IoT products are providing significant value in making consumers’ lives easier. Coffee being brewed as soon as the morning alarm sounds, automated temperature control, and laundry detergent replenishment are all aimed to remove friction and help streamline people’s everyday lives. That’s great when it all works, but now that these smart products are connected to the Internet, who is going to administer them? Most of us have had our lives put on hold at one point by a cable or internet outage. With IoT, that same outage will cause inconvenience on a much larger scale. Most households are lucky enough to have one person who can set up the home network, password, and troubleshoot any interruptions. Now with many household and office devices connected to the internet; some via WiFi, some with Zigbee, and others through LTE, there will need to be a great deal of technology savvy in the home or office to alleviate any network issues that could render these smart devices useless.
In order for IoT devices to succeed in the consumer space outside of Silicon Valley, it is imperative that companies assume that customers have zero technical know-how and that they minimize the administration process. I believe there are two options consumer IoT companies need to consider when building a product in order to eliminate the need for technical expertise by the consumer in setting up and maintaining a smart device.
Option 1: Create a user-friendly interface with setup instructions that speaks a language anyone can understand.
Many IoT devices today require wireless setup by the customer and rely on WiFi signal or a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device. It is important that when a customer is troubleshooting their device, the accompanying app provides a step by step, easy to use interface that guides the customer in getting the device up and running. I believe these steps should be included in the mobile app that accompanies the device and should be interactive and easy to understand for the average person. After all, since these devices are created by engineers, you will be surprised at how non-user friendly troubleshooting some of these products can be. When creating a smart product, it would be ideal to do extensive customer development with the troubleshooting aspect of the product design, in order to de-engineer the process a bit.
Option 2: Partner with a service provider who can help setup and troubleshoot the device.
The thought of troubleshooting multiple devices running on multiple networks may be intimidating for some, even if the process is laid out in plain English. We are seeing a wave of service providers chomping at the bit to help these users with the setup and maintenance of a device or network in the home or office, which will certainly come at a hefty cost. Just as internet service providers help set up and troubleshoot a customer’s internet connection at home, service providers will look to do the same for their portfolio of smart products. Comcast for Business has set up a service called MachineQ that enables the setup and maintenance of IoT devices in office buildings and college campuses using the LoRa network, which is currently in beta in San Jose and Philadelphia. After working out the kinks with their enterprise solution, you better believe Xfinity Home will jump in to help service the smart home, and competitors will follow suit.
As someone who is beyond fed up with service providers and the rates they charge, I hope that IoT companies can embed a simple enough process that allows consumers to easily set up and maintain their devices at home. If this proves difficult, service providers like Comcast will be ready to jump in and extend their businesses into the IoT industry. Though both options are very much on the table, we will see how it shakes out as smart home products add up in the household. I say let’s leave the middleman out where we can and allow users to interface directly with their products. However, it is up to the product and customer development folks to empower their customers to do so.