Putting the Customer First - Designing for the Whole Application

March 17, 2020 Neil Hamilton, Chief Business Development Officer, Thingstream

I am always interested in hearing about companies who claim they have ‘connected’ products already in the market. Usually, when I dig deeper to find out what these applications are and how they work, it would appear that these companies do indeed have a connected product.

However, they are clearly not putting the customer first.

What’s the problem here?

Well, as we have seen in the case of the retail industry (think Amazon), if you don’t put the customer at the heart of a solution, then you are running the risk of losing them over time. This is true when designing connected products. During embedded world this year we spent a great deal of time speaking to different organizations who have designed all sorts of industrial products which offered connectivity. However, in most cases, it is clear that the ‘whole application’ hasn’t been considered in the design.

WiFi is a common problem. As a consumer, I am more than happy to use WiFi to connect my smart home products which I personally benefit from. But, if you ask me to connect my washing machine to WiFi…I’m not sure that I can be bothered.

I really can’t see the material benefit.

The manufacturer would of course like to see how I use the machine, how often I open the door, how often I run the machine, and in which setting and then schedule a service call (and out of warranty, upsell me). To take this concept one step further, it would seem that manufacturers, ranging from industrial washing machines (hotels etc.) to swimming pool maintenance systems, seem to be relying on their ‘predictive maintenance’ services to run based upon the customers WiFi connectivity. From experience, this is very risky.

Usually, once a company begins prototyping proof of concepts, a secondary business case emerges: the ability to sell value added services through the insight being gathered from the connected device. Manufacturers of industrial equipment such as refrigeration, construction, and other machinery are in a fortunate position to generate previously untapped revenue from new aftermarket services. This is achieved by leveraging connected monitoring devices which can predict when a machine is going to fail.

 A key challenge in implementing a predictive maintenance service offering is identifying the right mix of technologies to enable it. Companies need help getting Proof-of-Concepts up and running quickly and then seamlessly scaling the service to production with a comprehensive technology stack that works right out of the box. You need devices that can be easily connected to machines, coupled with a robust IoT Communication-as-a-service offering.

A predictive maintenance application offers fantastic advantages to the brand manufacturer. Savings in manpower can be significant if a machine can announce when it might be needing a pre-emptive service visit before actually breaking down.  Usage insight provides valuable information for the product development team.

Brand value increases through overall reliability increasing (with the pre-emptive service). However, asking the customer to connect the machine to their WiFi is the weak link in this strategy. IT departments may not allow 3rd party devices to be connected to their networks (especially if leased).

If broadband providers are changing non-critical devices hanging on, those networks will go dark. Similarly when there is general WiFi connectivity that requires a reconnection to a network.

For a manufacturer that is prepared to bear a minimal cost for independent connectivity, future market share growth will come. The customer perspective will shift from, ‘they know when to send someone to service the machine before it goes wrong,’ to, ‘the machine is always running perfectly and the consumable replenishment service they offer is ideal, saving me and my business time and money.”

Companies like McLaren work with enterprises to be super-efficient with zero downtime and maximise asset efficiency. The machines which play a role in these new factories, offices and workplaces will be chosen because of their notable quality, their predictable uptime, and their amazing service.

Author Information

Neil Hamilton is the Chief Business Development Officer of Thingstream. More information about the company can be found at https://thingstream.io/

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