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


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 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

Mentioned during the podcast:

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation with Rob. Never miss an episode of Over The Air by subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Because the vision for iote is tens of billions of devices, a multivariate system, analytics, pattern matching rules and then later on ml and things like that where it's appropriate, and then making decisions on its own. You're listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey brought to you by vary. In each episode we have sharp, unfiltered conversations with executives about their IOT journeys, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and what they wish they'd known when they started. Welcome back to over the Air IOT connected devices in the journey. My name is Ryan prossers, CEO vary, and today we're joined by Rob Tiffany, vice president and head of strategy at Ericson and Executive Director at Moab Foundation. So those are official designations, but unofficially, for those who know, rob is sort of the og of the Iot space and today we are going to get into it. Rob, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for having me. Ryan. It's good to be here. Man. So, rob you've got this huge presence in the IOT space. You've been around, you know, you sort of like the forest gump of iote. At all the pivotal moments in all the pivotal places. For those that aren't as familiar, can you give us a little bit of background on, you know, your career arc and then let's get into Moab and Eric's in a little bit? Absolutely. Yeah, I've totally been hanging out with forest and Lieutenant Dan this whole time, dude. So yes, going back to the on of time, in the S is when I kind of got started doing this IOT stuff. It was after I got out of the military I joined a start up called real time data. What a unique name that is, and the whole idea was monitoring vending machines wirelessly. And so this was back in the mid S. Like I remember Windows Ninety five coming out at that time frame. So that's kind of my frame of reference. They're right, so earliest days of the Internet being open to the rest of the world and not just our ponette and stuff like that, and it was like how are we going to have machines talk to us? You know, the original idea was, let's we have route drivers who deliver products to fill up vending machines and they have routes and they drive around a city. So they mindlessly get in trucks and with candy and drinks to go fill the machines and we're like, you know, I bet you if the machines told us their inventory wirelessly or over the Internet, that could we could optimize things. And so it was kind of a simple thing there. And so I'm just a kid. They're at work in with a bunch of really rocket science guys, like literally the guys who created the black box where aircraft, all these RF engineers. You could imagine when you're starting and you're having to invent everything yourself, like every aspect. When we think of all the stack the things that go into doing an IOT solution, can you imagine if you had to invent every bit of it from scratch because it hadn't been done before? And so, literally we're inventing wireless modems to send packets over like these community business radio towers, like four hundred and fifty mega hurts towers by Hook or by Crook. It wouldn't like you had some big cellular data networks back then. Right, we had people who are doing firmware, you know, black boxes inside a vending machine, connected the cables, finding out how the inventory is going, how much money it's making and then stuff running on a PC of graphical interface that look just like you're looking at a vending machine and seeing the current inventory. And so I learned so much from that experience, just being the stupid kid on the team and learning from all these gray beards who basically taught me everything I know about being a software engineer, about large scale architecture, and so it also gives you perspective as you move forward when you do something, you know, we didn't know what we were doing then. We just had a use case. Right, we're just solving a problem and we're using a series of technologies to solve it. Right, one of the things you learned was, oh, you know, having efficient packets turns out to be a thing, because we had to pay by the bite by back then, and so you're bittencoding your packets, you know, doing the exord and...

