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Dispatches from the edge

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These somewhat brutal facts highlight the urgent need for knowledge management. Added resilience means making decisions faster to stay within the new float and being able to respond to edge-of-chaos “black swans.” This has moved decisioning from the detached to the embedded, aided by well-established observe-orient-decide-act-learn loops. 

Because of limited predictability and the need for speed, it’s more important to decide fast than to be 100% correct. Edge-of-chaos decisioning means being continually informed on the critical elements needed to make better, faster decisions. And most of those elements are out in the field and deep in the trenches, i.e., the “edge.” The question is: Where can we as KMers begin to get a grip on all of this? 

Rising to the occasion 

As a KMer, your opportunity meter should be pegged. Each and every “smart” IoT device in your network is a knowledge and data store. And all of that data and knowledge, much of which is generated in real time, won’t manage itself. Steps such as curating, coordinating, and monitoring performance and governing and facilitating interaction across the network are needed. A variety of protocols must be tracked and managed, including determining which are appropriate for a given set of circumstances and devices. Security is also critical, as are backup systems. 

All of this means we need to figure out how best to manage the coming explosion of localized knowledge. Everything we’ve been doing related to KM in our organizations, communities, and networks applies just as much, perhaps even more, to IoT and edge computing. 

Stepping out onto the edge can be frightening. But we need to face this trend head-on if we’re to have any hope of succeeding in the coming age. 

Do try this at home 

You may not realize this, but you already have access to an abundance of edge computing resources. Many are open source and available free or on a free trial basis. Behemoths such as Amazon (AWS IoT Core), Google (Cloud IoT Core), Microsoft (Azure IoT Central), and other providers offer a wide variety of IoT/edge services for everyone, from beginner to grand master. 

Start by taking inventory of the many programmable IoT devices you and your organization already have. Common mobile devices such as smartphones, watches, and tablets, along with intelligent agents such as Alexa and Google Assistant, all have embedded programming capability, much of which essentially remains untapped. 

The smart home we wrote about in this column more than a decade ago is a reality today. This new virtual work environment allows us to spend more time at home and less time commuting. Unfortunately, in many cases, the work-life balance has actually gotten worse. Now would be a good time to start thinking of the many ways you can tap into these mostly idle resources and give a huge boost to your personal productivity. 

If the printer in your home office runs on Wi-Fi, there’s a good chance that it can send the same “printer cartridge is low” alert that you see on your computer screen to your smartphone. And you can set either one to automatically order a replacement. Or perhaps you’re tired of having to send out periodic reminders for meetings you’ve previously scheduled. You can set your calendar to do that automatically, along with other announcements, at predetermined intervals. Think of all of this as your own “personal RPA lite.” 

These are simple examples. The real power lies in how these technologies can be applied in a collaborative work environment—a true combined home/office of the future. 

So go ahead and dive right in. Have fun while enhancing your skill set as you go along. And if the thought of all that extra programming makes you cringe in terror, do a young student a favor and let them take a crack at it. You might just help launch a career, as the demand for talent in this area is exploding. 

Linda Vandergriff, D.Sc. (linda.j.vandergriff@aero.org), senior project leader, The Aerospace Corporation, contributed to this article. 

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