Execs Say IoT Needs to Serve Clear Purposes, Deliver Specific Benefits

How a company deploys and manages IoT devices determines whether they deliver a return on the investment, speakers at the Connected Enterprise conference say.

IoT Management 2

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. —Executives at an industry conference here debated the pros and cons of the internet of things, noting that device deployment decisions shouldn't be driven by a desire to implement a trendy new technology.

"IoT is a horrible term," said Brian Katz, director of end user computing mobility strategy at VMware. "Putting sensors on everything gives you absolutely nothing; collecting big data is nothing. You haven't done anything until you can make decisions with the data you've collected."

Katz, who was part of a panel debate on IoT at Constellation Research's Connected Enterprise conference here, later told eWEEK that trying to develop a strategy based strictly on deploying IoT devices is missing the boat. Any company looking to adopt IoT should first get an idea of what benefit it's going to provide and how, for example, it's going to transform the way work is processed.

He thinks it may be useful to have a person in charge of an IoT strategy to jump-start initiatives, but ultimately he said IoT should be treated as part of the overall IT infrastructure. "It should be part of your framework, including security, not bolted on afterwards," said Katz.

Other speakers at the conference gave very real-world examples of how they've benefitted from IoT deployments.

Martin Marcinczyk, vice president of personalization at Comcast, said the cable giant has used smarter devices and sensors to great effect. One that's proved a hit with consumers is technology in the TV remote control device that generates a pop-up screen when the battery is running low and needs replacing. No more guessing if you're just not pressing the buttons hard enough or the signal is obstructed.

Comcast has a lot of technology to manage. Marcinczyk said the company has close to 30 million customers and the number of interactions with Comcast technology total in the billions per day, ranging from ordering video on demand to phone and Internet services.

"All those transactions used to live in disparate systems so if there was a billing issue or equipment problem it would take hours to aggregate the data needed to resolve the issue," said Marcinczyk.

But Comcast recently consolidated those systems into one big data environment. "This includes 150 data sets that come from IoT devices in the home, social media, chat and phone conversations. A service agent can look up and understand everything that's going on with an account within minutes before they enter the house. That's a big time- and money-saver," he said.

Amihai Zeltzer, director of business transformation at Stanley Healthcare, said IoT devices are proving indispensable in health care. Among other devices, he showed off a baby bracelet that is wirelessly linked to new mothers in the hospital to help ensure the right baby is always matched to the right mother.

Stanley Healthcare also provides IoT devices that collect data in the hospital, including how often a nurse gets products and equipment from various store rooms. "You end up getting stats that help you figure out if you need to move some products closer to get patient care and better customer service," said Zeltzer.

The company also has security products including an app that lets authorized personnel use their mobile phone to shut down a facility or alert security in an emergency, such as when a baby is reported missing.

On the consumer side, Zeltzer said IoT will enable new ways of thinking about how we use products.

"We now have filters in our refrigerator to get water and ice. Wouldn't it be a better customer experience if a new filter was delivered to our door when it was time for a replacement rather than the hassle of seeing the light go off and waiting for a new filter to arrive? And maybe when you get that replacement filter box there are instructions on how to recycle the old one," said Zeltzer.

He suggested anyone who wants to champion new ways of doing things with IoT at their companies should work with their engineering department and develop a road map that shows a path to implementation.

In a peek at what's coming next, Mark Fodor, chief digital architect at Capgemini, shared some of the work the consulting firm did co-creating a so-called "connected bag" with a startup company called Twist. Designed for retailers, the connected shopping bag has RFID built into the threading that reads and registers the items placed in it. The consumer saves on having to go through a checkout line, but there are several benefits for the retailer also.

"The retailer knows what's in the bag, which gives them an opportunity to upsell or cross-sell," since the connected bag comes with a related mobile app, said Fodor.

While consumers typically don't put items in a bag while they're shopping because it looks like they might be stealing items, the connected bag changes that scenario. "We joke that today's shoplifter it tomorrow's shopper," he said.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...