Jul 2, 2017

IDEAthons – connecting IoT ideas, execution and funding

As new technologies become commonplace, there is a case for exploring new value creation opportunities in the realm of application ideas. Put differently, should the ever-popular hackathon give way to a new type of event – the ideathon? This notion cropped up when I attended my first ever ideathon to explore innovative service and business model opportunities in the IoT and intelligent
transport solutions markets.

The intent of an ideathon is to bring together individuals from different organizations to form small teams that work through new ideas. Teams don’t just focus on technology; they consider factors such as drivers of demand, the value proposition, the service delivery business model and its economics.

The event I attended included a mix of entrepreneurs, public-sector representatives and technologists who were exploring new ideas, building on the oneTRANSPORT regional intelligent transport system trial [1] and the Transport Data Initiative [2].


As the context for the event centered on access to multiple sources of transport sector data, several of the ideas involved journey planning and safety-related services. What was more interesting was the way that some teams focused on services that re-purposed transportation data. One idea, for example, combined highly localized transportation data with weather information to report on traffic-related pollution. To avoid the expense of costly environmental sensors and the lengthy period to achieve widespread geographical coverage, this idea relied on analytic techniques to model environmental conditions. The model would be calibrated and regularly validated using granular data from locations with reliable environmental sensor networks. I also learned that present day environmental sensors need careful calibration and regular maintenance if they are not to turn into random number generators.

Towards the end of the event, feedback from the judging panel shed some insightful light on how the IoT market is likely to develop. The winning idea – Get me There for My Social Care – was an application to help manage the day to day case load of social workers. While there tends to be a top-down work plan for groups of social workers, this often changes on the fly. It causes stress as care workers have to find time to reorganize their schedules in addition to their main job of counselling the patients they are visiting at home. As one judge put it, it can’t make for a good patient visit is the social worker is worrying about their next appointment when they show up at the first patient’s doorstep. It also turns out that social workers are not supposed to use the toilet facilities of the patients they are visiting. The need to schedule rest-room breaks as well as stops for meals and to refuel their cars further exacerbates the scheduling challenge.

The judges at this ideathon concluded that the scheduling and journey planning application behind this idea had the potential to make a meaningful difference to local-authority social care teams. Their second observation is that the journey planning solution would make use of local authority transport data in addition to data from other sources. This would expose the currently hidden value of local authority data assets and create a link between social care and transportation units. More importantly, it would open the possibility to leverage cross-organizational funding mechanisms to support creative ways of investing in IoT solutions.

A final observation from this idea and the efforts of other teams at the ideathon is the notion that the task of connecting devices and sensors and managing data streams should not be the barrier to adoption. Horizontal IoT platforms and data marketplaces will be important enablers that allow problem owners, most of whom lack technical expertise, to focus on applications that solve their problems and the business models necessary for commercial viability.

As the nature of work evolves, the technology sector’s focus on hackathons for the app-developer community could well shift to ideathons with problem owners, solution providers (including technologists) and business entrepreneurs.

[1] oneTRANSPORT – an open, standards based approach to Smart Cities http://onetransport.uk.net/

[2] The Transport Data Initiative is led by local authorities who believe that improving the way we collect, store, and use data will help us deliver improved transport services while reducing costs of delivery http://transportdatainitiative.com/

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