps that I just had not gotten around to testing smart home devices. Well, today was the day. I anxiously asked the sales associate to help me purchase a TP-Link smart light bulb and smart socket.
The cost of the smart bulb was $14.97 and the socket $33.50. By chance, my son was visiting for the weekend. He is a better technologist than I am. He had already made his apartment beyond a ‘smart home’ into a ‘genius home’, having recently installed a bunch of Nest Thermostats and most recently smart window shades! They are very energy efficient and oh so cool!
When I got home with my new smart toys we dove right into our new project.
First, we created a quick plan with some simple tasks. Every business continuity professional understands why you always need a
plan and how to create one:
- Install the smart bulb and turn it on and off using an app. This bulb was for our lamp behind the couch.
- Install the smart electronic socket so we could turn a ‘dumb’ device, which had regular light bulbs (no smart bulbs) on and off from an app. This lamp was behind a chair in the middle of the living room.
- Turn the smart bulb and dumb lamp on and off using voice commands, as an option to using the app Create more complex scenarios where we could control both lamps at the same time using one voice command
- Have the smart devices send us a customized email when the lights were turned on and off. This also proved useful for a business application I had in mind. We challenged ourselves to do all the above in under an hour. Cool, right?
There was a lot on the line, such as our ‘tech reps’, comfort of my home, energy savings, being green and potentially some very big business benefits, which I will get to later in the story. Think of this as a valuable fun experiment and proof of concept with a pot-of-gold at the end. Using our well thought out project plan that took 5 minutes to create, we were ready to execute the steps.
Project plans, even on the professional level, should be comprehensive but not overly complicated.
First, we unscrewed the regular light bulb from the lamp behind the couch and replaced it with a TP-Link smart bulb.
The bulb we used contained some miniature components making it a self-contained IOT device. Not all smart bulbs are fully contained; some need complementary components to work. The bulb communicated with my
wireless network and made itself a known object. That was easy.
We then installed the smart socket. It has a compact design so it only uses one of the two outlets on the wall socket. The other socket can still be used for other purposes. The wireless network also saw this device and
made it available to us. Very cool.
We then installed the TP-Link Kasa app and synched it to the smart bulb and the smart socket. We could see the bulb and the socket in the app. The Kasa app is very user friendly and only took a couple of minutes to install.
The app has many cool and simple to use controls. We tested turning devices on and off and it worked like a charm.
Later we played with scheduling on and off for a future time. We marveled at the metrics the app provided. Up until now I envied Jeff Emmet, the former CEO for GE who was a big proponent of going digital. The millions of data points his GE Jet engines delivered in real-time allowing them to convey maintenance and performance opportunities was valuable in
terms of cost savings and customer experience by reducing down-time. Well, David and I had the smart little light bulb, ‘that could’.
To summarize, we installed the smart devices, installed the app and tested our ability to control the devices from anywhere in the world. An immediate benefit for me is that I no longer had to leave my home lights on all day for my dog. I could simply turn them on from the app when it got dark. In fact, I did just that from Cheesecake Factory that evening. How is that for rapid return on investment (ROI)!
Everything we accomplished to this point took us only 25 minutes. Onward we go, there’s more fun and payoff ahead…
Our next milestone (a fancy project management term for reaching a major project event) was to command the smart devices from my digital assistant Google Home. We fired up the Google Home app and connected with TP-Link by indicating a few simple settings. It took approximately 3
minutes to set it up.
So, now we could say a verbal command to Google Home, such as ‘Hey Google, turn on the couch light’ and it would turn on-or-off the proper device or multiple devices.
Next, we wanted to get a little fancy. We wanted to the system to email us when it was instructed to turn on or off the lights. David told me about IFTTT (If This Then That). This platform is a game changer. I classify it as a new breed of simple to use data-bridge software that opens a world of
IFTTT is a free web-based service to create chains of simple conditional statements called applets. So valuable for business continuity and critical event management applications. It is the glue between systems and devices. What it is doing is greatly simplifying using powerful Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) so anyone can benefit from them. We discussed value of API’s in the post, ‘Rocking the World with Digital Transformation and Convergence’ and will again in other posts. They as one of the most valuable building blocks on the road to digital disruption.
