The Internet of Things (IoT) is not about things. It’s about the interconnectivity of things—tools, devices, machines, systems, and data—designed to make life better for the people using them. It’s not about creating an IoT product just because everyone else is. IoT is slated to be a multi-billion dollar market by 2020. Economic forecasts differ, but the numbers keep growing:

  • Internet of Things market to reach $267B by 2020 – Boston Consulting Group

  • The global IoT market will grow to $457B by 2020 – MarketsAndMarkets 

  • The global IoT market is projected to grow to $8.9T in 2020 – Statista 

Understanding the challenges of IoT will open unimagined opportunities—changing the way you do business, even fundamentally changing the nature of your business. At Digital Scientists, we’ve been educating our prospects and clients about IoT for more than eight years, including how to leverage a mobile phone as the best tool to realize the benefits of IoT. Let your first question be:

Bob Klein_DS

Bob Klein, CEO Digital Scientists

“What is the problem you’re trying to solve?”

If the answer is, “My competitor has a mobile app…” that is not a valid problem.

Too often, companies jump into app development when they feel threatened by competition, or that they’re being left behind in the technology race. They’ll create what they think their customers want. But actually, they’re trying to make it easier to sell their current products or services—not make the experience better for their customers.

The end result: Customers don’t use what has been built, and they have wasted money.

Let’s break the problem down. Does it serve a practical and functional purpose for the end user? (Do you need to conduct user research to find out?) Will it make their daily life/work easier? (What are the “jobs to be done?”) Can it be done otherwise with an existing product or service, or is this a specific context where only an IoT solution will do? What do you want the user experience (UX) to be?

Getting the User Experience Right

“UX” means different things to many companies, and most of those definitions are too narrow. We prefer this one, from a visionary in the fields of design, usability, engineering, and cognitive science:

“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

– Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things

Three businesses used significantly different approaches to arrive at a UX focus for their IoT breakthroughs. The founder of BoxLock, a startup company, had experienced deliveries stolen from his front porch. When he did research, he found his experience was very common: more than 23 million Americans have been victims of “porch pirates.”

Major companies that ship products are trying to solve the problem from the business side. BoxLock viewed it from the consumer side—how individual buyers and businesses can safeguard their purchases. The answer: a padlock (on a box of any size) that can be opened only by the designated shipper or the recipient. No code—no access. BoxLock is a simple way to keep packages safe. The user experience, in turn, is purchase peace of mind.

Farmwave began with a high-tech approach, using machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to solve one of the world’s biggest problems: food production. Farmwave connects farmers with agronomists, crop scientists, and researchers. Together they can identify, diagnose, and determine methods to treat pests and diseases immediately, to increase yields and reduce crop destruction. In this case, the experience is all about connection to a community dedicated to addressing world hunger.

A Fortune 500 company found their way of doing business disrupted by Amazon. To see how they’d have to change, they looked ahead at their customers’ needs: what would their customers’ jobs look like in five to 10 years? What jobs does the customer need done?

They saw an opportunity to create one platform with the ability to predict inventory replenishments and parts malfunction, search for and buy parts on the spot, and collect facility data while integrating their ecommerce and distribution systems. This could be a game-changer. 

We helped them design one technical innovation that was ready for beta testing within 90 days (the gold standard for many software apps): using voice recognition to place orders. As their customers’ technology comfort level increases, they will be ready with new innovations to keep improving the customer experience.

So, three companies with profoundly different perspectives came up with imaginative new products and services to improve the user experience of their customers, Besides leveraging IoT, the one thing they have in common: they couldn’t do it alone.

Diverse Partners and Timelines Mesh in IoT

IoT is unique because it brings together many different forms of expertise. The silo mentality will not fly here. 

The first challenge to any company entering IoT is to accept disruption; it’s inevitable. You’ll want to ensure there are no penalties to your employees for disrupting the current culture and for changing mindsets to a user-centered approach where IoT products and services take center stage. You may also gain fresh perspectives from IoT partners outside your industry or area. And you’ll want to see beyond the short-term cannibalization of your current offerings to long-term growth, sometimes in new areas. Recognize how product and service environments are interconnected: a manufacturer or supplier may have to become a service provider to best benefit customers.

The next challenge is finding experienced cross-functional teams and resources. Because IoT is still fairly new, very few people have experience managing both the product manufacturing side and the software side. Many product managers understand physical products—manufacturing, industrial design, distribution channels. Some digital PMs understand UX design, software development, data science, and cloud computing. But almost no product managers have experience with both physical and digital products. That’s why we highly recommend looking outside your company for an experienced IoT team.

The savvy IoT PM has to establish the necessary collaboration across numerous skill sets with little or no experience (or trust) working together. He or she must understand and accommodate the diverging mindsets and timelines of team members, all with different priorities. Decision-making is a precise balancing act. 

In our world, software, we want to get it out into the hands of users as fast as possible. We can make iterations and fixes quickly. But IoT is (at a minimum) a blend of software design and development, engineering (electrical, mechanical), industrial design, hardware, and firmware, and requires extensive research and development. Once it’s out in the market, if it comes back, it’s a recall. We all walk a fine balance in creating the next IoT innovation: moving quickly to stay ahead of the market, yet testing comprehensively to make sure it works before the launch. And that includes using a constant stream of data received from the device to make changes to the current product, or to create an entirely new experience for the user. 

The IoT product owner may have to take regulations and special circumstances into account. An example of this is Intent Solutions, maker of the tad™ smart medicine bottle. This product had to be accessible and programmable by a doctor or a pharmacist; it had to fulfill HIPPA regulations; and it had to encourage patient compliance while preventing misuse or abuse of medicines, especially opioids.

As you consider incorporating IoT into your portfolio to compete, stay relevant, or become a trend leader within your industry, make sure it makes sense and remains valuable in the ever-changing business landscape to come. 

Bob Klein is the CEO Digital Scientists. Innovation Leader regularly publishes Thought Leadership pieces written by our Strategic Partner firms.