How IoT is a game changer for manufacturers

Sean Lorenz, Director of IoT Strategy at Xively
- Technology - May 25, 2015

To take advantage of the Internet of Things manufacturers need to create well thought out connected devices supported by secure networks and processes. Sean Lorenz, Director of IoT Market Strategy at Xively looks at the elements manufacturers need to consider if they are to succeed in this new and lucrative market.

If you haven’t heard already, the Internet of Things (IoT) is coming and it is beginning to make shockwaves across the manufacturing industry. Enabling greater interaction with end users and providing unprecedented levels of information about how their product is being used, the IoT is radically changing the way manufacturers think about their products.

Many businesses are already building connectivity into products not traditionally associated with being on a digital network. From cars to home appliances, analyst firm Gartner estimates there will be close to five billion connected ‘things’ by the end of 2015, a figure that is likely to rise to a staggering 25 billion by 2020.

But not all of these products will be successful and achieve the results manufacturers want. To really benefit from the IoT revolution, producers need to be aware of the potential challenges they face and tackle them head on.

Knowledge is power

The greatest challenge is also the greatest opportunity: data! By connecting a product to the internet, a manufacturer should expect to receive granular, real-time information about how it is being used.

Currently, exploring in detail how a consumer uses a product requires focus groups, questionnaires and so on. While these can be useful, they do not provide accurate data as they are in controlled environments, people do not totally recall how they use a product or they behave differently when being observed. Receiving continuous and detailed data from the product itself shows exactly how it is being used in the real world, highlighting which settings, time of use, possibly location are most popular and those that are not. It will also demonstrate any glitches. All of which allows for the next iteration of the product to be improved and provide useful marketing information.

Yet there is a ‘but’ and it is a significant one. Collecting detailed information on a regular basis from every device you have on the market is going to create a massive amount of data that will keep on flooding in. This data needs to be managed, stored, collated and analysed, and protected from falling into the wrong hands, a task many manufacturers would find overwhelming on their own.

Improving customer service

Once the consumer knows that you have access to how they are using the product, there is no escaping the possibility that they will expect a greater level of customer service from you. That includes being able to identify problems as, or even before, they occur as well as providing hints and tips on how to get the most out of your product.

While this is a great unique selling point (USP) that could increase sales, such a high level of interaction is new territory for manufacturers who normally leave customer service to third parties. This requires either have to create brand new customer service models or trust in companies experienced in using Big Data within CRM systems.

Another USP is that having such a capability creates is the ability to identify or predict when consumables used alongside a product need replacing. Savvy manufacturers can then offer replacements either through themselves or affiliates to create an additional revenue stream.

Greater interactivity for the consumer

Receiving and analysing user data from a product is likely to be the first step of any manufacturer looking to venture into the world of IoT. It allows the creation and testing of the appropriate networks, checks and measures without adversely affecting the customer experience.

The next step is to possibly create some connected interactivity for the consumer to use on the device, such as being able to control it remotely or view key usage/servicing statistics via a network portal.

A new business model

By jumping into the IoT manufacturers are entering an unfamiliar world, they are hardware people, not software engineers, so they need to treat a connected product as they would a new venture. Those looking to succeed in the IoT market need a lean start-up approach.

This includes looking at the benefits of creating a connected version of their product, exploring the level of demand, how it should look, design, testing and so on.

Alongside the research and development of the connected product, exploring how to create the networks and processes needed to support them is vital. As covered earlier, these need to offer tight security and easy-to-use management tools, as well as providing scalability, to allow an unlimited number of items to be added to the network. To do this internally will be extremely costly and there is no guarantee it will succeed.

Instead it is better to turn to experts, who are able to provide the secure, scalable networks and platforms for a fraction of the cost of building such an infrastructure internally.

The IoT is making waves across the industry, but the question is: will you be riding those waves or drowning in the deluge?

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