Sep 10, 2017When I was attending CES this past January, there were hundreds of connected-home products being introduced to the market. As I wandered around the show floor, I wondered how many of these products would actually make it on store shelves and, even more, how many would become a mainstay in people's homes. Which ones would make the cut in my home?
I bought a house two years ago and decided that I was going to make it as connected as possible. I have smart locks, lighting and smoke detectors. I help companies bring products like these to market every day, but making decisions regarding which brands to bring into my home required a lot of research. As both a practitioner and a DIYer, I offer the following key questions manufacturers should ask themselves when building smart products.
How Will Customers Want to Interact With Your Product?
As smart-home technology continues to advance, there will be endless opportunities for devices to integrate and communicate with each other. Make sure the products are designed to speak with others—even those from other brands—so that consumers can take complete advantage of a truly connected system.
The Halo smoke detectors and Lutron lighting system I chose for my house, for example, have the ability to integrate with my SmartThings home hub. This not only allows me to control the features of these products from my hub app, but also enables me to set up long-term settings, including telling my lighting system to turn on lights if my smoke detector is triggered. This is a safety measure I hope I'll never have to use, but I love that it's available to me. While there may be some trade-offs with integrations, having an open system will ultimately win out as consumers will want everything to work together from one easy-to-use app.
How Will I Support My Customer?
Customer support is changing in the era of the Internet of Things. Building connected products is not about creating the device, but about building a customer relationship—one that will live on well beyond the initial purchase. This concept may be foreign to many traditional product companies. If we look at a lighting company like Lutron, we find that it is used to supporting electricians and home-automation experts who have edge-case customer support questions, as well as the occasional consumer who enquires about installation. These, however, are generally simple inquiries that could be handled in a few minutes over the phone.
In this new world, connected-lighting companies need to have a support team capable of handling the complexity of home wireless networks, app set-up, integrations with other connected home systems and so on. Questions have migrated from "Which wire is the neutral wire?" to "Why won't my Alexa turn on my lights?" While this new era of support may lead to longer call volumes and more complex calls, companies are also building stronger relationships with their customers, creating competitive differentiation around support (a great support experience builds loyalty) and creating a reputation for being able to support connected things.
How Secure Is My Product?
As with any technology, security should always be the number-one priority when designing a product. It can't be an afterthought, but part of the design process and purpose-built for the IoT. Manufacturers should ask themselves a few questions:
• Do you have an architecture and hardware that will prevent data breaches and unauthorized access?
• Do you provide adequate, ongoing security patches?
• Have you approached security end-to-end, from data at rest in the device to data in transit to the cloud, to securely passing data to other business systems?
There are headlines about security breaches seemingly every day, and consumers are acutely aware of the dangers and impact such breaches can represent. They seek products they can trust, and will quickly shy away from any brand that has proven unreliable. Consumers want trustworthy technologies, but want them to be easy to configure and use. The key is to sufficiently secure the product to reduce the risk, but not so much that people become frustrated or create workarounds (password = "password," for instance).
The world of connected products presents an immense opportunity for manufacturers to transform both their individual businesses and their industries as a whole. We are seeing hundred-year-old companies innovate and bring new technologies to market faster than ever before, and startups are finding new and better ways to approach age-old problems—all thanks to IoT connectivity. It's an exciting time, for sure, and one I know will bring many companies great success… if they approach it in the right way.
Ryan Lester is the director of IoT strategy at LogMeIn.