Delivering a successful IoT project – exclusive interview with Andreas Haegele, VP of IoT at Thales extracted from our IoT Special Report.
How is IoT changing business?
IoT, alongside Cloud and AI, is fundamentally changing how companies do business.
Most hardware-related business models of the past – and many today – are based on ‘sell and forget’. Conversely, IoT connects your products and your offering. It allows you to establish a strong link between you and the customer allowing you to deliver services, and collect data which provides valuable insights to improve your offering.
Take a simple consumer product like a tennis racquet for example. They used to be sold based on attributes such as durability, weight, design, etc. Once you add IoT, cloud and analytics, you are opening possibilities to create community, competitions, and eg tailored coaching via an app. This creates a very strong differentiator as now you are no longer in the traditional area of competition. It blurs the line between products and services and how each should be sold. Thus it is quite a significant change for a maker of sporting goods and a big risk of being disrupted for the incumbent in the market.
How should businesses deliver these IoT projects?
The overall programme needs buy-in at the very top or it will stagnate. But change itself happens from the bottom, where small teams have a clear view of the business challenges they are addressing, and can follow agile approaches. My recommendation is to start with small scale projects, create quick wins, show it works, and build a rhythm of increasing successes by repetition.
How can they make this process efficient?
Well, you can certainly try to reinvent the wheel, but this will make the start-up phase long and sometimes painful. We see many projects failing in this stage. There’s huge value in leveraging the existing ecosystem of specialist IoT partners. It can remove roadblocks, and allows companies to focus on their core business. Eseye for example offers out-of-the-box connectivity which you can embed in an IoT device and it just works, there is no need for setting up new networks, security protocols, certification with MNO, etc. Other partners can help simplify cloud, analytics, etc. This removes technical frustrations, and allows companies to focus on rapid product innovation in their core markets.
Is security an issue?
Absolutely. As we connect devices, we expose a surface for hackers and this potential threat undermines user trust, which is a key-value to protect. And the more devices that are connected together, the more complex this gets, because this business is now more attractive to hackers.
I never tire of repeating that IoT applications need security to be embedded from the start as security is very hard to retrofit. In an ideal IoT world, there would be a unique identity for every device so it can be managed securely during its lifetime, and software updates only accepted from trusted sources.
Companies need to create room for experimentation, where teams can try small scale projects, and create quick wins in IoT. These then provide a reference for success which shows it can work, inspiring others. This can then gradually build, creating a rhythm of increasing successes.
What about connectivity?
Built-in connectivity is central to IoT. Each device needs to consider the right type for them, but I expect most will use cellular eventually, since the cost is coming down and it removes many shortcomings to uptake found in other connectivity technologies.
For IoT-enabled businesses, cellular allows devices to connect out of the box. There is no need to worry about other existing LAN infrastructure which can involve complex setups. It’s more secure and allows third parties – such as data processors and analysts – to jump into the organisation without the need for access to the main network.
On the consumer side, cellular means it just works. If devices over-complicate connectivity, that’s a major turn off for customers who expect seamless, convenient experiences. My “connected” toothbrush for example has to tether to a smartphone app to transmit data. But I don’t want to open the app every time I brush my teeth, so I don’t use it, and the manufacturer loses my toothbrushing data, which they no doubt profit from. Well-designed cellular connectivity transmits data without inconveniencing the user.
And finally, what kind of people do you need to make all this work?
Such projects need people with sector knowledge, technical skills, and innovative mindsets. These people are in high demand and can be hard to attract if you are a stuffy company with rigid structures. But change is self-perpetuating: once companies start supporting free-thinking innovation and experimentation, they start attracting the kind of people who thrive in this environment.