[From last episode: A national The Internet of Things. A broad term covering many different applications where "things" are interconnected through the internet. strategy can help smooth the IoT rollout.]
New technology should solve problems; it should address areas where people are feeling pain and want that pain to go away. That’s not always how it works, however, and the IoT may show us just what can happen when we don’t pay attention to that.
The Big Show
If you’re not familiar with CES, it used to be called the Consumer Electronics Show (they don’t like to be called that anymore). It’s a giant – and I mean GIANT – convention in Las Vegas. I went a few years back; there’s absolutely no way to see everything. Tons of people, super expensive, hype hype hype… I got tired of the question, “Dude, what’s the coolest thing you’ve seen here?”
It tends to be a place where you see new ideas for the first time – kind of like auto shows where you see the concept cars that aren’t really available yet. Sure, there’s stuff that you can buy today: many companies go to sell more of what they’re already selling.
But that’s not why so many people go. They want to see the latest, coolest, most mind-blowing stuff. And that’s typically what they’ve seen.
But I just read some coverage (via the Guardian) on this year’s edition. The basic gist is, “Last year had some interesting things, but… what were they thinking of this year???” And this brings us to a really important topic when buying IoT gadgetry.
Cool Cuz Cool
Now… let’s not mince words here: there are some super cool devices out there. They may be cool for one of two reasons:
- They do something amazing in the eyes of a non-technologist
- They do something amazing in the eyes of a technologist.
That last one there deserves some explanation – because it happens a lot. Engineers develop this stuff, and their job is to solve a technology problem. I know, that doesn’t sound like what I said up above, but here’s the thing: marketing folks are supposed to identify problems that need technological solutions, and then they challenge engineering to solve the technical problems in building an actual product.
So it’s up to the marketing guy to establish what the customer pain is, not the engineers – as long as the company works that way. There are companies where the top brass rose through the ranks from engineering, so, in those cases, there may be an engineering mentality amongst the executive staff. And engineers love to show how clever they are. I don’t say that in a snarky way; it’s engineering street cred. It’s a thing.
Not to paint with too broad a brush; there are engineers with marketing instincts and marketers with engineering instincts. But for now, let’s assume two camps.
If engineering is calling the shots, there is much greater risk that they’re going to come up with a cool technological solution to something that’s not really a problem. And that appears to be some of what we’re seeing at this year’s CES, according to the Guardian. (Not having been there, I can’t confirm. But the point of this blog isn’t about CES.)
Looking for Pain
I’ve been both an engineer and a marketing guy. And I had to learn the hard way that a solution without a problem won’t sell. There were plenty of times when we thought we had something useful, and we’d go talk to potential customers, and they’d say, “Yeah, that’s interesting. I might want to have a look.”
When you’ve got time and energy invested in an idea, what you hear is, “I like it!” But what they’re really saying is, “I’ll never buy this, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”
The only way to be sure you’ve got something is when they say, “Here’s the pain I’m having now; your product relieves that pain. I’ll pay money for that.” “Pain” is a strong word here; sometimes it’s an inconvenience or a time-waster or something else, but you get the point: there has to be a compelling need.
What the Guardian appeared to be seeing at CES was a lot of, “OK, this is cool… but… why??”
Making Your Own Decisions
The point here is that, as you start looking at IoT gadgets, you’re going to see lots of things that are going to feel cool, but may not solve a problem.
Now… don’t get me wrong… if you’re an “early adopter” jumping on all the new cool things cuz they’re new and cool, then go get all the things. Some of them might not work as advertised; you might get bored with others; but that’s ok. Really, it is.
But if you’re looking for something more practical, or if you have a limited budget, don’t be afraid to ask the question, “What pain does this relieve?” Why do you need the new thing; what’s wrong with the way you’re doing it today? This is why I keep making fun of the notion of an internet-connected toaster. Really, what horrible problem is there with normal toasters that begs for them to be connected to the internet?
And when “connected” means having your data shipped around… and when it might expose you to some Refers to whether or not IoT devices or data are protected from unauthorized viewers. risk, then there could be a downside. So make sure you’re getting something useful in exchange for any such downside.