...all that fun stuff to make everything efficient, because it really cost a lot of money back then. It's not like things are today. And so as you progress forward and you have that, we raised a bunch of money and you know that company that lived on inside another bigger vending company actually these days, but that's where you got my start and you learned the importance of wireless connectivity. One of our founders, I don't know if a lot of people know this, one of the people who backed US financially was my cost cellular, and so for those who don't know what that cry, mccause like one of the pioneers in the wireless industry. A lot of the stuff happened in the Pacific northwest. So my Cosset Eli was the first nationwide cellular network in the United States. You know it as atnt wireless today, though, and so that's what all that became and they backed us and because we were pushing the envelope on what could be done. And so you know how you hear lots of people talk about Iot or the first utterances of that or when we got together. Didn't happen until some time after two thousand that's just total crap. We were doing that stuff early, early days, and it was bleeding edge and we were definitely bleeding a lot, but it was it was a lot of fun and it's set yourself on a trajectory. As things get more sophisticated, as tool sets and stacks and things that you might use to build solutions get more sophisticated over time. It seems new to other people, but you had to invent the whole thing. And so like when I think about when I relate it to my experiences today, Iot just seems mindlessly easy because it's effortless. We didn't have clouds, we didn't have sophisticated development tools, we didn't have all that stuff. We didn't have great data networks everywhere. So did that. You know, wrote the wireless wave. You know, did a mobile device management start up in the early two thousands. You know, like if you think of Air Watch or mobile iron or things like that, black beerying a price server. So had that. had a good exit there and then went to work for Microsoft and if anybody rumors windows mobile or windows phone, if you ever had a phone with the tiles on it, that was me. And so that was great being on that team and building an operating system and technology for smartphones. I think we did better when it was just us and blackberry. Obviously we got our ass kicked later on by the IPHONE. It happened. Was Right and say it, but yeah, you know, it happens. That's life, right, you know. And so you had good times and then you had to get really thick skin as people are shooting arrows at you. I used to do the majority of all our executive briefings for mobility and I ended up doing the same thing for I t at Microsoft. So this big executive briefing center and executives from all over the planet or flying into Seattle every week, and so I would do the talk about mobile and went from early days of being yeah, this is amazing, we're going to change our business with this too. I can't believe I'm going to use this thing in my enterprise. You know, as soon as the iphone came along, it was no pointo for us. was there a moment that, if you could go back mentally into your windows mobile journey, you were like, okay, that was the point at which we sealed our fate, as you know, able to be overtaken by IOS. You know, was there like a fundamental decision you made early on and he's okay. Later, looking back, he said, wow, that was not the correct decision based on the way technology evolved. Yeah, you know, a lot of people said, oh, Microsoft's late because they think of windows phone that came out in two thousand and ten with the tiles. But we're actually really early. You know, we had created something called an embedded operating system back in ninety six, called windows see and that you used to build industrial stuff. We built the SUCKET PC on top of that, which was a competitor to the palm pilot in the S and then blackberry. Before they were phones, they were two way pagers with text and stuff like that, and so we were competing in that space and that evolved into a phone. And so early days that first phone grew out of the pocket pc and we were kind of using some of the windows ninety five metaphors for the user interface onto phone because we didn't know what we didn't know, and so we evolved. You know, when the IPHONE came out early on, and you know Steve Bomber said some ridiculous stuff about how it was so expensive, it didn't even have...

...a keyboard. A lot of our devices had keyboards, just like the blackberries people. You know, we had great success. We sold lots of phones in those days. It took about, I know, three years before iphones shipping volume finally matched where we were. We were super focused on the enterprise because, and that's where everybody was between us and blackberry. We were focused on email, exchange, server, push email. He's to be a big thing for some reason. Encryption, device management, all that stuff. And iphone could care less about the enterprise and they went directly after the consumer. You know, apples like, who cares about the enterprise? Consumers way bigger. And so we fight. We tried multiple times to launch something called Windows Mobile Seven. I got prototypes showing user interfaces. You can't believe that. We never saw the light of day, though, and then we kept blowing up teams. New Executives would come in, we try something, they get their heads chopped off. A new team would come in, we'd shoot them in the head. Finally had a group and then we launched the thing with the tiles, the live tiles, which ultimately inspired windows eight, and then the tiles you