Decisions, decisions ...
Decisions, decisions ...

IOT Field Notes: Three Distinct Flavors of the IoT Conversation

Summary: There are three distinct schools of thought when thinking and talking about IoT and it's impact on their business. When teeing up conversations pointing to megatrends or strategic imperatives, be sure to get specific around what type of IoT conversation you are getting into.

As I work with internal BUs and product lines, and connect externally with hardware, software, and services vendors, I get the sense that people are enrolling in three distinct schools of thought when thinking and talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) and it’s impact on their business. It very much helps the conversation when I can quickly figure out where their mind is – and get them aligned with what my team is trying to do.

What are you thinking of when we start the IoT conversation?

Consumer – Products: Most folks start discussions about the New with links to the Familiar, and their thoughts circle around highly visible, consumer-oriented devices and services. Those first conversations are typically over-simplified to comments about fitness trackers, mobile apps, and/or smart cars – things that get the press, but [seemingly] don’t apply to many industrial manufacturers. The chatter is always about flashy new products, offered from innovative new names or taken up by established brands; this is a fast-twitch, quickly changing, landscape (uncomfortable territory for manufacturing).

  • For industrial companies, this is a good source of inspiration and learning, but can limit your thinking (see below)
  • Innovation here is in danger of dwindling into the pseudo-absurd (slightly NSFW tumblr for your amusement)

Industrial – “Own Use”: A flavor of the Industrial segment, where IoT component technologies (sensors, microprocessors, communication platforms, and analytics) are marketed direct to the end user. The objective is for witty engineering, operations, and IT teams to apply these technologies to their own manufacturing floor, creating bespoke systems tuned specifically for your shop, that provide insights and opportunities for operational improvement (optimize flow, cut inventories, save $$). This is also referred to as Enterprise IoT.

  • Shop floor automation has been around for some time, but the tech has historically been complex and expensive; it’s much more accessible these days
  • This is a great way to get exposure to these new technologies – but the enterprise impact is limited to your bottom line (it’s all about optimization and savings)

Industrial – Products: Here’s where the idea of Smart, Connected products come in – adding information, connectivity, and intelligence to the products you sell. This is where infrastructure and capital equipment talks to each other in integrated, cooperating systems – that never break down because they are always self-monitoring, tuning, and calling for service before bad things happen.

We hear the breathless 20/20 statistics (20B devices by 2020) all the time, but note some important subgenres that seem especially prominent (in the popular press as well):

  • Healthcare – very much like consumer items, these are typically for personal use by patients, providing always-on, always-connected monitoring of health signals. A FitBit on steroids, as it were
  • Municipal – a significant number of cities involved in Smart City type initiatives, promising better living conditions but opening up a range of contentious new issues, from privacy to payback
  • Smart Cars – “brilliant” self-driving cars are the final step, but cars are getting incrementally smarter every year – and this sector alone is responsible for a big chunk of the overall growth

Appealing to a follow-the-crowd mentality seems intellectually lazy; if you can, get growth stats that are more specific to your industry vertical (it helps your credibility, and tones down the luddites).

Action Item – Start the conversation in the right direction!

When teeing up conversations around IoT, and pointing to megatrends or strategic imperatives, be sure to get specific around what type of IoT conversation you are getting into (Industrial Products, Consumer Products, or Enterprise).

  • Vendors and service providers are actively on the bandwagon, tagging everything they do with the IoT moniker – make sure you know what they are selling before engaging in the conversation. And make sure they understand what you are trying to accomplish before they waste your time.
  • Product Management, Engineering, and IT folks can become enamored by “shiny things” like new technology. Get clarity on why you are entering into the conversation – especially differentiating between IoT for top line gain or bottom line efficiencies. Bottom line is attractive and important, but top line, done right, will create more enterprise value, spread across the entire value chain.

# 14 December, 2015

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.