The Internet of Things is the connection of things beyond your computer and laptop – physical things – to the internet. It has enormous potential for both customers and manufacturers. It’s today’s buzzword. And it’s everywhere. It will soon invade our lives in ways that were unimaginable before, and there’s no stopping it. If you’re a consumer, IoT might have become part of your life without you knowing it. And if you’re a manufacturer, you should start thinking about making your products “smart,” lest you lose the competitive edge against your rivals.
That’s the basic mindset that drives manufacturers in virtually every industry toward integrating internet connectivity into their newest products without thinking about the requirements, implications, challenges and pitfalls. And that’s where they stop: connectivity.
I would call it “barely scratching the surface,” but I think even that would be an overstatement. In reality, it’s worse than that. A recent Forrester research commissioned by Xively showed that 62 percent of companies are just looking to differentiate their brand through adding connectivity to their products. But with more and more companies creating connected devices, connectivity per se is no longer a unique differentiator.
No wonder we’re seeing vulgar references being made to the IoT since a lot of new IoT devices end up creating more trouble and headaches than utility and efficiency. And this is the phenomenon that is supposed to trigger the next digital revolution.
Creating a successful IoT project is much more than just linking your next product to the internet. Here is what you should know before getting engaged in the manufacturing of your next smart appliance.
Security and privacy
One of the main failings of IoT manufacturers is to take security and privacy issues into account before developing and shipping their products. The result is fridges that leak Gmail credentials, light bulbs that leak Wi-Fi networks, toys that spy on kids, TVs that spy on viewers, and the list goes on.
As long as security comes as an afterthought and not as a main area of focus, we’ll be seeing IoT being referred to as one of the most insecure sectors of the tech industry.
Aside from security, privacy is another serious topic of content in IoT. With so much personal data being collected by IoT devices, manufacturers must – and unfortunately don’t – consider the privacy implications before shipping products. Much of this data is subject to regulations such as HIPAA.
So sensitive data must be encrypted whether it’s on the device or in the cloud or while it’s being transferred. Sensitive data shouldn’t be stored at all. Data that is being shared with third parties must be vetted and anonymized.
Users should be able to opt out of data collection programs and should be fully informed about the type of data that is being collected.
Long story short, there are a lot of security and privacy complexities that you need to consider and plan for before diving into the project.
User experience and compatibility
What kind of technologies will this device of yours be using? Is it compatible with other appliances or gadgets that potential consumers will have installed in their home? Do they need to purchase and install a new router just because of your product? Is it really necessary that they install a new mobile app for your device only?
What are the possible scenarios where users would want to connect their devices through platforms such as IFTTT? Does your IoT platform support that?
These are all important questions that you need to answer in regard to your IoT product.
It is imperative that your product seamlessly blend into the connected life of your clients without adding complexities, frustration and extra steps. Also, it is important that your technology be able to work in a legacy environment, so it should be able to continue functioning disconnected. It would be very embarrassing if your customers wouldn’t be able to turn on the lights because they’ve lost internet connectivity (I’ve discussed some potential solutions to this problem here and here).
The point is, if your device ends up being a disconnect island in the IoT ecosystem of your consumers that has to be managed separately, there’s a likely chance that the consumers will abandon it and take their chances with some other brand.
So you should think out of the box and in the broader scope when designing your IoT product. Also plan for the future, and if you’ll be manufacturing other IoT products in the same line in the future, consider how these devices will correlate and how you can standardize your IoT product line to improve compatibility.
The true potential of the IoT lies in its ability to gather data, glean insights and make smart decisions which lead to improved user experience, better efficiency, costs savings, etc. But unfortunately, most companies stop at the gathering phase, piling up reams of data in their cloud servers and making minimal use of it. According to the Xively report, only about one third of firms are leveraging captured connected device data to provide insight to internal stakeholders and partners, personalize interactions with customers, or profile and segment customers.
This is a missed opportunity for leveraging customer data, as most companies focus their time on just connecting products rather than creating actionable insights from the captured data. Companies should leverage third-party analytics and machine learning services to do a host of activities such as integrating data gathered from IoT devices with previous data they have about their customers. This can enable them to better segment their customers and categorize them based on their preferences and device usage.
Also, data gathered from devices can provide the best feedback to improve existing products. By examining how devices are being used, manufacturers can find the strengths and failings of their products and make software and hardware design decisions to improve their current and future products. Naturally, your first IoT device won’t contain all the relevant features and characteristics that end users will expect form a smart appliance. Device data can help you correct your development path in the future.
There’s much more
These are just some of the considerations that can help you get your feet wet with IoT design and development challenges. The full list can be much more comprehensive. For instance, I didn’t even touch upon the issue of support and management, which deals with updating mechanisms and customer support.
What challenges do you face when designing your IoT products? How do you deal with them? Please share with us in the comments section.