Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Eric Sherwood Jones RIP (26 March 1921 - 14 January 2012)

"Epitaph on my Ever Honoured Father" by Robert Burns

O YE whose cheek the tear of pity stains,
 Draw near with pious rev'rence, and attend!
 Here lie the loving husband's dear remains,
 The tender father, and the gen'rous friend;
 The pitying heart that felt for human woe,
 The dauntless heart that fear'd no human pride;
 The friend of man-to vice alone a foe;
 For 'ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Building utilization; Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

A great piece by Workspace Design Magazine identified the coming interest in monitoring (and charging for) workspace utilization.
"I predict that the efficient utilization of real estate, resources, and energy will be a critical business focus during 2012. To arrive at astute, accurate financial decisions, management teams will focus on increasing data acquisition so they can analyze workspace utilization trends down to a finite level. They will also place greater emphasis on leveraging flexible space and videoconferencing solutions, all in an attempt to maximize productivity without increasing costs.
To gain a more detailed understanding of how space and energy is used, companies will extend occupancy detection beyond conference rooms and work areas down to individual workspaces, desks, and drop-in space. Monitoring space and energy at the granular level provides details needed to identify the necessary amount of real estate for efficient functions, while avoiding unnecessary expenditures on excess workspace. It also facilitates the reduction of energy consumption in underutilized areas."

Smart Buildings also has this in its predictions for 2012 (.pdf).
"Data and Metrics for Building Occupancy will Finally Move to the Top of the Agenda as Key Indicators  in Building Performance. Aside from the base environmental needs of a building, a  simple  energy management  approach for buildings is to have  energy consumption  aligned  with actual building occupancy. Yet few building owners  know how many people  occupy their building, where they go, when they’re there, etc.  Building owners are more likely to know how many cars entered their parking garage than how many people entered  their building. How can you possibly know when and how much heat or cooling or light should be provided without knowing the occupancy of  your building spaces? A variety of means for gathering occupancy data are now available; we  have lighting control systems with not only occupancy sensors but more sophisticated  occupancy systems  able to track the movement of the occupant. In addition, there is access control, video surveillance with people counting capability,  room and personal scheduling systems,  infrared people counters for doorways, as well as RFID technology able to provide some level of occupancy data. In 2012 occupancy data will drive energy management and  curtailment strategies for demand response and space planning. Expect new hardware and software tools generating or using occupancy data metrics to be adopted by facility management. "

 In a brief exchange of tweets, @workingdesign asked two really good questions.
  • How effective is efficient space?
  • What are the trade-offs between efficient operation and. flexibility and productivity?
 Answering the effectiveness vs. efficiency question will take some thought. This post doesn't attempt to give a proper answer, being more of a place-holder. 
In terms of dollar outlay over the 40-year life cycle of an office building, 2–3 percent is generally spent on the initial costs of the building and equipment; 6–8 percent on maintenance and replacement; and 90–92 percent is generally spent on personnel salaries and benefits. These data suggest that if an investment in physical planning and design could be made that would favorably influence organizational effectiveness and therefore reduce personnel costs, total life-cycle costs could be substantially reduced.”  -  Jean Wineman (Behavioral Issues in Office Design)
 The above quote makes a strong case for effectiveness. The problem, as ever, with people-system integration is that costs and benefits don't come from the same budget. The case for effectiveness needs to be made clearly and in advance of the utilization metrics because so much of office history is against it. The effectiveness ambitions of Robert Propst with his Action Office were undermined by efficiency-driven implementation in the form of the cubicle. People such as Frank Duffy and Stuart Brand have fought the efficiency-driven approach with some success, but, with the new driver of energy consumption, battle will need to be re-joined. The world of work has changed dramatically since Propst and indeed say 'How Buildings Learn'.  The default for office space is becoming "Square feet, how square!". 