see on the start menu and windows ten. All that came from all our design work, from windows phone seven, as we called it, and so we were late to the party in as terms as far as a consumer device and trying to pivot from enterprise to consumer. And so when we launched that consumer device with tiles, yeah, it was beautiful. We got like great reviews. We didn't have a lot of time to move over all the enterprise features into it. I don't know if it would have mattered or not. And so it was like an empty shell of a device. It was pretty, it had a browser, you could do email and some aps, not a lot, and so all of a sudden the enterprises said this phone's crap. You lost all your enterprise tech, your security, your manageability, that kind of stuff. In the meantime, you know, obviously apple wasn't sitting still. Then android was launched, you know, with the first HTC devices. HTC was our primary partner through that whole time. They were Odim that kind of white labeled device has for us and a lot of mobile operators. And then I think they saw the light with android and so they created like the earliest android devices. In fact, all people don't remember HTC was actually the leader in the android space for quite a while before Samsung finally surpass them with the galaxy devices. I think we just didn't get consumer quick enough. We had some people that got it and we were just such an enterprise focus business and I think that's and so we dragged our feet. We tried to come back. We acquired no Kias handset business. One of our guys, Steven elop, he was leading office. He left Microsoft and and up be going the CEO of Nokia. And you know a lot of people don't remember. You know the same question you're asking me. As you know, winded windows phone or windows mobile start to die and realize there was a turning point. Nokia had it even bigger reckoning than we did. Nokia used to own the entire phone market completely. No one was even close. And I remember Steven eelop when he takes over at CEO and he's standing on stage doing his first presentation and he shows a picture of a oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico on fire and he's like, Nokia is a burning platform. We're dying and we got to start over fast. And so, however you want to catch it. We made a deal with them, actually made a deal before we bought them, where they would adopt windows phone as their primary operating system. They were using something called Symbian that both Nokia and Ericson were using back then, and so they went all in with our stuff. Nokia made beautiful devices, we got some market share, but you know, it just was never enough. And then, you know, by the time, you know, bomber left and Satia and Nadella took over, satia just he was not into the phone space at all. He thought we were just probably throwing good money after bad down a hole, and so he was the one who pulled the plug on the whole phone deal completely and shut down the business, kind of around the same time as the surface line for Windows was starting to come up and start having success. And so so there you have it. Of course, now the surface duo is this hinge device out...

...there that of course it's based on android. So yeah, maybe Microsoft will be back in that space just a little bit, but not much. You know, enterprise focus. Actually, you you've got an entire chapter, you know, coming up in this narrative about Ericson but I want to pause and jump in. You know, when you got rob on the show, there really is no script. We're just go in different directions and see where the wind blows. US. Talk to me about Consumer Iot. So you know Microsoft. You talking about Microsoft struggling to like really get it right. Microsoft, course, massive company, unlimited resources. You know, they're struggling to get it right. I guess I'm talking mostly about mobile. This is going to be a broadly consumer IOT question. But HTC, you know how to. They ran like hell for a minute. Blackberry was a giant player until they fizzled out, you know, colossally. Now they're a business case on its you know, of like what happens when you talk about Nokia. You know you have to be a certain age, but if you are over forty, you owned a Nokia phone and so did every one of your friends and like snake, was the honest mobile game. Yeah, possible. And so talk to me about Consumer Iot. You know, at very we don't do a lot of consumer our view generally is the consumer space is dominated by small number of people that have really deep pockets. They're very likely to do you know, a lot of those work themselves and then you got a long tail of entrepreneurs and innovators trying to scrap their way through it, figure it out. Hard hardware is hard. They're often underfunded. What's your view on Consumer Iot? How, like pepper, a few La Followup questions, like how if someone's out there, they're working out a small consumer Iot company right now. They're shouting at the radio. We're here, we're doing it you know, it's yeah, like, what do you think these folks coming from this time at Microsoft, having taken some lumps here? Yeah, what's the future of the SMB Io, you know, consumer IOT space? Is there a glimmers of hope or their pockets? Are there things you would avoid at all costs? Yeah, I know it's interesting and also I don't want people to think that when we're talking about mobile it's unrelated to Iot, because we wouldn't have the sensor technology and low power, you know, micro controllers today if it wasn't for the driving force of smartphone revolution that made all that stuff not only possible but push the prices down. Because, you know, Iot came to life. Obviously we've been