How to Make the IoT Make Sense for You

Much of our work of late has been putting traditional devices onto the Internet of Things (IoT). We call this “IoT-enabling,” and it usually involves taking an everyday product — a kitchen appliance, a thermostat, a hot water heater, or so forth — and adding the necessary communication hardware, connecting it to a cloud service, and developing apps for either end-users or installers.

Most of our customers are turning to us to help with their first IoT product development and are therefore still perfecting their IoT strategy. To help future customers develop or refine their IoT-enablement strategy, I want to discuss common reasons that companies of all sorts are (or should be) considering IoT enabling their products — the basic IoT value proposition, if you will.

An IoT deployment should achieve as many of the following high-level goals as possible:

  • Make a better product, via smarter user features.
  • Allow the manufacturer to gain a deeper understanding of the features customers use the most, the least or not at all, through feedback from the device.
  • Increase revenue by enabling new service offerings or products, or alternately turbo-charge ongoing revenue streams from consumables
  • Respond to pressure from competitors.

Specific tactics to achieve these goals:

  • Benefits, not “Gee Whiz”: Is there a genuine benefit by adding remote access? Since adding connectivity adds complexity, cost and the need for security, make sure there is an actual benefit. Cameras are a great example of devices that truly benefit from remote access while dishwashers seem less compelling.
  • “Remote control” replacement: Making a product IoT-enabled generally means that the user is going to get an app that can be used to control the device. While some devices already have an IR or Bluetooth remote control, these are often limited in their capabilities compared to a full-featured app, or alternately too complex. An app, or course, can be used for remote access, but that same app is more likely to be used near the device. This provides an opportunity to give more advanced features that don’t fit on a normal “TV remote” such as schedulers, etc. Additionally, consumers want to do as much as possible through a single device. Smartphones are usually handy, and we all know how hard it is to keep track of a remote.
  • Service: Does your product require occasional service? By IoT-enabling your product, you can make your service offering more proactive, and ensure that your service technician shows up before the product fails, and has all the right parts on his truck the first time. Potentially, this represents an enhanced revenue stream (by increasing the likelihood of your customers performing recommended maintenance). It can also provide insight about how your products are performing in real-world use.
  • Customer Data and Analytics: Manufacturers of non-connected products typically know virtually nothing about their customers — let’s face it, nobody fills out those warranty postcards! IoT connectivity and apps can provide a wealth of data on who your customers are (or at least, who’s using the connectivity features), what features are used or not used, usage frequency or other data that could aid in everything from future design decisions to marketing. Apps can even be designed for easy feedback, like customer emails with questions or the ability to push surveys.
  • Consumables: Some products have consumable items such as filters. With a connected product, you can notify the end customer of the need to replace the consumable, or even automatically deliver it. Either way, consumables revenue can go up significantly. This could even extend to consumables that are not part of the product per se, but important, like dishwasher soap. Lots of consumers would happily let their dishwasher order more Cascade from their Amazon Prime account — maybe you could even offer them a discount to thank them for their purchase.
  • Good ol’ customer relations: Remind your customers what a smart choice they made by purchasing your product by sending them periodic upgrades, either to the app or to the functionality of the product through firmware. You might also consider sharing some of the data you’re gathering, like usage times per week or the times of day they used the product. You might also be able to give them tips, like reminding people power may be cheaper in the middle of the night, so why not set your fancy new dishwasher to run at 2 a.m.?

The IoT is quickly moving from just the ability to turn things on and off with a smartphone toward complete two-way communications. More than ever, a strategy to take advantage of capabilities is key to keeping up, satisfying customers and even streamlining design decisions with real customer data.