An Article by Remington Tonar posted to Thoughts on Jun 5, 2014

Building Connections: Humanizing the Internet of Things to Gain a Competitive Edge

As an increasing number of everyday devices—from appliances to cars to thermostats—start transmitting and receiving data, what has been dubbed the Internet of Things seems indisputably inevitable and inarguably imminent.

The Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to describe networks of physical objects enabled with digital communications capabilities, is expected to encompass 26 billion in-use devices globally by 2020. Industrial companies are using connected devices to monitor and optimize their manufacturing equipment, helping them increase efficiency and cut costs. Consumer-facing companies are beginning to connect thermostats, home lighting systems, refrigerators and even egg trays to the internet so you can remotely monitor and control your everyday appliances.

This early wave of IoT devices has focused overwhelmingly on the collection and transmission of data about things—like the number of eggs in the fridge or the current temperature of a house—to people. These capabilities can be immensely valuable, but as an increasing number of tech-savvy challengers flood into highly developed industries, companies will need to find a competitive edge.

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Many companies have already started thinking about what the IoT will mean for them and how they can take advantage of this growing trend. Ultimately, however, it’s not the power of IoT to connect things that will make it valuable to companies and consumer—it is the power to connect people.

Sure, it’d be cool to have an oven that’s connected to your TV and your smartphone so, say, my mom could monitor the progress of her casserole from the couch and turn off the oven from her phone when it’s done. But, this scenario shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all of the IoT. Why not go further and use it to connect Mom and her family, not just Mom and her casserole. When the casserole is almost  ready, the oven could send a personalized notification to Dad working on the car in the barn and the kids playing in the tree fort, telling them that it’s time to come and eat while Mom finishes preparing the meal. Because Mom knows that it’ll be hard to pull Dad out from under the hood, the application allows her to notify him 10 minutes before the kids, who—of course—will come running at the first mention of food.

It’d be cool to have store shelves that could provide notification when they need to be restocked so inventory can be managed more efficiently. But why not go further and use this connectivity to bring employees and customers together? When a customer picks up a product off the shelf or turns it around to read the package, it’d be valuable for the staff to know that someone is showing a level of interest in a product. Salespeople could receive an alert on their mobile devices with a store map and information about the product in question to help them locate and assist the customer in a more meaningful way—not to mention sell more product.

In these entirely fictitious examples, a small difference in functionality leads to a big difference in value. By looking beyond the utility of IoT to connect things to its ability to connect people, companies can enhance their product experience by enhancing the human experience.

As the Internet of Things allows forward-thinking newcomers to challenge deeply embedded industry incumbents, people-focused thinking can be the value-adder that gives companies a competitive edge. Although this principle may seem obvious, manufacturers have a tendency to become so enamored with new technologies that they lose sight of the people using them—and, in a world of connected things, we can’t forget about the most important connections of all.


Remington Tonar is a Senior Strategist at Siegelvision. Follow him on Twitter at @remtonar.