Business Technology

Three things IoT must do to get beyond the hype

7 min read

31 May 2016

How many times have you heard that the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to be epic – with billions of connected devices generating trillions of dollars? And yet, the overwhelming reaction of tech consumers right now is essentially "meh".

Image: Shutterstock

Just recently, I moderated a roundtable discussion at the Milan Disruptive Week, on the subject of “Investing in IoT”. We talked about emerging sectors, key success factors and open innovation strategies. But it was my three-year-old daughter that got me involved with IoT on a personal level.

This wasn’t because she’s a genius (though I like to think she is) but because we bought a baby monitor for her. I then discovered the manufacturer, Withings, has been acquired by Nokia as part of its strategy to consolidate its position in the IoT industry. So now I can “live the dream” of IoT next time my little girl wakes at 2am.

So far I haven’t taken IoT much further. I’m just sporting a keep-fit wristband but no other IoT wearables – so I’ve been overcome by “measurable self mania”. Smart sensors aren’t stuck on appliances around my home like barnacles.

You won’t find me drooling over products at the 1,000 sq ft zone recently set aside to “demistify” IoT by John Lewis at its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street. That said, you may find me there to see how the lighting, audio/video entertainment and climate control players are vying with each other to get the “connected home” customer— and how this could redefine entire industries.

Even though my whole career has been closely connected with tech innovation, I’m just not convinced about the mainstream view on IoT. And there are three reasons why.

Reason #1: IoT needs to solve real problems

Before anyone challenges me, yes, I know IoT is delivering benefits quietly and purposefully in asset-heavy industries, including fleet management, manufacturing, logistics, mining, utilities and agriculture. Industrial IoT is taking an ever larger share of IoT funding. There are great success stories out there.

The issue I have is about IoT products for broader B2C audiences.

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a young product manager was this: “If you can’t identify the problem you solve, for whom, how and at what price – you don’t have a product.”

Read more about how the Internet of Things is transforming business:

To me, IoT feels like a collection of new connected products, many of which seem to solve trivial issues… complicated solutions to problems you didn’t know you had. These expensive gadgets fall in the nice to have category, rather than the must have.

It’s happened like this because IoT is being driven by technology rather than being shaped by the customer’s real needs. In the long run, this may hurt the industry. In looking for new and additional features, you may lose the sight of the customer. Also, proportionaly low marginal cost on a relatively investment intensive industry, and feature-by-feature comparison inevitably lead to quick commoditisation.

Read on to find out how Kaspersky has been hacking traffic sensors in Moscow.

Image: Shutterstock

Reason #2: IoT needs to sort out security

It probably doesn’t matter too much if your expensive indoor plant dies because the teenager next door hacked the sensor that told you when it needed watering. But IoT vastly increases the amount of points of potential attack – in serious places.

A group of computer scientists from the University of Michigan have poked worrying holes in a SmartHome solution, with exploits including the ability to remotely unlock front doors.

Meanwhile, Kaspersky has been hacking smart city and traffic management sensors in Moscow, as part of a research project. It shows that the digital infrastructure is rather vulnerable to intrusion – and that such attacks can be mounted against unauthenticated Bluetooth hubs.

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Reason #3: IoT needs to protect your privacy

This might sound like a rant about robot overlords – but we’ve got to be careful with IoT and privacy. If you’re wearing it, it’ll know intimate things about you. If it’s all around your home, it could track your routine and learn your behaviour.

Now that’s fine if it stops there, except for maybe doing helpful things for you – like switching on the shower automatically whenever you dismount from your 15-minute exercise bike session.

But what are the privacy implications of your IoT’s manufacturers also knowing your habits? Could that information be used, misused, sold and exploited – to your detriment?

We’ll get there… very soon

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The opportunity for great IoT products exists today – if you can address these three issues now as part of your product development and marketing. That way, you’ll get a competitive advantage.

IoT isn’t a solution, it’s a platform. The secret is to keep thinking about the customer first and not the tech. Solving life’s problems, staying safe and maintaining privacy are everyday issues that really matter to us. Addressing these makes IoT meaningful and easy to explain.

Remember, an “IoT eco-system” is made up of enthusiastic people not bleeping machines. Us humans are in charge… at the moment, anyway. 

Stefano Maifreni is founder and director of Eggcelerate, the business expansion experts. 

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