If you have read anything about the Internet of Things, you know it is slated to be the greatest technological advancement of our lifetime. The IoT is more than just cool gadgets connected to the Internet, it’s going to transform how most companies operate by adding new business models, reducing service costs, and increasing customer satisfaction. Unfortunately that kind of positive change doesn’t come without some challenges. The most obvious and well publicized challenge is security (everyone remember the hacked Jeep?), and while that is a valid issue to tackle – it’s only the tip of the iceberg. While the upside of building a connected product remains huge, many companies are either unaware or unprepared to manage everything that comes with being a connected product company.
When it came to customers, most traditional product companies only had to worry about how to get their product to a retail store and then maybe deal with an occasional warranty request from an end user. Faulty products were returned back to the store and the company itself was really never the wiser. The IoT is changing all of that by giving products a voice. This voice is where the biggest benefit of the IoT will come from — helping companies understand who their customers are and how they are using the product. With that benefit, though, comes an increase in responsibility. Connecting a product means that at any given time, companies should know how their entire fleet of devices is performing. The connectivity allows the product to tell the company whether it’s being used, whether it’s healthy, whether there are any problems. And because the products are talking, customers will expect that the company is listening.
This level of device operations (also sometimes referred to as device management) presents a whole new world of questions for many companies. Last night we hosted a MassTLC panel all around the importance of DevOps and Product Operations in the Internet of Things. Executives from IoT veterans including ZipCar, Vecna, Digital Lumens and Xively discussed the challenges and more importantly the value of effective device operations to their individual organizations. Daniel Theobald, CTO of Vecna said:
“The most important part is knowing if the device is working. We want to be the first to be able to tell customers that something was wrong with this specific unit. The vast majority of problems can be traced back to one off hardware issues with a specific device and these are typically the hardest for the customer to troubleshoot on their own.”
As Paddy Srinivasan has talked about in previous blogs, connection is just the first step. How a company manages all of those devices will be a big part of the success of a connected product. Device operation tools can give companies real time insights into the status and health of all of the products in the field and can help easily keep those products up to date with the latest fixes and features by upgrading their firmware or changing their configuration. This is a huge step forward. As Brian Del Vecchio from Digital Lumens remarked – to make an update to their connected products used to entail boots on the ground (or a high ladder) at each customer and now it can be done with essentially a flick of a switch.
As the IoT continues to take center stage in the technology world, new tools are emerging to ease many of the challenges I’ve outlined. Connected Product Management platforms like Xively are taking these head on to help companies not only connect their products, but manage them and even engage with customers on a deeper level than ever before. It’s these tools that are going to help the IoT become a reality for many companies who are just getting started on their journey.