OpenIoT: Interview with Stefan Ferber from Bosch
My introduction to the Internet of Things has been through the Maker and Arduino communities, which is mostly made up of entrepreneurs, tinkerers, and small companies. Though this group was also very well represented At OpenIoT, it was a fascinating contrast to meet Stefan Ferber (@stefferber), from Bosch, one of the biggest German multinational companies, to get a corporate perspective on the Internet of Things.
a Book of Things: You mentioned that, informally you’re something like a “Representative for the Internet of Things”, but what is your actual job title?
Stefan Ferber: I’m director for communities and partner networks, so that’s why I’m here. I’m the interface to the open source world and crowdsourcing, and I believe it’s a strong player in this market, both in innovation, but also in the way of standardisation. The things that really work. Like the internet has been standardised by the open source world.
aBoT: Very true. So you said “Communities and partner networks”? “Partner networks” could also be commercial entities that you deal with?
Stefan: Yeah, the thing is that sometimes you cannot really distinguish some partner networks. Like with Eclipse for example, which is an open source community, but it is also a strategic board. Then we probably will have partner networks to bring in different domains, so for example standardisation with other companies, and open source groups. Also “communities” can also mean that you’re just doing NGO work.
aBoT: What does a typical day or week involve for you?
Stefan: First of all, I take care that our company strategy is visualised and ordered and we have a blog on that, http://blog.bosch-si.com, which stands for Bosch Software Innovations which is a software system house. We reshaped this blog in December last year, to focus exclusively on the Internet of Things and Services, as we call it, in order to bring in example applications, the technology we are providing, what we see in the marketplace, and this covers a lot of domains: mobility, your home, decentralised energy management, the telemedecine area is also something we’re interested in. Also, even industry production will be changed by the internet.
aBoT: When you said “Telemedicine” is that things like David Rose’s GlowCaps?
Stefan: We have a business division that has the Health Buddy, a small device that communicates with your Doctor. So every morning you answer some questions, it takes your weight reading, even some health parameters. And usually, you progress pretty well, and nothing has to happen. But sometimes something is wrong and the doctor can engage directly.
aBoT: So, is that being trialled?
Stefan: It’s for a couple of years in the market in the US already.
aBoT: Ah! In the US only?
Stefan: Yes. We have got a project in the UK and Ireland. We also had a project in Germany. “Partnership for the heart” was the name in Germany. This was basically a trial.
aBoT: Is that something that the doctors and health services have to buy into as well, to take part in?
Stefan: Yes, that’s a difficult story. Because you have to be part of it, and it’s different in every country… the world of medical insurance, doctor networks, public authorities… it also involves a lot of trials to prove it. So this is a very slow market in terms of market development. We could do much more in this market. Of course there is some risk awareness also, which is ok, but on the other hand it prevents a lot of innovation.
aBoT: And it is something that being a big company like Bosch, you have the leverage to get involved with it, and it’s not as much of a risk for you, as you have money that you can put into long term projects as well.
Stefan: Yes, we are a foundation by nature, so we are not a shareholder company. We can look at this long-term aspect and I think that’s also why “the community” fits pretty well with us. As the money we earn goes to a foundation. And this is a community by itself.
aBoT: That’s Bosch SI particularly?
Stefan: No, the whole of Bosch.
aBoT: Ah! The whole of Bosch is like that? That’s very interesting. In the UK I think, especially in the left wing press, people will occasionally discuss Germany’s more responsible model of capitalism. And this is a good example of that.
Stefan I think it’s also more sustainable. If you look at Germany, several companies run like that, and they are all older than 100 years, and they are still in the Fortune 500. And if you look at how many companies have been in the Fortune 500 a century ago… there aren’t so many! So if you look at sustainability, it’s a very good model. It’s probably not the best model for short-term profit.
aBoT: Which was one of the things in the last panel discussion, that they talked about the US and European different models.
Stefan: Different models, yes. And it has never been our model to have short-term gain. It’s always been sustainable.
Of course we also are a big corporation. But I think we are a little bit more bound to customers, public space. If we sell a security system to an airport, somewhere like in Munich, this is also part of a public service. So, in this business environment, we see them both as stakeholders and customers. I don’t see that much contradiction, just there’s a lot of interest on the table in the marketplace.
aBoT: So, the conference is about the Internet of Things. And you’ve already mentioned telemedicine. Also, of course Bosch in the UK is known especially for white goods and other classic “Things”. So what kind of development are you making in Internet of Things in those areas?
Stefan: First of all we see something that’s cross-cutting all these businesses. That’s why we’re engaging strategically. If you think that all our products will be internet-connected some day, some of them earlier, some of them later… probably a process over the next 20 years, we want to have similar technology to do that. We want our customers to have one access point to our servers behind it. We want that every time you buy a Bosch product you get a login in a web page, that you as a customer have one access point to the company. So this is something we … that’s why we set up this software and system house crosscutting all the other businesses in this respect.
aBoT: OK, and let me challenge you on this a little… because one of the things we’ve been talking about recently is interfacing products that aren’t from the same company: for example Bubblino who blows bubbles, with the WhereDial, which tracks location. So, of course, you being Bosch, can provide many different devices that can speak to each other, but do you have a vision for them talking to other devices that aren’t from Bosch.
Stefan: Yes, it’s pretty clear that we are open to others - an open platform is one of the things that we believe in. And that’s mirrored in our software: 80% of our software platform is open source. Overall it’s more for us deciding which open source components to use, and so it’s easy for others to connect, to inter-operate. And also we discuss with other big players in the market to come to a common agreement. Because there’s no way that we build a world that connects Bosch products alone. It doesn’t make sense. But of course there is a world where we have Bosch services based on the connected products. And if these services even contain products from other companies, we don’t mind.
aBoT: So are you working people like, I don’t know, say Sony (from the consumer side), or Google (from the internet side), or whoever, to work out what what is the protocol that will be letting devices speak to each other and the internet?
Stefan: We’ve had a lot of talks over the last two years and I’d say I hope for the end of this year some good news on that. But it’s still not clear and companies are still trying different things, going different ways. There’s a lot of politics still in there. So just stay tuned to our blog. If we fix that then I think, maybe in November we’ll have something.
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