Good ideas emerging…brief review of Interop 2015

Last week saw Interop 2015 in the UK as part of London Technology Week. It benefited from being co-located with security show IFSEC International, and from the fact that common themes were explored across both events (security, big data, Internet of Things…).

My main reason for being at Interop was to find interesting, innovative companies and new ideas. I wasn’t disappointed.

There was a host of South Korean tech companies demonstrating their products. One that stood out for me was Saltlux. Not a new player by any means – it has been around for years, and investing in semantic and predictive analytics across big data sources. Unlike many of the new breed it specifically does not use open source technology. Yet it has hundreds of clients, including many of the big Korean brands including LG, and Samsung. Scarily, the company says it not only uses its analytic capabilities to review content like social media and sales data (like many of the other big data companies I came across), but it is also using it to forecast markets to inform technology investment choices (“what will happen next”-type analysis). I see myself going out of business here. 

At the other end of the spectrum (both in terms of scale and technological complexity) is a start-up that caught my attention: what3words.

What3words concept graphicThe business is based on a very simple idea; giving everyone in the world an address. There are many millions of people living in areas where there is no effective address.

What3words has divided the whole world into 3x3m squares (57 trillion of them!), and given each a unique three word string. (At least they have in English – some other languages only offer sufficient numbers of words to cover the world’s landmass.) All of a sudden everywhere has an address. Why not just use GPS coordinates? Memorability mainly. We could all use GPS co-ordinates now, but we don’t. Road names and towns are easier. So are three word strings when there is no road name, or road, or when road addresses are not good enough (large sites with a single address).

People can use the what3words app to find out the name for their current location. They can then provide that name to friends/delivery companies/business acquaintances. Alternatively they can use apps that have been integrated with what3words' database to help them home in on locations they need to reach, supported by their phone's ability to cross reference their existing location with the place indicated by the three word address. Some users will face some challenges, I suspect, in terms of accuracy when they are off-net (ie out of range of a mobile networks) as the system then relies on GPS to locate the device. Accuracy of GPS is a complex issue and is related to factors such as local geography, software implementation, device quality and hardware configuration, satellite polling frequency and users’ speed. But this will be much less of an issue for a delivery company with a dedicated GPS device, and most GPS devices should get users into pretty close proximity. It is also fair to say this is a shortcoming based on technologies over which what3words has no control.

Being able to pinpoint any location for a meeting, delivery or whatever reason with a three word string is immediately useful. A place to meet at an event (and particularly off-grid places with no postcodes or street names). A location in the bush, or a slum, or on a boat to which you can deliver a package. An accurate location for emergency or healthcare services.

What3words concept graphic2What3words’ technology has already been adopted by a number of mapping companies and what3words reports it is in talks with a number of delivery or postal organisations around the world – especially in emerging markets. Its technology is also looking like being used to assist with security at major events.

This is a really simple innovation with the potential to impact upon and improve peoples’ lives. So thumbs up.

As well as hunting for businesses with new ideas, I found Interop a useful place to discuss big data and how it is relevant to different types of user, to get a sense of how things are evolving, and what new companies are offering. Things are evolving much faster than an industry outsider might think – there is much more to come on this soon from Innovation Observatory. The presentations were refreshingly insightful rather than advertorial – especially the big data workshops by Big Data Partnership.

My one issue with Interop combined with IFSEC was that it was sufficiently large that I struggled to get to some of the conference sessions on time. (Especially on day one when my trains were delayed and I arrived late.) I spent too long trying to find conference areas that even the show helpers couldn’t find. There was good 4G connectivity; so maybe the ExCeL exhibition and conference centre could offer its convention clients mapping applications based on what3words so that visitors can locate the stands/people/conferences/sandwiches they want, just that fraction more quickly…?

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