doing telemetry and sending commands to machines for decades, but through proprietary methods. You know, what got Iot off the ground was certainly a perfect storm, and maybe it was happening some people didn't even realize it was happening. Maybe the two thousand and ten time frame, where battery power was long enough, micro controllers, the small arm devices, were powerful enough, sensors were cheap enough and wireless, which also goes with mobile. But it we carried it over to Iote. It became ubiquitous enough and cost effective enough where regular folks could get involved in this, and so when you had that perfect storm to come together back then, you had a lot of people say, Oh my God, I'm going to jump into this. Obviously it was helped by McKenzie with their big report telling everyone that Iot was going to be an eleven trillion dollar market, and so everybody's like, Oh, I'm got to go after that big bag of cash, and so people dove in. And you know what, to your point, they dove into consumer iote first, and so anybody who was going to see us every year back in those days, all the way through, you know, the mid part of the last decade, most of the iote startups that you would see at sees we're all consumer Iote, and people were launching they probably thought it was cool at the time, but they were just stupid stuff. You know, your iote Coffee Pot, your iote toaster, your iote basically, people took any consumer product that was out there and plugged it in, and so... had all these IOT devices that were doing stuff like that, thousands of them, and there's no money in that space to begin with. Also, a lot of people didn't realize and you still see this today. You know, there's the notion of there's the current version of the product, will say, like a doorbell, and then there's the iote, the ring or the other you know, there's a lot of other players that make those kind of things. Are Low and stuff like that, and there's the Iot version of that same product and it's or five eggs whatever more expensive, sometimes ten x more expensive. And then, you know, sometimes those devices die because the back end cloud goes away and then you spend a lot of money for something that doesn't actually do anything anymore. That's been that whole space there, and so you've had some breakout winners, for sure. You know who got acquired that. We're really narrowly focused. But yeah, you're right, most of these consumer things didn't fly. And it also the ratio of the cost of the product to the cost of adding compute storage networking to it. If what you're adding to it to make it an Iot version of the product, that think that stuff you're adding needs to be less than one percent of the cost of the whole product. But people were bolting on stuff that was a huge portion of the cost and it just blew out. You know, it was cool. There were early adopters, Geeks who thought that was cool, but the masses are like, I'm not paying for that, you know, and so all that stuff died. And then I think, you know, maybe five or so years ago some people started to wake up and go, Huh, well, let's see, maybe I should follow the money. I think this industrial stuff is more important. The center price stuff is where the money's at, and it is right. Absolutely couldn't agree more. I've a follow up question. are like a redirect. So the total cost of the unit can't be more than one percent of the you know the IOT development work. Haven't heard that before. That's really interesting. On the other sids, that's on the cost side, on the value side. One of the things that you've said before, or and you mentioned in the preeterview is Iote, is the difference between guessing and knowing, which is more on the value side. Talk talk about that and like your view on you know, a good iote innovation takes you from guessing on a thing to knowing on a thing. What that means to you, examples, etc. Well, you know, the good part is after the crash and burn of mobile. I spent the second half of my career building Azure at Microsoft and then building as your Iote, and that's where I went. Got To go revisit iote again and go deep and build a global iot platform and then go to Hitachi and build Lu Mata, doing the industrial and living in factories. And so to your point, the guessing and knowing, if you think about you're in a factory, you're building something on an assembly line. So much, and this spans lots of industries, but there's you know, we always hear terms like tribal knowledge or I've got a feel for things or whatever. Or I do. We do routine maintenance schedules on whatever, this piece of equipment or this thing, and everything we do. Or if I'm doing agriculture, I'm gonna Water, I'm going to irrigate this field on a certain schedule. All of these decisions, these schedules, these things that we're doing are they're based on a best guess, and I'm not saying they're just stabbing in the dark. It's based on past experience and they think, yeah, this is about what I should do. But you're always guessing. With iote now those places, those things are actually telling you when it's time to go do main nuts or when it's time to get ready for maintance. And so what I mean by that is if you've got a factory with industrial robots on an assembly line and they're instrumented, you know you've put your compute storage and networking, your software, your SDK, you're wiring in to all the sensors on that machine, whatever it happens to be, and it's constantly telling you it's health, it's performance, problems it's having. I'm totally all in with digital twins from a long time ago, and so modeling subsystems in a machine to the whole machine and kind of...

