IoT Silly to Sophisticated

One of the most vital aspects of IoT is Y.

In the Internet of Things rush to connect devices, people and wireless networks, companies and users need to answer the question “why” and decide how the data provides a worthwhile service.

A further challenge is explaining why it matters.

Sensors and antenna can be installed on just about anything but does the world really need a ‘web-enabled toothbrush’ that reports on your brushing habits?

A recent survey by Gartner found that 35 percent of responding companies think the IoT will bring significant revenue or cost savings within five years. Another 29 percent of respondents think IoT will transform daily business.

Yet Gartner analyst Nick Jones says most companies don’t have a clear mission or goal for their IoT efforts.

“One of the things that came out of the survey is that 75 percent of organizations have no overall vision or leadership for their IoT needs in the short- or long-term,” he says.

That may explain some unusual connected items that have come to market – the Bluetooth-enabled E-cigarette that monitors usage but, ironically, is a tool to help the user stop smoking, Jones adds.

Gartner estimates the total economic impact of IoT will be $1.9 trillion globally by 2020, and although much of this growth will be realized within industry and manufacturing, the consumer market is hungry for next-gen gadgets.

The Web is littered with technology-enabled novelty items. One of the most famous, from the early days of the Internet and web-based cameras, was the 1990’s webcam-equipped coffee pot, so people could see when the coffee ran out.

Today’s ideas, such as Babolat’s PLAY tennis racquet, are a little more sophisticated.

The French tennis-gear maker installed sensors and a USB port in its tennis racquet and collects data on your shots. But the racquet can’t tell you if the shot is in or out on the court, or whether you won the point.

Data stored in the Babolat PLAY app captures the types of shots—forehand versus backhand or volley—and where on the strings the ball made contact. The user gains unique help to identify what shots need improvement.

The company has recorded more than 30 million shots and 90,000 hours of play—far more than any focus group could deliver—and says that data from that first year helped it adjust the sweet spot, moving it slightly higher on its next-generation racquets.

Just because you can connect a device doesn’t make it smart, experts say.

The benefits only come when data brings a unique value. Data has been set free and is cheaper than ever to collect and connect, but a real use case is needed, not just novelty, but a way to solve a problem.

On an industrial scale, Powerhouse Dynamics Inc. recently shifted its attention from residential homes to small retail stores and found a market that needed sensors and data about electricity use. Its clients include Sonic and Panera Bread restaurants and hundreds of retail stores. These stores use three times as much energy per square foot as other commercial facilities, but until now they haven’t had cost-effective ways to manage power consumption.

“These companies have mission-critical equipment that eats energy to heat, cool, manage their business, and a big part of the value proposition is just managing the equipment itself,” says Powerhouse CEO Martin Flusberg.

Managing electrical use data has led to other opportunities for Powerhouse, including a customer who asked for a food safety solution to replace the manual process of taking temperatures and recording the results of stored foods, Flusberg says. Other expansion has come from manufacturers asking to add sensors, networking and data analysis to “dumb” ovens, dishwashers or refrigerators.

All data is not created equal.

Companies must deliver value and customers should decide if the costs and benefits are worthwhile.

Just be careful that you’re not buying an IoT-powered Pet Rock.


Photo by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Filed under: Innovation, IoT Tagged: consumer products, Internet of things, manufacturing, retail, smart connected products