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Ready to build a B2B IoT product? Four lessons from B2C pioneers

Like never before, technology is tending our gardens, minding our groceries and keeping us comfortable.

But why do consumers get to have all the fun? While nearly half of Americans either own internet of things home technology or plan to invest in it during 2016, less than a third of businesses are currently using IoT devices.

It’s a reality that won’t last. By 2020, B2B companies will spend $566 billion per year on IoT technologies, and more than half of new business systems will incorporate IoT technology.

How will IoT make its mark on business? Look at the future of manufacturing. For years, manufacturers have monitored assembly lines with sensors to pinpoint machine failures.

Soon IoT-connected machines will interoperate to optimize production, prevent breakdowns and even order replacement parts. They’ll produce the informational equivalent of several libraries of Congress daily, adding $10 trillion to $15 trillion to the global economy over 20 years — roughly the size of today’s U.S. economy.

Build like B2C pioneers

It’s easy to see how IoT will benefit business, and the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that nearly 70% of IoT profits in the coming decade will stem from B2B applications.

But what may not be so evident is how B2B business leaders can join the gold rush. If your company is considering building a business-focused IoT product, it should look to B2C IoT success stories:

  1. Put your user front and center. If you want your IoT offering to succeed, begin by asking, “What does my user need?” Empathy mapping is a great approach. You’ll want a full picture of what the professionals using your product will be thinking and feeling while using it.Look to Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator. Samsung considered users’ needs — in the morning before work, at the grocery store and entertaining friends after dinner — before building its smart fridge. It entertains with built-in speakers, displays calendars for quick scheduling and syncs photographs of its contents with users’ phones for painless grocery shopping. Why don’t office appliances employ similar productivity-focused features like companywide notifications and meeting reminders?
  1. Prioritize relevant informational output. IoT products generate more data than their technological predecessors. A single connected aircraft engine, for instance, produces a terabyte per flight. While GE’s jet engine might monitor carbon dioxide output, engine temperature and engine wear, the engineer doesn’t need to see every byte.When designing your IoT product, consider what information will help business users be maximally productive. The Fitbit Blaze is a great B2C example. It shows fitness data such as the wearer’s heart rate, calorie consumption, total steps and GPS location. But it isn’t clogged with unnecessary data about, say, blood oxygen levels or body temperature. And while it’s tough to compare jets to Fitbits, I’m sure engineers working with the data wouldn’t mind user-friendly interfaces that offer the necessary information at a glance.
  1. Create a seamless hardware-software experience. Some IoT products flop because the software simply doesn’t match the hardware. Take the Lonely Christmas Tree, which flashes to announce incoming emails and texts. The hardware and software are useful independent of each other but certainly not packaged into a single product.Instead, hardware and software teams should work together for a consistent, sensible user experience. The Sleep Number it bed is a consumer IoT product that’s done a wonderful job of this. The hardware — the bed itself — pairs with an app that communicates with still other technologies, such as smart thermostats, to improve sleep. A similar technology could be incorporated into employees’ chairs. What business owner doesn’t want to maximize team members’ comfort and productivity?
  1. Make software the star of the show. Lots of technology products look sexy on store shelves, but software is what keeps users coming back. Consider Intel’s Recon smart glasses. They look great until you start using them. The product’s software can’t beat today’s fitness trackers — and it’s a far cry from Google Glass. Through a small display in the left lens, the user can take photographs and see only basic data such as distance and speed.Instead, don’t worry so much about the product’s shell. How will you offer a useful service to businesses? The Amazon Echo looks like just a cylindrical black speaker. But it has amazing software. With just a voice command, the smart device plays music, answers questions, reads news, reports weather, orders pizza, provides sports scores, communicates with smart home devices and more. An IoT product’s software is its brain, distilling data into valuable information or actions that it performs for users.

In a word, IoT is about efficiency. For consumers, added efficiency is a luxury. It makes life easier. But for business leaders, IoT’s efficiency gains mean much, much more. In the coming years, IoT products will be the tools that keep companies competitive and profitable.

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