An IFTTT applet is triggered by changes that occur within other web services such as Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest or in smart physical devices. If something happens in one of these services (If This) a trigger action can occur in IFTTT and that can extend to
triggering additional actions (Then That). For our purposes,
we communicated with TP-Link, which then communicated with the smart physical devices. By ‘programming’ simple intuitive instructions in IFTTT magic happens.
For example, using a few simple statements in IFTTT empowered us to say to Google Home: ‘Hey Google, I am home.’ Google Home would say ‘Welcome home, I hope you had a nice day.’ It would then turn on the smart bulb and the dumb lamp using the smart socket. IFTTT would send us an
email about the event.
I also programmed IFTTT so my wife can close all the lights by saying one command, ‘Hey Google, good night’. My wife is a smart home proponent now. She wants smart thermostats, smoke alarms and maybe even those cool smart window shades.
I decided to test another IFTTT trigger without using Google Home as part of the process. I simply copied the applet and changed the initial trigger to an email received with a keyword in the subject line rather than a using a voice command. It was easy to make the change and it worked!
We had tons of fun and completed the entire implementation in less than an hour, so our ‘tech reps’ are secure.
But wait! There is bonus IoT business value ahead! As a digital technologist and business continuity director for a large corporation, my specialty is
implementing cutting edge digital situational awareness tools and intelligent mass notification systems. These tools can save lives and businesses. I have even used them to increase revenue. They provide benefits not possible with manual tools.
Mass notification tools such as Everbridge (everbridge.com) have various ways to take input such as through an API and an easier feature called email ingestion.
For example, hooking into a physical alarm system can be lifesaving in an active shooter situation. Sending real-time alerts can save product stored in warehouse by monitoring humidity and sending an alert to a group when a threshold is exceeded. Alerts in modern mass notification systems can
be sent by text, email, voice, push to an app and even activate a desktop pop-up, when every second counts.
Thousands of consistent messages can be delivered quickly with the push of a button or as you will see below, without even pushing a button. I have found from experience, that when such a tool is brought into an organization there is pent up demand from many people for interesting new uses.
After implementing my smart home and having the opportunity to play with some off-the-shelf tools and free platforms such as IFTTT the proverbial light bulb went off in my head, as it often does. Smart light bulbs, thermostats, weather stations and many other IOT devices can be very valuable to any type of organization. Smart devices allow us to gather important data which was never possible before.
I decided to do a demo for my management demonstrating how my little smart light bulb project could be extended to commercial applications. The demo was simple and consisted of turning on a light and passing variables
such as time, date and level of brightness to IFTTT.
IFTTT would then pass the information to Everbridge.
Everbridge would then automatically analyze the variables. Depending on the data and thresholds it would initiate a communication to the proper group of people that would benefit from the information.
This entire event occurred from start to finish with zero human involvement, although I could have added it in case we wanted someone to check it before sending theEverbridge generated communications. Imagine how valuable this automated process could be in a fast moving
hazardous man-made or weather event where seconds count and you do not want people encountering any danger. You could even push silent alarms out in the case of an active shooter scenario.
Management loved the demo and quickly realized benefits using many different types of IOT devices. We are now working on implementing our ideas and in some cases tying them to our mass notification system and other systems. I feel like a kid in a candy store. Sometimes I must pinch myself that I get to play with this futuristic digital technology and get paid for it.
Let your imagination go. New IoT devices are coming to market at a rapid rate. If you are creative you will find the right combination of IOT devices and software to build amazing solutions internally or for the delight of your
In summary, the best way to get comfortable with ‘what is possible’ is to play with a variety of technologies and build something small. You can then turn that into massive success.
Have Fun and Build a Better Program with Digital!