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Why businesses shouldn't narrow their focus on 'things' in IoT product design

There’s no doubt about it — the internet of things era has begun. But businesses that want to take advantage of the much-hyped IoT trend must do much more than simply build in connectivity.

As recently as February, analyst firm Gartner projected that there would be more than 20 billion IoT-equipped products on the market by 2020, compared to a little over 6 billion in 2016. At the same time, there are indications that key roadblocks are slowing consumer demand for “smart” devices such as phones, tablets and laptops.

Businesses and manufacturers that want to flout this trend and take advantage of IoT over the long run need to prepare now.

The key is to understand that the “things” in IoT are incidental; the end of the rainbow is the consumer’s engagement. After all, people don’t buy IoT; they buy more robust, meaningful, higher quality, amazing experiences — both at work and at play.

Preparing to deliver on this promise means understanding how to approach the creation of products in a way that will improve customer service, impede competitive encroachment, provide insights on consumer behaviors, drive efficiencies and ultimately create new revenue streams.

From my experience reinventing established product categories, there are three key things manufacturers must consider, if they want to design an innovative and useful IoT-enabled product:

1. Think beyond the product

While you may still believe that you are in the business of building products, the truth is that the connectivity and intelligence of IoT technologies will transform products into services.

Think about this: when a printer produces your documents, it’s a product. But when a printer detects its ink is low, alerts its operator and automatically places an order for a replacement cartridge — then it becomes a service.

Just consider a few examples of IoT in action:

  • A solution provides farmers with a consolidated web dashboard that they can use to spot crop issues and remotely monitor farm assets and resource usage levels.
  • Smart thermostats using sensors, weather forecasts and activity in the home to reduce monthly energy usage while keeping homeowners more comfortable.
  • An office printer that communicate proactively with IT to inform them which parts are wearing out and how to optimize based on employee usage, significantly increasing printer user experience.

You should start by reimagining and reinventing what your products can be and do. Then, embed the intelligence and operability needed to make your vision a reality. By doing so, you will greatly and authentically enhance your consumer experience.

Not only will customer experience be enhanced, but you will gain an insider’s view of how consumers are using your devices. These insights let organizations anticipate what customers may need, perhaps even before they are aware of it themselves — a true sales crystal ball.

2. Safeguard everything, inconspicuously

Security is a key obstacle to IoT adoption. That’s with good reason: 96% of security professionals expect an increase in IoT breaches this year. TVs, DVRs and even washing machines all present risk to consumers.

IDC reported that 35% of recent security breaches are related to print security deficiencies, which could be avoided with proper security solutions. Devices of all types are being used to launch distributed denial-of-service and other web attacks, making it imperative that smart products are protected against vulnerabilities by the right security solutions.

Security for IoT devices needs to go beyond the actual product — it must be layered into software applications, and peripheral elements such as network security, authentication, encryption, PKI, security analytics and API security must also be addressed.

Equally, it’s important that security measures don’t burden, confuse or alarm the user. Security should be as discreet as it is impenetrable.

3. Make smart, simple

An Accenture report revealed that two-thirds of consumers experienced a challenge when using a new IoT device. Challenges can lead to limited use of functionality and, more seriously, device abandonment. That’s particularly true when it comes to new and emerging product categories.

When equipping a device with IoT capabilities, you simply can’t afford to make it more complicated. Frustration is not the experience you are aiming for. According to some industry observers, it’s not technology innovation that will keep companies from being successful in producing IoT devices, but that “they’ll fail to recognize the value of design in connected product development.”

So, when developing products for IoT, it’s critical that design is not only considered as important and often as technology, but that the two are carefully, deliberately and seamlessly integrated. In fact, design will prove to be the silver bullet in letting the functionality of your products — or should I say services — shine.

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