First, it’s inevitable but we don’t know what it is. By that I mean that much of the raw technology exists, or is demonstrable. There are big issues around reliability, power requirements, standards and security, for instance, but the real challenges are the applications and services that will have market traction and create value to society and the economy.

Second, it’s 10 years away and it’s already here. Whenever a topic becomes ‘hot’ people rebrand what they are already doing so that they can claim to be ahead of the curve. My favourite example was ‘re-engineering’. Two months after Michael Hammer’s paper ‘Don’t automate, obliterate’ in 1990 I saw CVs with 10 years of re-engineering expertise. The introduction of activity-based costing became a re-engineering case study. I spoke at a conference with a partner of one of the big consultancies who claimed to have re-engineered 50 clients in the last two years. Hype springs eternal indeed! On the other hand when you look at the work just in security and standards alone it can feel 10 years away (at least!).

I spent last week at the first World Forum on the IOT, hosted by CISCO in Barcelona, where I had the pleasure of opening the education strand. It was one of the liveliest and most interesting sessions I’ve been to in years in the IT space. A lot of ground was covered including smart cities, smart cars, big data and control systems, along with sessions from the likes of Oracle and SAP. There were lots of visions for sure, but also some reality checks and interesting live projects. The one that amazed me most was the Cleveland Art Museum. I found a reason to go to Cleveland!

Putting a boundary around the IT sector has got progressively harder over the years. The boundary between consumer electronics and IT for instance is interesting. If you can run Skype on a smart TV, do you count TVs as part of IT?
When we have an ‘Internet of Everything’ as CISCO prefer to call it, what isn’t part of the IT industry? This is where the answer to my second paradox comes.

The most compelling market propositions for me came from Schneider and Rockwell. For them IoT is now. They were able to articulate value more clearly than I have seen elsewhere.

I started my IT career at Honeywell. There was an attempt to create synergy across computers, controls and communications. It was a generation too early! If you look at IoT from a computing perspective it can look years away. Come at it from controls and, for me at least, it feels like now.

In the way that the arrival of EDS in the UK in the late 80s shook up the IT supply chain, in Barcelona I saw a compelling future, closer than I had believed.

Despite some brilliant insights, I still have one remaining nagging doubt. The general consensus is that we will move from 9bn sensors now to 50bn in 2020. Discoverability seems like the elephant in the room.

What was interesting for me was that in nearly every strand the issues of skills came out as the brake on development. This was at every level from data scientists to systems architects to deep technical expertise. The range of skills that a project or programme manager will need to coordinate is daunting.

In the UK we constantly hear about the crisis in Spain. Talking to people in Barcelona about the smart city work they are doing now, the sense of excitement about the future is evident. They are trying to reinvent themselves and investing in difficult times. I can’t think of a UK city that has that passion and commitment, political leadership or drive.

The times they are a changing...