The Internet of Things revolution is here. Is your business ready to profit or will it be left behind?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is technology that connects something that’s not a computer so it can communicate with a network. That something could be your refrigerator, your car, your prescription medicine bottle or your shoe. Pretty much anything can now be linked to a network to gather data or give people remote control.
It’s clear that the Internet of Things is a revolution. Just look at the popularity of connected devices like Nest thermostats and of wearables like the Fitbit. Or look at analysis from Harbor Research that predicts there will be more than 8 million connected devices by 2020 (four times what existed in 2015), resulting in $1 trillion in IoT-related revenue.
As IoT has changed technology, it has also changed your customers’ expectations. Much as the smartphone completely transformed user behavior and expectation in the last 8-10 years, connected devices and wearables will change the way people live and interact with just about every product.
Your users already expect more and more devices to connect. If your business doesn’t offer this service, you will lose customers and market share.
You’ll be a Blackberry in an iPhone world.
Of course, being connected isn’t going to be enough. Your device needs to provide benefits that users want, in a way that’s intuitive and helpful. Otherwise you’ll quickly be gone from the market.
You’ll be Google Glass in a Fitbit world.
The IoT revolution is coming, and it’s inevitable. This means your business needs to start to prepare now by upgrading technology and understanding users.
First, upgrade your technology stack. Here are four areas of focus.
An API (application program interface) is a powerful tool for connecting software together. An API can also integrate with hardware to create connected devices.
Gigoam Research Analyst Kin Lane puts it unflinchingly: “IoT hardware is not the end game: The profits, margins, and innovations will come from the new products and services built on open, flexible APIs.”
Your current software needs read/write API that is flexible for a variety of connections, including IoT applications. You need to know that this API exists, and you need to have full control to make new connections and needed updates.
We’ve heard too many stories of companies whose software developers hold API hostage with exorbitant change fees or code charges. That kind of situation creates a huge barrier to entering the IoT world. That’s why we create RESTful read/write API stubs with every piece of software we build, standard, as a future-proofing step.
Your business hosting network will be tested when you add connected devices, because the volume of data you must handle will increase dramatically.
If you’re not ready, you’re not alone. A 2015 Harbor Research survey indicated that 30 percent of networks are already bursting at the seams, before the proliferation of IoT data. Your network will only be more stretched by an IoT addition, so you must be proactive in upgrading your technical infrastructure.
Your IoT strategy may also require your business to manage data from different types of connected devices. At a recent conference, we heard a railroad company talk about the challenges of integrating data from new IoT sensors with data from older, wired sensors and even manual reporting. While the data from these sources is collected in very different ways, it’s going into the same database, and it needs to be stored consistently in order to create user-friendly reports and business intelligence.
You need to take proactive steps to ensure your online database is flexible and versatile enough to grow with your business and IoT solutions.
This is good news, because it gives your business flexibility no matter what platform your current technology stack is. But this flexibility also creates danger. You need a wise internal team and/or a trusted software partner to recommend a platform that will stand the test of time so that your technology isn’t obsolete in a year or two.
Next, understand your users. Here are five important questions your business should ask and answer.
1. What do users want?
Customers have already proven they will purchase and use connected devices because they deliver data solutions, like fitness trackers, or remote control, like programmable thermostats and home security systems.
If your planned functionality fits in these categories, make sure your solution fits a felt need. If not, you need to ask potential customers if they will actually use what you’re planning to make.
2. How will it make users feel?
One of the driving forces behind the adaption of smartphones is the cool factor. The status users get from taking an iPhone out of a pocket or explaining their Fitbit band drives adoption. This drives home the fact that user-focused IoT devices need compelling design.
At the same time, you need to avoid design that’s so cutting-edge that it makes users look like jerks. Wired coined the term “Bluedouche” to talk about how Bluetooth earpieces fail this test.
3. Do you need to build the hardware?
In the earliest days of the IoT revolution, offering a solution meant building hardware. This meant a company needed significant capital to initially reach market.
Now that big companies like Apple and Samsung have product offerings, you can create a wearable IoT product by developing an app, instead of creating a physical product. This approach can allow you to get to market more quickly and to be more nimble in adjusting to user feedback.
If your product offering is right, either approach can be valuable. So you need to strategically identify which tactic your users will actually buy.
4. What makes your IoT solution better?
Any product entering the market needs to be both unique and valuable. These are fundamentals to any product launch, for IoT and anything else.
Uniqueness speaks to what makes your product distinct. What problem are you providing a solution for? How is your solution different or better than what’s currently available? What’s distinct about the way you deliver the solution, or the service you provide alongside it?
Viability speaks to what makes your idea work. It’s important to determine your minimum viable product (MVP) so you know the bar you have to clear to start making sales. Viability requires both functionality and the features users demand before making a purchase. By starting with an MVP, you can enter the market quickly, begin getting real user feedback you can use to iterate, and begin drawing revenue at the lowest possible investment.
The bottom line is this: The Internet of Things is here, whether you’re ready or not. Now is the time to make sure you’re ready to serve your customers in this revolutionary time.