IoT: What do manufacturers have to consider?

While the opportunities for embracing IoT are incredibly exciting, it’s essential that manufacturers ask the right questions from the beginning when identifying and executing an IoT strategy says Mark Lee – CCO of IoT enabler and innovator, Intamac.

Mark Lee, CCO of Intamac
Mark Lee, CCO, Intamac.

The internet of things (IoT) is a relatively new sector where best practices around things like security are constantly evolving and certainly not widely adopted across the industry.

This means manufacturers have to be extremely careful when developing their IoT strategy and selecting an IoT technology partner. Asking important questions about security, reliability and customer experience from the beginning is essential in order to avoid potentially disastrous consequences in the future.

By rigorously scrutinising your strategy and solution architecture, manufacturers are able to successfully develop and bring exciting new connected products and services to market.

Ten top tips for manufacturers: 

  1. Value proposition: Have you considered what the added value of connecting your products is, and is it meaningful? The IoT industry is littered with examples of gimmicky products, with tenuous business cases. The usual rules apply: ‘Does connecting the product solve a real problem it didn’t solve prior to being connected, or add value in some other way?’ If you are increasing productivity, adding useful functionality, reducing maintenance and repair costs, or providing something people don’t already have then chances are that you’ll have a solid business case and a viable connected product.
  2.  Security: Remember it’s your company’s brand reputation that will suffer if there are problems with security, personal data breaches or similar, not the reputation of your IoT technology provider. You need to know that the technology and your provider has a quality reputation within the industry, and uses best practices such as encryption and locking down communication to minimise the risk of a security breach to the greatest extent possible.
  3.  Data: By 2016, 53% of manufacturers will offer smart products, but the biggest game-changer for these companies will arguably not come from the added product value, but from the data created by the end-user. Companies considering an IoT strategy must ensure this information is collated, and mined to discover deep and meaningful insights into the end-user, their behaviours and how they use the product, to drive product development.
  4.  Business Model: Implementing IoT technologies also creates the opportunity to modify current business models to incorporate services with a regular revenue stream, or potentially new markets, products or partnership opportunities for extra value services. Make sure you have considered all the options, and have the technology in place to do so before you launch your product.
  5.  Scalability: While you might not need a cloud infrastructure resilient enough to cope with millions of users now, it’s possible that you will in the future. How easy will it be to scale your cloud and will it still be cost effective? These questions need to be addressed from the beginning to ensure a complete rebuild is not required at a later date.
  6.  Reliability: It’s important that connected products work as reliably as unconnected products. This isn’t only about risk of reputational damage. Depending on what the connected product is, the consequences of poor reliability could be serious (for example, a remotely controllable lock that you are unable to unlock). Ensure you have a reliability feedback loop to confirm a product has acted upon a message when it’s received it. Without this you have no way of knowing if your command (unlock/lock etc.) has been received and acted upon. The technology in your product has to work every single time without exception.
  7.  User install: When a consumer buys a new product they want it up and running as soon as possible, and while it may be easy to create something that technically works at proof of concept or lab stage, it can be painful for the user to set up and use in the real world if the right design steps aren’t taken. Make sure you do thorough trials of your product before launch and be open to feedback.
  8.  User experience: We live in a world where there ‘has to be an app for that’. Consumers want to control their technology from their smartphones and expect this functionality. However, consumers will judge you on the user experience of the app, rather than the technology itself. Have you considered building an app? And, if so, which functions would be of value to include on it? Make sure the user experience is clean and simple to ensure easy usability.
  9.  No Internet: People often ask what happens to IoT when there is no internet, and it can be extremely inconvenient if simple things like turning your lights on and off won’t work because your Internet is down. This issue is pronounced in IoT security systems, when the house can effectively be blind without the internet. You need to ensure architecture is in place to prevent these issues.
  10.  Data efficiency: A significant part of the rational for connecting products is to collect and analyse data, such as diagnostics, usage or performance. It’s easy to take the view ‘we will collect as much data as we can and crunch it in the cloud’, but it’s important to consider the cost and other ramifications of this approach, both for the user and you. Remember, the more data you collect, the greater the cost. It’s vital therefore to have an efficient data management system in place, so that only useful data is collected and that this process is intelligent and optimised.