Oct 26 The Case for (Service) Design in IoT

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is generating a lot of buzz and investment right now. And for good reason: there are expected to be over 30 billion connected devices in the next three years. The possibility of gathering and analyzing data from these devices and the proliferation of ubiquitous sensors create seemingly unlimited business opportunities. According to Gartner, hardware spending on business and consumer segments will reach almost $3 trillion in 2020.

IoT has already given rise to consumer, industrial and community innovations that are changing how we live, work, and play. WeMo and other smart outlets let consumers measure and record power usage for any plugged-in device and turn it on or off from anywhere in the world. Shopperception uses sensors and networked cameras to detect how shoppers engage with products in stores. Sierra wireless uses internet-connected smart meters to help utilities record when and how much of a resource is used and adjust prices accordingly. With IoT literally all around us, companies across industries are developing IoT strategies. Yet according to Cisco, only 26% of companies consider their IoT deployments and initiatives as being successful. Because IoT can bridge interactions between technology and humans, it is critical to approach it with a service designer’s mindset.

IoT initiatives should be human-centered

Like many technology innovations, early IoT projects tend to be ‘tech-first.’ It’s tempting to add sensors to existing products or equipment because you can, without thinking through the use case and value proposition. Too many teams start by focusing on the technology platform and standards, partnerships and vendors, and data security. Those are important topics, but should all flow after asking the fundamental question: What problem are we trying to solve? There should be greater emphasis on uncovering the human needs, whether they be for customers or internal stakeholders. Service designers are adept at qualitative research and the synthesis required to clarify opportunity statements to ensure an initiative is focused on solving a real problem, reducing the likelihood of creating a $200 salt shaker that can be controlled with a smartphone. (Yes, that’s a real thing!)

IoT initiatives should be cross-functional

By their very nature, IoT projects tend to cut across traditional organizational silos, especially in large enterprises. Within IT, expertise is needed for hardware, software, data, networking, analytics, and architecture. Add in business leaders, product managers, and a variety of functional roles (service, operations, sales, marketing) that could be involved or impacted, and the internal organizational issues can be more complicated than the technology. Service designers are accustomed to working with a diverse set of stakeholders, commanding the back of house, including people, process and technology; and creating alignment so that the entire team is driving toward a shared objective.

IoT initiatives should be considered part of a journey

Considering how large the opportunities are, it can be tempting to make big bets on IoT by developing a long-term IoT strategy, often with the help of management consultancies or IoT platform vendors, or both. I advocate that it’s more prudent to think big but start small. Testing and learning with low-risk initiatives helps organizations build capabilities and learn what works and what doesn’t. We’ve helped clients stand up internal IoT labs to rapidly build capabilities and showcase to the organization what is possible. Experimentation and rapid iteration are the hallmarks of any good service designer.

In this day and age where the digital and physical are merging, the line between products and services are also blurring. IoT is enabling much of this transformation, and service design –whether as a mindset or in the form of experienced practitioners, should have a seat at the table.