...causal relationships when problems of subsystem can bubble up to bring down the whole thing. And so with Iot, the machines are constantly telling you I'm okay or I'm not okay, or I'm wearing down, I'm seeing you know, because there's certain things. You know, we all have knowledge of how machines were down and obviously common sense tells you anything with moving parts is going to wear down and fail eventually right over some period of time. You know, like your car. You got brakes. You're driving your car and then you start to hear a little kind of squeal when you're putting on the brakes and that's your first syndicator that hey, sometime in the future something might go wrong, and then maybe you don't do anything about it, and later on you're hitting the brakes and you hear this grinding sound and then that guess what, that's a more expensive cost when you finally fix it. That's Iot in a nutshell. That's Industrial Iot in a nutshell. Right there it instead, if you discovering it, sensors are knowing it earlier than the human knows about it. You know, obviously you get direct feedback when you're driving your car to go, Oh, crap, this is going to cost me a lot of money. And so industrial iote is the same thing. We're trying to avoid downtime, we're try doing to avoid an expensive repair. If you get to things earlier, it's cheaper than if you wait later. Right. It's stuff like that. So that knowing allows you to make decisions to take things now these early days of Iote, you know, you see people building all these systems with dashboards and it's like homer Simpson and a nuclear reactor looking at some big screen. No, I'm going to do something about it. Just think of that as sales crap and think of that as the early days of Iote, because the vision for iote is tens of billions of devices, a multivariate system, analytics, pattern matching rules and then later on ml and things like that where it's appropriate, and then making decisions on its own. People are not supposed to be involved in Iot at all. They are today there today because it's comfortable and we're actually no one's really doing big IOT yet, despite a lot of talk, and so you could you still have people looking at dashboards and going, Oh, I see this line here, maybe I should do something in the future. The reason why built Lumata Tatachi. You know, your connect collect that data, analyze, drive insights and then take action. And so having those connectors, don't build a new data Syloh, have connectors to all those other back end systems, other systems, a record that a customer may have, automation so that drive an insight and take connection on your own and automate that thing, because in the future, the the Iot that we all think about, it'll be so big there's no one or group of people that could manage such a large system, and so we have to get really smart about managing and decisionmaking on a giant, multivariate system. Let's pull on the human thread here a little bit. So the one thing you and I've talked about before is this, you know, potential pitchfork moment where, you know, jobs have been replaced innovation, iote, automation, you know, are viewed as even more existential to perhaps like a working class of people, or maybe not a working class, maybe people that are thought of, as you know, white color jobs. What's your thought on you know, the pace of innovation appears to be accelerating. Iote, I think, is primed to have a moment if the world will allow it to not get in the way in the S, you know. But like fast change that comes at the expense of humans and their jobs, these things are occasionally they get torched with actual torches. Yeah, so you know, thoughts on that? Talk to me about life in two thousand and twenty five. You know, do you think that we're looking at a growing group of people who are maybe not at all fans of the IOTE? Yeah, there's always going to be people are not fans of just automation in general right the fact that we a lot of people don't realize this, so they just don't think about it. When I say the word factory, we have reason. We have factories all over the world to make things. That's actually an example of automation. Before...

