Finding Value in the Internet of Everything

The first known reference to the Internet of Things dates back to Kevin Ashton in the late 1990s.  Speaking, at that time, about early RFID tagging of goods throughout a distribution chain the metaphor was descriptive and compelling, but, did not generate an immediate, broad market reaction.

In recent years as the Internet has become a fundamental of life and the number of connected devices has exploded more and more attention has been paid to the idea.  A very recent addition to the many written analyses of the phenomenon and its potential was published by The Economist as “The Internet of Things Business Index.” According to the report:

  1. Most companies are exploring the IoE (Internet of Everything)
  2. Two in five members of the C-Suite are talking about it at least once a month
  3. Investment in the IoE remains mixed

Step 2 imageThe Economist says that there is a quiet revolution underway but that many important unknowns remain.  Companies are preparing for the future IoE with research, by filling their knowledge gaps, and by working with governments and trade associations on the definition and adoption of standards that will be needed to enable real leverage.  The Economist believes the IoE to be, “an ecosystem play,” by which they mean networks of companies creating new industries, new economics, new value definitions. The “productization” of these networks and what they do is the biggest economic opportunity. But they don’t say how to get there.

In talking with our clients, most companies are discussing the IoE but without consensus on what it is or what to do about it.  We have a suggestion.  Companies should apply “Design Thinking” methods to systematically find the best targets; to increase your chances of achieving disruptive success. Design Thinking describes the orchestration of a group of well-known techniques (see below), with some adjustments, to find those opportunities that are truly transformational and successful.Design Thinking

It is purposefully different from asking mobile phone users in 2003 if they want a camera, a GPS and a sound system in their phone, or asking the casual coffee drinker in 1983 (the year Starbucks began) if they thought paying $4.00, eighteen times per month, for a cuppa’ joe, was an attractive idea.

Instead of asking how the IoE can transform our world we should take a series of business challenges, identify how our customers actually experience them, develop an array of ways to transform the customers’ experience for the better (with the IoE in mind), select the best ones and build models and low-fidelity prototypes with customers refining and extending as we go.Stella Modeling

This approach works for the IoE, for Big Data, for Social Business: instead of starting with the technology, start with the business challenges that are not being solved with traditional analyses and solutions; start with the “mysteries.” See how the underlying, visceral customer needs can be better served and how IoE might be part of it.  Visualize and prototype as you go.  Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Doug Brockway
November 6, 2013

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3 comments on “Finding Value in the Internet of Everything

  1. This post makes a good case for applying Design Thinking to explore what business questions IoT might solve. I’m unclear on how you can openly do that, though, if your intent is to get to an answer that begins “Use IoT to…”, since an open DT approach might well lead you to a set of solutions that don’t require IoT to solve. In other words, it does require begging the question to say “Let’s apply Design Thinking to come up with business problems for which IoT might be part of the solution.”

    Or is that what DT means: a solution-first approach?

    • A basic tenet of Design Thinking is to your concern/question, begin with an examination of “what is” that presumes no particular solution or solution type, and most often changes the scope or nature of the issues being pursued. This discovery of “what is” includes the customer’s view of what the process is and how it FEELS to use it. In fact, this is the dominant activity in “what is.” A common failure is to color “what is” with the nature of any pre-conceived solution set.

      However, the next phase, “What if” can be colored or influenced by one’s knowledge of technology. In fact, if people without insight into the possible uses of technology work on “what if” alone they’ll have incomplete solution options. Then, using selection criteria first laid down during “what is” you enter the “What Wows!” phase. In this phase you build multiple low-fidelity prototypes of the most likely solutions. In an IoE-influenced scenario imagine off-the-shelf sensors tied back to simple data bases and applications, easily reconfigured. Finally, a subset are built out as “alpha” applications, working versions of the final goal, shown to and used by customers, and evaluated by what the impact is on the overall customer experience.

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