In 'Work and the City', Duffy says:" An even bigger blind spot is that architects have little motivation to measure and hence no vocabulary to describe how efficiently office buildings are occupied over time. Because our heuristic seems to be 'Never look back', we are unable to predict the longer term consequences in use of what we design. Yet the handful of space planners (such as my practice DEGW, which pioneered the technique) who do measure building occupancy report that even over the normal, eight hours of the working day most office buildings are lightly occupied—well over half of conventional individual workplaces are empty, even at the busiest times of day. Meeting rooms, even when pre- booked, are also, notoriously, often empty. Total occupancy of all office workplaces, combined with meeting rooms and all other social and semi-social spaces, peaks at 60 per cent and then only for relatively short periods at the busiest times of the working day.To say that office buildings are occupied at only half their capacity is a gross understatement. The actual situation is much more wasteful. The occupancy figures quoted above relate only to eight of the 24 hours and to five out of the seven days that office buildings are theoretically available for use." Plenty for the efficiency folk to go at then.
This post looks at how the effectiveness/efficiency debate might play in different organizational cultures, using Ron Westrum's organisational climate scale.

  • "Tina, that is the third time you have been to the toilet this morning. It is coming out of your wages. Your behaviour is now on the scorecard in the lobby."
  • The cost of meeting rooms is now going to be taken from project budgets. No, we aren't reducing overheads in compensation. Since safety training does not currently have a budget, it will need to meet in Starbucks next door.
  • Communications briefings have been stopped to save costs. Management information is now on the intranet.
  • The steering group is now analysing building usage metrics on a monthly basis. A working group has been set up to produce guidelines on best practice for running meetings.
  • Booking the large conference room now requires a director's signature one month in advance.
  • Staff working late are reminded that prior approval is required. This is particularly important now because of the associated costs.
  • There was an item in the suggestion scheme to try "brainstorming". We have appointed a committee to investigate this exciting idea.
  • We have doubled our facilitator training budget. The money for that has come from savings by running Boosters instead of meetings.
  • Last week's open cafe meeting was a great success. To celebrate, next week's meeting will have extra pastries. Please bring a friend and network.
 One of the many aspects of work that has changed in recent years is the quality and scope of facilitated meetings (Creative Problem Solving, TRIZ, etc.). Really, traditional meetings should be the exception rather than the rule. It might be worth asking whether a facilitator-in-residence becomes part of building management services? She might do more to reduce energy consumption and occupancy than many other measures.

Update: Susan Cain has a good article in the NYT on the loss of effectiveness in pursuit of efficiency.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Challenges for the Internet of Things Part 2

This post follows on from Part 1.

3. Complexity and user needs

The complexity of IoT may not meet user needs. This is a bit of a grumpy old man rant, but not without validity. More specific objections can be seen starting with:
  • GreenSpec's Quick Take: "This "smart" thermostat should help users save energy and be easier to use - more like an iPhone - than the typical programmable thermostat. But studies show that programmable thermostats don't actually save energy because people don't use them, or use them incorrectly. Will this really be different?"
  • Ironies of automation (linked to planning and set-up tasks) with a 'genius new app'.

4. Complexity Spiral 

The Tainter theory of collapse proposes the following:
1. Human societies are problem solving organizations
2. Sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance
3. Increasing complexity carries with it increased cost per capita
4. Investment in sociopolitical complexity often reaches a point of declining marginal returns

The challenge here is not that IoT will bring about the collapse of society, but that it is part of a trend where the additional cost and complexity produces a net burden on society rather than a net benefit. So, for instance, Michal Migurski discusses the "flighty optimism underlying arguments for Smart Cities" in the context of 'Normal Accidents' by Charles Perrow. This article is about a cost argument but it highlights the additional complexity   "Look, nobody's going to buy an Intel Atom-based sensor, which all it's doing is trying to determine whether to switch the sprinkler system on, under the sod on a golf course." To return to the Nest thermostat; we are requiring a large quantity of infra-structure to work reliably to provide limited benefit over a very simple device and a friendly neighbour.

The 'compelling argument' will need to become compelling indeed. John Michael Greer discusses the lack of bankable projects here. On the  mundane topic of affordability, people are cutting cable. This may not bode well for IoT applications based on massive increases in Telco bills when moving from 3-play to n-play. Folk are likely to find/hack more affordable solutions.

