By MITCH MAIMAN //
The hottest buzz phrase these days is Internet of Things, or IoT. Broadly speaking, IoT is shorthand for smart, networked devices utilizing applications to communicate all manner of information.
While not all IoT creations provide value to the users or to the companies providing the solution, when the right value propositions are understood and realized, companies can incubate or grow. With high-value solutions, consumers can greatly benefit from the connected nature of such products.
Here’s a clarifying example we call Connected Coffee. I leave it to the reader to decide whether this is a good product idea.
Problem Statement: Consumer: Almost everyone loves a fresh hot cup of coffee or tea. So imagine a system through which you can always be provisioned with a fresh, hot cup of Joe without having to leave your desk to get it. No running to the office kitchen to make a cup of coffee, no interruption of your heads down work. What you receive is just a cup of coffee arriving as if by magic, prepared with your preferences in mind to satisfy your thirst for caffeine. Or decaf, even. Sound good?
Problem Statement: Provider: Your customers come in every morning to quickly grab a cup of coffee on their way to the office. Sometimes they may stop in for a second cup at lunch time or when taking a break in the afternoon. You know your customer would like to drink coffee more often but how do you service that customer?
The Value Proposition: The consumer would like to get coffee more frequently if it didn’t require a trip to the coffee shop or deli. The coffee provider would like to get you a cup of coffee more often – maybe even get you a donut or bagel once in a while.
Account Creation: Imagine a smart, connected coffee mug that is yours upon subscribing to a service provided by the local deli or cafe.
As part of this monthly subscription, you get use of the mug and automatic delivery of a fresh hot cup of your favorite beverage based on your consumption. Via your smartphone, you create a Connected Coffee account, just as you might sign up for Uber.
You enter your profile, which includes your name and credit card information. You enter your office location, which then displays a map showing you the name of Connected Coffee providers within some radius of your office. You select one as your default provider.
You then enter the specifications for how you like your coffee – the kind of coffee you prefer, with cream or milk or black, with sugar or sweetener, etc. You might also select the accoutrement you might like to accompany your coffee on occasion. A donut, maybe? Bagel? Roll? Muffin?
Connected Coffee providers could include any local deli or coffee shop or barista. Sign-up involves registering with Connected Coffee and agreeing to its business terms, including payment of a small, per-order commission.
The Uber Coffee Mug: It all starts here. The smart, connected coffee mug. This is the key to getting regularly replenished coffee when and where you want it. It is a mug that includes sensors to determine the amount of coffee in the cup and possibly even the temperature. That’s the “smart” part. When the coffee level gets low or cold, a message goes out to the Connected Coffee cloud server indicating it’s time for a refill.
Fulfillment: The refill message triggers an alert to subscribed providers within a radius of the coffee drinker. If the coffee drinker has a preference for a certain coffee provider, the message goes there. But there’s also a readily available smartphone map indicating the location of other providers and their customer satisfaction ratings.
The coffee drinker also gets to indicate whether or not they want their order extended beyond just the coffee. How about a bagel? The provider is given the location and pertinent profile information to fulfill the order. The provider is compensated either by the cup or via a monthly unlimited subscription service.
Feedback: The coffee drinker is notified that a cup is on the way. If they elect, they can cancel or delay the order via their smartphone app. At their leisure, the coffee drinker can then review and provide feedback on the coffee provider, just as you might for an Uber car service.
The scenario for Connected Coffee is facetious – although someone might make a go of this someday – but it shows the breadth of what is required in an IoT solution:
— A value proposition to the customer, and one in which the benefits exceed the cost.
— A value proposition to the service provider. In this case, the value proposition is compensation for coffee service. In other cases, the value could be brand recognition or reinforcement or other benefits indirectly tied to revenue.
— A means for sensing the need for the service.
— A means to communicate the results of the sensing to a cloud based service.
— Cloud-based aggregation of the sensor data with analytics to drive actionable next steps.
— Communications from the cloud based system to the point of activity. In this case, it is feedback to the coffee drinker and a trigger out to the provider to prepare the coffee and make the delivery.
— Closed loop feedback through which the coffee drinker provides a review of the coffee provider.
— Ability to add products to the system to enhance the coffee experience. For example, a connected machine in the office capable of fulfilling various customer profiles.
In summary, a properly designed and implemented IoT solution starts with user needs and, in most cases, a business value proposition. Information needs to be acquired, processed and communicated to a remote server. That information needs to be further aggregated with other web- or server-based information, analyzed and processed into actionable downstream information.
Lastly, the actionable information needs to be communicated out to the point of activity. In this case, it was a coffee provider. However, it could just as readily have been a controller device in a machine to machine application.
Big point: A robust IoT solution is about a lot more than creating a widget. It is a holistic system for satisfying needs or wants.
Maiman is cofounder and president of Hauppauge-based Intelligent Product Solutions. You can reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org.