Internet of Things#2 / How to: "On the Internet nobody knows you’re a fridge"
Some weeks ago we started a series of articles on the Internet of Things (IoT) and will continue posting our experiences and perspectives. Innovation Lab has been working in this field for a long time and we’re finally seeing IoT in Denmark slowly maturing. This article lays down a track for how to get from problem to solution using the IoT. We aim to lower the barriers for building IoT solutions.
Two months into the new year numbers have confirmed our gut feeling - IoT will move towards mass adoption and find use in new industries in 2016. According to a large online survey conducted by Gartner, 29% of participating companies use IoT - this number is expected to increase up to 43%. Looking ahead post-2016 21% more expect to start implementing IoT. Industries with heavy adoption include utilities, oil/gas and production but light manufacturing and service organisations will follow. 52 % cite internal need to improve processes and 40% naming improving customer experiences as motivation for taking up IoT.
In general, the motivation for bringing intelligence and smartness into your products or physical space could come from increased competition, changing user needs, need for better insights or performance, strategic possibilities through partnerships...but it should be focused on solving real problems.
At present you may have:
…a smart product/physical space - in need of an upgrade
...a “dumb” product/physical space
...a specific solution idea or a problem defined
...no idea or problem defined but a general need for better solutions
The goal may be to allow users to monitor or control the solution or perhaps even allow the solution to autonomously adjust, based on user behavior.
Either way, the 5 step guide below has proven valuable to us and our clients in building IoT-solutions. We will explain the general process step-by-step, the questions involved and some examples of the materials and methods used herein. This process could be run over a few weeks or be stretched to several months depending on the insights and the amount of prototyping required. Steps may even occur in different order depending on the project but iterations should be expected.
Oh and by the way: Creativity, hard work and a little bit of (dark) magic is also needed to succeed.
1. Users & The Situation
Understanding users and the situation of interest is key to success. What are they doing right now and how are they doing it. What works and what doesn’t work. Why are they doing what they are doing. How could this be improved (without focusing on solutions). How are they using your product or behaving in the physical space. What are they seeing, feeling, hearing, perhaps even smelling when using your product. What other products are involved in the situation. Which products does the user like to use. What have other IoT-products succeeded in doing.
Besides user studies, tools or methods may involve user personas, empathy maps, user journeys, value proposition canvas, business model canvases and similar to gain valuable insights. The output is used to describe a desired situation for the user.
In order to improve the user situation, data is required. Adding sensors or input channels are first step in building your product. If your user is tired of watering their plants, a humidity sensor is required. Consider all possible and relevant inputs but limit the channels. Use technology kits to simulate input flows.
This step provides an overview of the data and consequently input sources needed to solve the problem.
Next step is to figure out how your inputs can be transfered/communicated. Should it be a wired connection or not. What would best fit today's uses of IoT and what will become the standard in the future. Should it be WiFi, bluetooth or some other technology like radio frequencies, infrared or perhaps even soundwaves.
Adding connectivity to your input channels allows for external monitoring which is an obvious and valuable benefit of IoT solutions. And monitoring is the next step in the process.
How should your data be displayed. An app, an external device or display may be the best solution. Perhaps integration into existing IoT-solutions may provide the best possible experience. If integration is the way forward what are the options now and in the near future.
The output overview concludes the conceptualisation part of the process.
The final step in conceptualising the solution is to visualise it. Depending on complexity and maturity of existing solutions, pretotyping, mock ups, prototypes or wireframes will give you a way to explain, test and scope the first version.
Depending on the granularity needed you may wish to consider how to tap into general user behaviors. In addition to this, consider how to leverage other technologies and business trends.
In addition to the 5 steps described above, it is important to consider whether existing IoT ecosystems are the platforms to build on or if it might be wise to build your own and compete with some of those listed below. There are a lot of ecosystems out there with many more to come and depending on your target audience and the functionality required, several might be relevant for you to consider. E.g. if you are targeting consumers, Apple Homekit and Google Brillo may be a sound choice today. Should users be able to build their own functionality or applications on it and will the chosen ecosystem allow for this, e.g. IFTTT.
The process would most likely also involve assessing existing business strategies and organisational capabilities to ensure alignment. Gaps are analyzed and action plans are proposed to maximize impact.
Thanks for reading this article on how to build Internet of Things solutions. Please feel free to contact us for more information. Since the Gartner-survey showed that cybersecurity, issues related to integration, managing business requirements and orchestrating workflows and process are the highest barriers to IoT, we will dig deeper into this and bring you the most interesting IoT applications and strategic considerations in the coming articles.