Stop talking ‘Internet of Things’ and deliver the experiences!

When people talk “IoT” they usually focus on the devices, how they connect to the Cloud and about the volumes of data. This is all really cool stuff from a technology perspective, but from an end user angle, the device itself doesn’t give them much.

The real battle organisations will need to fight is about defining and delivering desirable new experiences for customers and users. Defining exactly which sought-after experiences you’ll offer and turning these into revenue and other benefits is the hard part, along with building the smart applications which will deliver them. It’s a future that’s still largely unexplored.

Research firm Gartner points to a lack of imagination in envisioning new applications for the technology. Jim Tully is Gartner’s chief of research, IoT. In an article for he says that “The lack of a compelling business case is a major impediment to growth for enterprises… We believe that this is not so much because of a lack of a business case, [but] rather that the [IoT] business cases have yet to be discovered.”

Experiences delivered via ‘Smart Apps’

Businesses eager to harness IoT for new revenue and sources of competitive advantage may be wondering how to best discover and then develop these compelling business cases. The key thing is this: success will depend upon capturing ideas, experimentation and a continuous process of innovation. And this continuous process of innovation must absolutely extend to how we create the sophisticated software applications, dubbed ‘Smart Apps,’ that will deliver new experiences to employees, customers and partners.

Gartner proposes that by 2018, 75 per cent of projects will take twice as long as planned. A big challenge is how to develop ‘Smart Apps’ in a way that supports continuous innovation. They need to be intelligent (able to assess data and make recommendations using predictive analytics and machine learning services) and proactive (able to come to the user, versus the other way around, and automatically trigger workflows).

They also need to be contextual (personalised, aware of users’ location, embedded in their processes and available on any channel or device). How can firms create flexible Smart Apps? How can firms avoid the serious delays predicted by Gartner and shield themselves from knock-on budget overruns?

A pharmaceuticals company protects patient health

One business use case comes from a pharmaceutical supply chain company. It has developed a medication temperature monitoring service that uses sensors and Smart Apps to help ensure medical supplies in transit adhere to quality standards and regulations.

The temperature at which certain medications are stored is essential to their effectiveness. One large pharmaceutical firm found that 35 per cent of vaccines and medicines become exposed to temperatures outside of the proper range at some point in the supply chain.

The company placed sensors in shipments and built a Smart App that interprets various data from the sensors, to help ensure correct temperatures are maintained. The app allows flexibility in how the data is used. It can be easily adapted for any new requirements users might have of the data, and allows access via multiple channels including the web, tablets and smartphones. As a result, out-of-range exposures where the service has been deployed have fallen to just 1 per cent.

Additionally, a newly added idea is the addition of a light sensor inside individual medication packaging. The app has been enhanced to allow authorised users such as a patient’s doctor to track when a patients has opened and likely taken their medicines. If a patient appears to have missed a dose, they can be reminded via the app.

A European airline expects to save $2 million

Responsible for maintaining its entire fleet, the engineering department of a major European airline was challenged to deliver its services at a more competitive price compared to low-cost labour countries.

When leadership dug into their engineers’ daily routines, they discovered manual, paper-based processes and a lot of wasted time. For instance, aircraft maintenance requires expensive equipment that is typically scattered across multiple hangars. Engineers were spending half their day just searching for, and collecting, the tools needed to do their work.

The airline’s vision for driving greater operational efficiency was to digitally enable their engineers. The first opportunity they identified was to leverage IoT and mobile devices to provide engineers with an up-to-date view of equipment location and inventory status, reducing the time spent searching.

To do this, they built an equipment tracking app. The app provides a live map of the department’s equipment, enabling engineers equipped with iPads to instantly locate what they needed. Location data is tracked using a long-range network for connecting low-energy, low-data devices. Mounted on each piece of equipment, the devices have batteries that can last three to five years on a single charge. The data is plotted on an easy to navigate Google Map.

By increasing the efficiency of engineers, this innovation is expected to save some $2 million per annum in costs and ultimately also improve customer experience through more reliable, on-time flights.

Continuous app innovation

In both of these examples, initial prototype apps were developed in weeks, not months or years, and built in close collaboration with users, whose ideas for new experiences were captured and delivered within the apps. In the spirit of supporting continuous innovation, they were developed using a visual modelling technique (not code) allowing application workflows to be designed for current thinking, then later adapted for new ideas; simply by selecting, dragging and dropping new components into line. Progress is regularly shared with users and feedback considered; an iterative build process that ensures the app delivers what’s needed.

Turning IoT technologies into beneficial experiences requires people, process and technologies that support continuous innovation. A modern iterative application development environment will be essential to turning ideas into innovation into new and sought-after customer experiences.

Johan den Haan, CTO Mendix

Image source: Shutterstock/Imagentle