5. The Panopticon question

The current Web 2.0 has massive shortfalls in privacy and security - to a large extent representing the end of anonymity and privacy. Is IoT proposing to make good this technical debt as well as provide the end-to-end information assurance necessary for IoT applications to work with privacy, security, safety, accuracy, timeliness etc.? The issue is not one of 'things' but the funding and control of the infra-structure. Certainly a corporatist panopticon is the default way ahead. If people are to own 'their' data and have openness and transparency on its usage, then major changes to system architecture and business models will be required. The new years's contest is a welcome sign of awareness in the IoT community. Otherwise #OccupyIoT is a likely development! Bruce Sterling has discussed 'favela chic', a talk beautifully visualised here.  The technical IoT community is not in a position to lead some popular uprising against the corporate interests, and to the extent that it is trying to take down such barriers as exist in the 'internet of silos' it will be seen as part of the problem. "A moral obligation to contemplate a bright scenario" sounds like wishful thinking at best. The Daniel Suarez books are quite optimistic, and are essential reading if future scenarios are to be developed.

In these early days of proto-IoT, some of the problems are already apparent. For example:
  • "In one instance, a thermostat at a town house the Chamber [of Commerce] owns on Capitol Hill was communicating with an Internet address in China." WSJ. (h/t ACM Risks Forum)
  • "Smart meter hacking can disclose which TV shows and movies you watch" Naked Security.
  • Naperville Smart Meter Awareness (NSMA) filed a complaint in federal court seeking to stop the installation of smart electricity meters at homes throughout the city".  Greenbang.

Browsing the IoT world, I have not seen much evidence of SIL assessments based on IEC 61508, or discussions of security accreditations. These architectural and infra-structure aspects have to be proven before getting into building 'things'. The technical debt for anything other than a panopticon is basically unaffordable. If global guerillas start using 'things' in the darknet, most of the IoT community is not going to know. There are some signs of some awareness of the need for information assurance e.g. here (.ps) and here. The first of the links gives some indication of the mountain to be climbed. As regards TIA-4940 Smart Device Communications Reference Architecture (the second link), I have not done my homework and bought the standard. My evidence-free position is that 'if it looks too good to be true, it probably is'. The claims are massive, and I cannot believe the work has been done to provide end-to-end information assurance.

6. User-centred footnote

Gary Klein identified ten key  features of team player automation. These  are:
1)  Fulfill  the requirements  of a Basic  Compact to engage  in  common grounding activities
2)  Able to adequately  model other participants' actions vis-a-vis the joint activity's  state  and  evolution
3)  Be mutually predictable
4)  Be directable
5)  Able  to  make  pertinent  aspects of  their  status and  intentions obvious  to their teammates
6)  Able to observe  and  interpret signals  of status  and  intentions
7)  Able to engage  in negotiation
8)  Enable  a  collaborative  approach
9)  Able to participate  in managing  attention
10) Help to control the costs  of coordinated  activity

What assurances do we have that the IoT will meet these requirements?

Monday, 2 January 2012

Challenges for the Internet of Things Part 1

This is a fairly philosophical post about the context of the 'Internet of Things' (IoT), rather than a post about the practical aspects of taking a human-centred approach to IoT. It is pointing out some risks that may not have been registered by the strictly technical folk that comprise the bulk of the IoT community. The aim is to be helpful rather than negative. A subsequent post will include my input to the 'panopticon' new year's contest.

1. Fix the name

Having the wrong name for something is a continuing burden. 'Internet of Things' (IoT) is the wrong name. From a business point of view, it is an 'Internet of Services Mediated by Things' (h/t Graham Hill). Not very catchy, but a lot more accurate. From reading the wikipedia entry, IoT does not seem to be without conceptual problems; the expression was coined in 1999, and we are far from an agreed definition. Perhaps a change might not be all that painful. The suggestion here, unsurprisingly, is to take a human-centred approach.

The internet could have 7 billion people. How about an internet of people? Nice name, taken from here (although that post addresses a slightly different topic). IoT could offer an 'Internet of People Enhanced by Things'. An excellent post on a 'strengths based society' has the quote "I’m becoming convinced that this is the purpose of the web: to use it as a tool to enhance both ourselves and the network."
[As an aside, simple arithmetic says that 7 billion people, 50 billion 'things'  is less than 8 things each. Is the 50 Bn 'thing' forecast massively low?]

