Research & Design Strategy

IoT: Just because you can doesn't mean you should

The Internet of Things (IoT) presents an amazing opportunity to make many things better. With over 50 billion devices expected to be connected by 2020, some experts say IoT is bigger than the internet itself!

With all the buzz, it can be difficult for a company to resist the desire to connect any and every product to the internet. But does everything need to be smart?

When does being connected add value?

When trying to assess the value of connecting a product, I fall back on Design Concepts’ desirability, viability and feasibility model. Most devices CAN be connected to the internet and made “smart” so the feasibility question is not the critical one.

Viability is tricky when you are dealing with an emerging idea. Are connected devices a fad (like adding .com to the end of a business name) or a market disruptor (online commerce)? A fad can make a company money — in the short term. It is acceptable for a company to consciously decide to ride a wave (think Crocs or Himalayan salt lamps). But viability is about a company creating value over time. So how does a company distinguish an emerging trend from a passing fad?

You should look at the third pillar — desirability.

Desirability over time creates value

Desirability is the trickiest of the three to get right. People are mostly optimists and will say that a connected device will improve their lives in some way. Most people can rationally assess that a connected device could make a task faster, easier or more consistent. What people are poor at is assessing whether a smart device will actually change their behavior over time.

Here are three questions a company should answer about their customers and their product before pursuing “smart”:

1. Will this product completely and permanently change the way someone does something?

Essentially, this is revising the value proposition of your existing product or writing a compelling one for a new product. When a company I know considered launching a connected yoga mat, their assumption was that people who are practicing yoga would rely on the map to capture the information their body was already telling them (i.e.; my hands are aligned, my weight is balanced, I am doing a down dog). The new value prop was that people could forget about experiencing their bodies during their practice and this would permanently change the exercise for the better. Anyone who practices yoga will tell you the information may be interesting, but a smart mat is not going to overhaul value proposition of yoga itself — which is to notice, adjust and enjoy the poses as they are done.

People are poor at assessing whether a smart device will actually change their behavior over time.

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