Much of the effort around digitization for manufacturers revolves around closing the multi-dimensional gap between manufacturers and software companies that disrupt their industries. Global equipment and appliance manufacturers are on average 50 year old companies that have built their market dominance on robust hardware sales, viciously protected IP and carefully designed distribution models. Software companies attacking their dominance are on average 10 year old companies that rely on new technologies to turn business models on their heads, push for as-a-service offerings and completely change what customers demand from hardware.
Soon after the Nest thermostat gained popularity, thermostat manufacturers started embedding their devices with connectivity to the point where it’s difficult now to find a thermostat on the market that does not come with embedded connectivity. Connectivity is no longer the differentiator. Which immediately begs the question: Then what is?
Equipment manufacturers are now pressured from all sides to actively pursue change and transformation and undergo digitization. More and more appliances leave the production lines marketed as “connected products”. They are equipped with the necessary technology that enables them to support digital services and to become as much digital products as they are physical. It’s how manufacturers hope to protect themselves from the threat of commoditization or becoming obsolete as value rapidly moves higher and higher up the chain and further away from the isolated physical product. But manufacturers struggle to get real business value from their connected products, beyond the connectivity.
Is there more to IoT for equipment and appliance manufacturers?
In the pursuit for new revenue models, manufacturers invest in IoT solutions that focus on bringing to market one or more connected product lines that offer additional value-added functionality to customers, served as-a-service and usually accompanied by sleek user-facing mobile apps. These initiatives are a fantastic entry point into the world of data for manufacturers but there is much more value to IoT beyond the connectivity and mobile apps.
Manufacturers of smart connected products have an array of opportunities available to transform their IoT solutions into value-added overall business solutions and these new opportunities come from leveraging real-time analytics and automation technologies, capable of operationalizing product data.
What does operationalizing product data actually mean?
When you think of an IoT solution, you immediately think physical products sending data about themselves over the internet to a central hub where it’s displayed and viewed on dashboards that also show alerts when that data is out of certain parameters. This is what a typical, siloed, IoT application looks like. Product data is only available to one type of stakeholder and is collected, processed, analysed and visualised in isolation from the rest of the company’s operations. In real life, this is hardly a successful solution.
Operationalizing product data means putting this data to use in a company’s day to day operations. This often times translates into making it available at the right time, and in the right format, across the right channel to multiple functional stakeholders in the enterprise, many of which are business users: sales & marketing, business executives, support services or third-parties like distributors and partners.
What are the concrete benefits of operationalizing product data?
Real-time visibility into product data once it’s out there in the field, in transit or in your customers’ homes, commercial and industrial spaces allows you to monitor the behaviour of the products, monitor their condition over time, monitor their usage, monitor their performance and so on. But just looking at the data streaming in massive amounts into your IoT platform is not sufficient. Real-time analytics is what enables you to recognize patterns, detect anomalies, suggest condition-based services, assess the product’s health and better perform both reactive and preventive/predictive maintenance on the equipment. This further leads to improving your service reliability and delighting customers with new and improved services.
The right technology enables these benefits by opening up the IoT solution towards your whole business, enriching and contextualising real-time product data and insights with data and insights coming from a variety of other sources: from your databases, your CRM or ERP to other third-party applications that you’re using on a day-to-day basis in your operations.
Further on, you need the capability to create complex user-generated business rules in order to take advantage of one of the forgotten data inputs into IoT solutions: human experience. And finally, orchestrating cross-functional workflows across various business lines with multiple-source inputs sets-up automated systems that are the true markers of your business having successfully operationalized IoT data beyond the connectivity. Operationalizing IoT data and insights leads to opportunities for upending your business model from product to solution sales and as-a-service subscription models that generate new and constant revenue streams.
Ownership of goods is transforming and giving way to the preference for as-a-service models. Entire businesses rely on data-driven business models that capitalise on nothing more than knowledge assets – algorithms and software engines built to extract as much value from data as possible. In such an environment, manufacturers rethink their value propositions and look at new ways to delight customers, generate revenue and stay ahead of the competition. Connectivity is no longer the differentiator, manufacturers that bring connected product lines to market need to operationalize their product data to get the most business value out of their IoT solutions.