(co-written with Robert Westacott from the Enterprise Mobility Exchange)
An Ever-Connected Ecosystem
According to the Harvard Business Review, “IoT is expected to connect 28 billion ‘things’ to the internet by 2020, ranging from wearable devices such as smartwatches to automobiles, appliances, and industrial equipment.”
Take a moment if you will to re-read that statement. Let it sink in, as you comprehend the vast magnitude of this advancement of technology. Realise too – that this is merely five years away! This is not science fiction by any means. It is real and it is happening today. To be sure, the cost of sensors, processing power and bandwidth to connect devices has already dropped low enough to spur widespread deployment.
As one considers the implications of IoT, it soon becomes apparent that there are more and more innovative use cases emerging, and as HBR further indicates, “the repercussions span industries and regions.” But don’t think that such repercussions will only address complex situations or uses. In fact, some of the more conventional examples of success thus far have included applying IoT to patient healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and even restaurants/hospitality.
While there are surely complex applications for IoT technologies, other applications can be targeted to simply make everyday, ordinary situations better. They can enable consumers, employees and companies to enjoy vastly improved experiences. Some such scenarios will involve connected devices talking to other connected devices, and some will involve connected devices communicating with people directly. It will empower improvements in efficiency, productivity and pro-action vs. inefficiency and reactive approaches.
One such example of this would be in a manufacturing scenario, specifically around the notion of predictive maintenance. In this environment, “rather than performing routine calendar-based inspections and component replacement, predictive techniques monitor equipment for pending failures and notify you when a part replacement is required. Sensors embedded in equipment can check for abnormal conditions, and trigger work orders when safe operating limits are breached.” In high value industries where equipment failures have steep costs and impacts, this approach is beneficial by preventing failures, saving time and money on detrimental down-time.
This technology translates equally well to consumer-facing situations, with a similar procedure being applicable to inventory or stock running low in a store or vending machine, for instance. Imagine a simplistic scenario wherein a vending machine can alert the local distribution centre that it is low on a particular product, thereby automatically triggering a mobile or email dispatch calling for re-stocking.
Even more commonplace, imagine “you are with family, friends or colleagues, having dinner at a restaurant. It’s time to order another round of drinks, more food, or it’s getting late and you need your bill. So, where’s your server?” 3 What if IoT technology allowed you to have a device on your table with three simple buttons: Drinks, Bill and Service – so that you could simply call your waiter ‘on-demand’, eliminating lost time and greatly improving the customer experience? In such a scenario, when one of these buttons was pushed by a customer, the waiter would be wearing a watch that would immediately notify them of the specific request from the specific table. Such uses of connectivity and machine-to-machine communication, combined with preventive maintenance dimensions when applied to fundamental business processes, offers significant opportunity for savings and other benefits for enterprises across a broad spectrum.
Additionally, connected devices and mobile applications are now proving to be valuable to an enterprise for the data collected, and the subsequent analytics which can be leveraged to improve employee performance and refine promotions to consumers. The insights brought about by these technologies and the data and analytics are proving tremendously valuable to enterprises and consumers alike.
While much of this connectivity is being made possible by beacons and wearables, in reality, we will see more and more obscure objects being creatively transformed with digital augmentation to enable them to become part of a coalescent ecosystem of ‘smart’, connected devices.
Overcoming Challenges – the Changing Roles of the C-Suite
With so many benefits from deployment of such IoT solutions, some may be surprised that such technology is not yet being implemented by more organisations and gaining mainstream status. However, there are still many complications and challenges which have negative connotations, and are causing business leaders to hesitate.
Despite this, it’s not the technical challenges which are causing difficulty for the obvious security concerns which always have and always will accompany mobility. Rather, the organisational challenges which are presented by digital transformation.
This reluctance towards IoT seems to be directly related to the risk behind investment, and the impact this could have on a business and on the decision makers themselves. There is the perception that it is better to stay in a comfort zone and avoid making critical mistakes, letting other organisations test and trial new technologies first. Ironically, it is the businesses which are prepared to make mistakes, to fail, and to embrace change which have been leading the way in the IoT space.
In order to truly innovate, there needs to be a willingness to fail. More importantly this failure must be quickly rectified, and taken as a constructive lesson to breed future success. You’ve likely heard this notion referred to as ‘fail fast’, and those that are willing and able to do so will ultimately reap great benefit from this mindset and tolerance. The need for such an outlook has a pronounced effect on CIOs and CTOs to adapt their roles, looking more at nurturing innovation than information, and embracing transformation instead of technology within the business.
This is the big step that will need to be taken for the C-suite, to overcome their challenges with IoT and move towards becoming a leading digital enterprise. Once this is understood, this indicates the right mindset for a company to really push boundaries with technology. Within this IoT based world, there might even be a new role within the C-suite focused on the user or customer experience. To be sure, Jerry Gregoire, CIO of Dell Computer, best sums up where the lines are being drawn in this new world regarding the battle for competitive advantage, “the customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
Reaping the Rewards
If an organisation can move past these barriers, then the key competitive differentiators which should be sought out are time and experience. The intuitive nature of technologies within IoT will save businesses time in ways which were never possible before. For example, a restaurant will be able to accelerate their table service by having customers able to alert staff of orders directly from their table to a wearable device. By saving valuable time, better services and faster processes (such as better customer and user experiences) can be delivered, which will present higher revenue or greater savings, thereby offering vast bottom line benefits.
Additional advantages which can be expected, as previously mentioned, are deep insights into customer behaviour and preferences. Organisations in industries such as retail, financial services, and other customer-centric verticals should view connected hardware like a Trojan Horse of sorts for their capturing of invaluable customer data and analytics. Real-time monitoring of behavioural patterns, reactive actions on mobile devices, location-based routines and other important aspects can help companies vastly improve their services and tailor their individualised offerings to have a maximum impact on their target audiences.
It’s Here – Are You Ready?
The new frontier in digital technology appears to have arrived, and contrary to initial impressions, IoT is becoming the all-encompassing, pervasive umbrella under which prominent technology trends such as enterprise mobility, big data, analytics, security and collaboration all work together to serve the wider network of connected devices.
Business leaders need to quickly realise that IoT is not a buzzword or a temporary phase. More willingly, it is spreading virally across the globe and across industries and will only continue to gain momentum, as more use cases emerge for wearable devices, beacons, mobile apps, smartphones, location-based services, data analytics and everything in-between. The best advice we can offer is to immediately start thinking about how IoT can and will impact your very own business, because it inevitably will. As a result, it only makes sense to get ahead of things and take the bull by the horns.