The people using the IoT will have a number of roles that will need to be supported if IoT is to succeed. These roles include:
User as product. All this 'free' stuff on the internet? If you don't know what is being sold, it is probably you. The business model of patientslikeme is a typical example. The data gathered from the 'free' buddy network is sold to pharmaceutical companies.
User as consumer. M2M might be interesting, but if there are no P involved, who pays? This consumer role will continue, even though 'there is no more money', but it is likely to become much more discriminating in ways we don't understand yet. Innovation in business models and pricing could well be far more important than technical innovation (Irene Ng has written on this), but using innovation of this type as a design driver is very new.
User as co-creator. The role of the user as co-creator of services on a continuing basis is fundamental.
User as validator.  This piece discusses the role of the receptionist in repeat prescriptions, with a link to a BMJ article that concludes: "Receptionists and administrative staff make important “hidden” contributions to quality and safety in repeat prescribing in general practice, regarding themselves accountable to patients for these contributions. Studying technology-supported work routines that seem mundane, standardised, and automated, but which in reality require a high degree of local tailoring and judgment from frontline staff, opens up a new agenda for the study of patient safety." There are many circumstances where human validation of machine-generated data or information is required. From working on military systems, my experience is that technologists under-estimate the need for this during early design, and can find it very hard to retro-fit.
User as error-maker.The unfortunate truth is that people make mistakes. Usually when they are 'set up' to do so. Design needs to allow the IoT (or whatever) to reduce human error potential, and to support error recovery.
User as member of (multiple) social networks (not all online). I get the impression that 'things' are seen as elements of automation, rather than augmentation of social interaction. The two are very different.
User as decision maker. Where users are 'making decisions' it is important to understand the nature of the decisions being made, and to provide the cues needed to support them. Gary Klein's decision-centered design can be grafted on to Human Centred Design without too much difficulty by design teams that are aware of the importance of this.
Users need a 'human window' on complex automation. This can drive many aspects of system design. For example, needing to provide explanations can have a major impact.
Functional roles, where the user is sponsor, maintainer, auditor, regulator, forensic investigator etc. Missing whole roles is easy to do without a strong commitment to Human Centred Design, and usually has serious consequences.

2. The  Vision Thing

Extrapolating technology into the future is cute but frequently wrong. The Villemard 1910 postcards are charming, and the paleofuture blogs old and new are fascinating. Is IoT destined to provide the 2010's entries for retronaut? The bottom-up approach of IoT makes it vulnerable to missing trends in society or business. For example, 'smart' cities as conceived by IoT may be 'fighting the last war' i.e. based on a model of urbanism that is becoming invalid. IBM's predictions for smarter buildings are in line with IoT thinking but have no top-down view of the context for IoT. The various elements of the resilience movement seem to be moving in a different direction. For example here:
"In fact the resilience movement is growing, as is the dissatisfaction with the high tech green gizmo approach to sustainable design. You see it in houses with the Passivhaus movement, where one trades active systems for insulation and sunlight; you see it in the streets with the cycling phenomenon. It is a conscious choice to use simpler, repairable, resilient systems." The resilient movement has a wide range of approaches, ranging from the transition towns to this and beyond. They don't seem to be placing any dependence on IoT.

One may well disagree with James Howard Kunstler's road map for tomorrow's cities, but IoT does not offer an alternative. It needs to be part of a vision with clearly stated assumptions on energy cost and use, demographics, trade, education, the priority for walkable cities vs. other means of getting around, the scope for refurbishment vs. newbuild (and doubtless many other aspects of IoT context). A sample of  views of urbanism can be found here, here, here and at Ikea. No reliance on IoT in evidence so far as I can see. It will be interesting to see what the mainstream US TED view is with its competition.

 Similar concerns could be expressed over other applications of IoT.

More on IoT challenges anon.

Update: Archinect also seems short of links to IoT.

There is a good post on a sensor commons, that starts to get at some of the issues of accuracy and of system integration. Interestingly, it proposes sensors installed by some underground citizen's movement. As regards the challenge of system integration  between the 'things' and their setting, this article is interesting. If robots are to become an everyday presence, the usual thinking goes, they'll have to be able to function in a completely uncontrolled environment. However, I think the inverse is likely to be true: In the future, we will sculpt our environment to become more robot-centric to accommodate their needs.

For the health sector, a great user-centred objective would be to support epatients, with this article as a starting point.