...that, people built everything by hand. A factory is a form of automation, and so when you're a part of a factory and you think I've got my stable factory job for life, you just have it for a period of time. Now, there's no doubt about it. In the past the pace of innovation was slow enough that you could graduate from college, or not just get out of high school and have a diploma and get yourself a good job and you might work that job for your whole life, until you retire, because the pace of innovation was slow enough that it wasn't going to get disrupted. Obviously, things have been snowballing. Technology just keeps doubling and tripling, you know, rapidly. When all of a sudden, if when you look at pictures, like whenever you see a photo of the Giga factory, you know for Tesla, and there's like no one in the factory or there maybe there's one guy you know that probably strikes fear in a lot of factory workers, for instance, and there's all kinds of jobs where that happens to and it's not just like when you hear Ai's coming for your job, your white collar job. It spans all kinds of things and obviously we're doing it to ourselves, right, but we've always done this. We have always done this. We're just doing it fast and we've done it before. And so you could see on rest. We've seen unrest in weirdness happening just during covid right, Gosh, weird stuffs happening right now even you know, people are losing their jobs. People lost their jobs. Why would you have people talking about things like universal basic income if people on a wide scale did and realize that we're headed for some weird times? We're human brains are not going to be able to keep up, not. And you know what, we're all created equal, but we're not all going to have equal outcomes. Everybody's also unique and different and some people have more capacity to learn, to get smarter and keep up with the changes than others. Right, and that's just the way it is. You know, I often say we're all created equal, but it doesn't stay that way for very long, you know it just like you have two automobiles, two cars, identical cars off the lot. One of them, the owner invests in it heavily aftermarket upgrades and things like that. The other one, you know, never gets oil changes, has the squeaky breaks like you were talking about, and those two cars are just not equal. The just not equal. You know, I don't know. It's a fallacy to think that it's different for people. Anyway, we could talk about this for ages. Last question apart one of our chat with Rob Tiffany. Will have more in part two of the interview in the next couple of weeks. You know, you, like I said, you've got a big media footprint out there, or social media footprint. Where do you point people ask? So, for people that want to follow rob, maybe they're here and you for the first time today. They like what you're throwing down. We're some good places to follow the ROB Tiffany Story. Sure. Well, certainly linkedin and twitter. That's lowhanging fruit. I've got us, RUB tiffany. Digitalcom got some stuff out there. Youtube. Gosh, I probably created seventy or eighty different I team minute videos. Back when I had to teach the Hitachi sales force how to sell Iot, I created these bitesides videos to teach them all the little elements that IOT kind of little small segments to make it digestible, so you can talk intelligently to customers, right. And then Iot coffee talk, Gosh, you know, that's me and a couple of industry analysts, and then three of us are actually inventors of some of the most successful IOT platforms in the world, and so we do a talk. It's like an hour or so every Wednesday and and that's up on Youtube and also on different podcast platforms as well, and that's a totally irreverent fun thing. It's great having someone like Rick Beulata who invented thing works and obviously he just doesn't care what anybody thinks, which makes it deciding. That's awesome. Yeah, yeah, all right, folks. So if you want to keep up with rob it sounds like you got a lot of opportunities, twitter and linkedin being to the more obvious ones, but there's a lot of content out there. He's got other podcast episodes and a separate podcast where you can check him out. Rob, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Thanks for having me. It's a great talking to you all. Right, folks, that's it for today. I did get in a little bit of trouble for my outro last time, so I'd like to retract my previous statement. We do care about your ratings. Please subscribe to the podcast. I know I said both. Subscribe if you want or don't. I'm officially retracting that. If Rob's looking at me like buddy, what did you do? So yeah, we would love your support. This is how we grow the show. If you have an idea for an episode or guess that you think would would make a fantastic guest with the show, please email us podcast at very possiblecom thanks for listening it will see you on the Internet. You shouldn't have to worry about IOT projects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enough on your plate. The right team of Engineers and project managers can change a pivotal moment for your business into your competitive edge. Varies. Close Knit crew of ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideas into a reality. On time and up to your standards, with a focus on mitigating risk and maximizing opportunity. Will help you build an Iot solution that you can hang your hat on. Let's bring your Iot idea to life. Learn more at very possiblecom. You've been listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player and give us a rating. Have a question or an idea for a future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom see you next time.

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