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AI and IoT grab the attention at Bosch Connected World

FEB 21, 2020 | Jim Morrish
region: ALL sector: ALL Internet of Things Artificial Intelligence

I had the pleasure of joining Bosch in Berlin for the 7th edition of its Bosch Connected World conference on 19-20 February. The event’s 3,500+ attendees heard Bosch establish a framework for how AI ought to be implemented to guarantee trust, as well as a continuing strong evolution to its IoT offering.

Bosch Chairman of the Board Volkmar Denner opened the conference on a slightly ‘softer’ note than usual, emphasising corporate social responsibility particularly as it relates to climate change. But it didn’t take long to get on to the technology topics more likely to excite us at Transforma Insights. Dr. Denner focused particularly on AI and the inherent opportunities and challenges, unveiling an ‘AI code of ethics’ to act as a set of guidelines for Bosch’s use of AI. They are:

  • All Bosch AI products should reflect our “Invented for life” ethos, which combines a quest for innovation with a sense of social responsibility.
  • AI decisions that affect people should not be made without a human arbiter. Instead, AI should be a tool for people.
  • We want to develop safe, robust, and explainable AI products.
  • Trust is one of our company’s fundamental values. We want to develop trustworthy AI products.
  • When developing AI products, we observe legal requirements and orient to ethical principles.

It strikes me that this is a very human-centric set of principles, intent on leveraging AI-technology as a ‘tool’ to enable better business, rather than a potential ‘solution’ that unlocks untold riches. It’s a pragmatic, sensible and low-risk approach. Additionally, the AI effect (where real AI is defined as the stuff that we haven’t figured out yet) allows for significant flexibility as more and more challenging AI applications become better understood.

Consistent with its focus on trustworthy-AI, Bosch hosted at the event the second face-to-face meeting of the Digital Trust Forum and released a white paper. I have been privileged to participate in this work over the last year, in my role as Chair of Digital Transformation at the Industrial Internet Consortium. Other participants in the meetings included Mariya Gabriel (EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth), Henning Banthien (Secretary General, Platform Industrie 4.0) alongside representatives from BDI, Dassault, Dell, Eclipse Foundation, ETSI, IEEE, SAP, Siemens, TÜV and several from Bosch. Without doubt, trustworthiness is a key concept in digital transformation and it is absolutely critical that the IT industry gets ahead of this curve, and before the accountants and lawyers of this world set the agenda. I’ve blogged more on trustworthiness in digital transformation <here> and <here>. It’s good to see Bosch setting out to lead the thinking here.

Within the IoT space, Bosch announced a cooperation between its IoT Suite (platform) and with Microsoft’s Azure IoT platform, proclaiming that “1+1>2”. They’re probably right here, since there is relatively little overlap between the two platforms, and a lot of complementarity in terms of Microsoft’s hyperscale cloud capabilities and flexibility combined with Bosch’s domain expertise and competence. They have complementary approaches to the edge too, with Bosch focussing on managing and interworking local devices (the ‘thin’ edge), whilst Microsoft focusses on containerised operating environments (the ‘thick’ edge).

There’s no question that Bosch is still a leading player in IoT and wider DX marketplaces, and its influence and competence remains under-estimated by the marketplace (in my view). However, it was notable that there was more focus this year on Bosch’s internal transformation than on external market leadership. Back in 2018, Bosch appointed Michael Bolle as combined Chief Technology Officer and Chief Digital Officer. The effect of that is that Bosch’s external-facing technology propositions and internal transformation competence sit under a single CXO. In terms of Dr. Bolle’s day-to-day focus, there’s only ever going to be one winner within that portfolio: internal digital transformation (DX). And this was the overall impression given by the event: Bosch seem to be slightly shifting emphasis away from being an IoT (and DX)-vendor, to enabling its own digital transformation. The focus seemed to be less on IoT and DX enabling technologies than in previous years, and more on connected products and solutions and policy frameworks. It’s a subtle shift, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s the right direction of travel. I’ve discussed alternative strategies for DX vendors here, and there are similar dynamics potentially at play at Bosch right now: focussing on internal digital transformation will accelerate that transformation in the short term, but easing back on the desire to be a leading solutions vendor and ecosystem catalyst in the overall DX space implies some level of risk in the medium term.

That’s not to say that Bosch is taking a back-seat in the marketplace. That is very much are not the case. It will be interesting to see if next year’s BCW pivots back towards the ‘visionary’, or further shifts the focus to ‘consolidation’.