Digital Ecosystem: Why are my smart products so stupid?

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” (Albert Einstein)

Smart products, powered through the Internet of Things (IoT), are the technology equivalent of the human condition; a complex mix of incredible advancement and simultaneous stupidity. The issue at the core of this technology challenge is a chronic lack of interoperability driven by the technology giants. 

During the Cold War, significant technological advancements were achieved in an environment dominated by mistrust, competition, positioning and desire for power. Today, major technology companies are racing to build their own arsenal of smart products, at the expense of connectivity. Rapid progression in the field has raised consumer expectations exponentially and users now expect a seamless experience across all of their smart devices. In an ideal world this would be underpinned by a ubiquitous digital ecosystem in which data is shared, consumer preferences are learned, and services are tailored. Instead the iron curtain of technology has resulted in a lack of a standardised mechanisms for smart products to communicate, leaving customers locked in to products and companies.

But all is not lost. At Moorhouse, we believe that connectivity of technology and people is the future. Our digital product offering is focused on helping our clients to identify what they are trying to achieve with their smart products and to build a connected digital ecosystem. 

The last few years have seen a surge of smart products, from obvious examples such as intelligent thermostats to obscure examples such as self-lacing trainers. Consumer interest in smart products has grown considerably and has extended to the workplace, where organisations deploy IoT sensors across their supply chain to drive insights. However customers continue to bemoan the lack of integration. 

Self-lacing trainers, powered through an app, appear to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick. To make this product truly customer focused and innovative, they require seamless integration with other products, such as a smartwatch or smartphone which monitors the user’s exercise habits and location. Imagine if smart trainers could connect to sensors across smart cities which help to provide real-time alerts and directions to local events. This sci-fi version of the future is increasingly what customers expect.

The issue for smart products powered by IoT is a fragmented market. At the heart of this is a lack of a standard communication protocol and a holistic customer experience, where data and insights across multiple platforms converge. Communication protocols ranging from wi-fi to z-wave and ZigBee have been typically used to power IoT devices. For users, this lack of a common protocol has led to devices that cannot work easily together and a lack of certainty around how to create an eco-system across various smart product brands. Some more advanced users even explore building their own own applets to power routines. However issues of scalability often occur with such approaches. 

Furthermore we are increasingly seeing customers demanding a digital ecosystem that doesn’t simply connect multiple devices, but also generates insights. These insights allow users to get a better experience as the eco-system learns their habits and preferences. 

The same applies in IoT products used in the workforce where an eco-system that can drive insights across the supply chain is significantly more powerful than one IoT product that provides insight about one component. We see a lack of knowledge and integration of the various protocols required across network architecture from IT to operations. Each domain requires different protocols making communication, data sharing and ultimately insights to power an organisation difficult.

At Moorhouse we place connectivity at the heart of our service. We advise our clients to consider the end state. Are you looking to create some noise in the market by releasing a mundane product such as shoes and make them do fancy tricks, or do you want to drive customer retention and insight? There is certainly a place for the former as it can help increase brand awareness. However we believe this is not sustainable for long term adoption. To achieve a sustainable end state a product must support multiple communication protocols. This is especially true for workplace products where the technology estate is wide ranging and cumbersome. A multi-protocol integrated device is critical. For example in a manufacturing organisation where technology powers much of the workplace, communication protocols ranging from Modbus/TCP for engineers, and RESTful API for IT, are necessary to consider in a single solution. 

The Cold War of smart products continues to ensue, with no sign of a ceasefire. The winner will ultimately be the one that provides the best eco-system with seamless integration, experience and sharing of insights. This issue exists for smart products across both home devices and those in the workplace. Therefore when building a new smart product, in the absence of a universal mechanism for communication, it is critical to build a multi-protocol integrated device. This will help ensure wider adoption and better insights, future proofing the products you build. The digital space race has begun and we believe connectivity is the key to ensuring you get to the moon first.

For more information, please contact Indi KaliraiNikita Knyazev or Don McShee.

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Indi Kalirai Senior Consultant