Services companies nowadays extend the customer journey with products while product brands add services to optimize customer intimacy. Either way, digital does the trick and often sensors and smartphone apps are involved to gather and deliver information and functionality. Nissan has a special smartwatch for car functions, Philips now sells the Hue personal wireless lighting system, insurers offer personalized pricing based on driving behaviour and energy companies let customers profit from smart metering. Microsoft and Nokia specialize in devices and services, from Lumia Windows phones and navigation to XBOX Music and SmartGlass. ParkMe is the largest real-time car parker in the United States delivering physical space though digital information. One of the nicest examples of how a cross-industry ecosystem of digital things and services could function is the Microsoft HealthVault vision. And Motorola makes the case for password pills, adding swallowables to wearables like Google Glass.
PICT: Personal, Intelligent & Calm Things
When Kevin Ashton, director of the MIT Auto-ID Institute, in 1999 operationalized his RFID solution at Procter & Gamble, calling it the Internet of Things, he could only have dreamed of what an adolescent Internet of Things and Services – to quote Bosch – might economically mean. From 2015 on, trillions of dollars are projected by experts from McKinsey and Harbor Research, among many others. This is Bill Buxton’s ‘long nose of innovation’ in action and that has nothing to do with lies. For technological innovation to really take off always lasts a few decades, as we know from the work of Carlota Perez.
Unspecific names are used to denote the impact of digital things and services, ranging from the Internet of Everything (Cisco) to the Industrial Internet (General Electric), the Internet of Sensors and Actuators (Vint Cerf, Google) or the Web of the World (Marc Davis, Microsoft). Germans speak of Industrie 4.0, the new wave after mechanization, electrification and information technology.
From a consumer perspective the best way to describe what’s going on around the individual would be PICT: Personal, Intelligent & Calm Things based on PICTechnology, or Personal ICT, including Near Field Computing (NFC) rings and bracelets. Three years ago, the Georgia Institute of Technology delivered an article called The Internet of Nano-Things and indeed developments coming from the Manchester UK Graphene Institute will greatly improve what will be possible with digital things and services.
A Matter of Time
Some twenty years ago, back in 1995, MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte published a book that by its title says it all: ‘Being Digital.’ One major conclusion was already drawn after the first pages: ‘computing is not about computers anymore, it’s about living.’ Years before, in 1988, Xerox PARC’s chief technologist Mark Weiser had started to talk about Ubiquitous Computing, aka Pervasive Computing, in the slipstream foreseeing pads, tabs and boards as the computers of the 21st century.
In December 1995 Weiser and his boss John Seeley Brown published their article ‘Designing Calm Technology,’ meaning that ‘technology recedes into the background of our lives’ and that it ‘informs but doesn’t demand our focus or attention.’ Technology that is both calm, non-intrusive and pervasive won’t happen as long as we prefer rich-media tools on sensor-packed touch devices with sound recognition and 100 million apps. Smartwatches, digital tattoos or Google Glasses communicating with intelligent things, among them our smartphone and our smartphone-on-wheels – the connected car or favourite exoskeleton – of course won’t mitigate distraction.
Calm technology might well be the greatest paradox, dilemma, impossibility, and naivety on planet earth. Fact is however that ‘we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us,’ in particular our behaviour. Over time, we get perfectly comfortable with digital things and services aimed at enriching and improving us, yet counter-productivity keeps crawling up from behind. People and their tools, human and machine should organically coexist and every extra may well be a time-consuming threat.
Kiss the competition goodbye with SMAC: Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud
From a business perspective it’s all about crying for attention and persuading consumers to buy services and things. Digital arousal – calm in itself, yet very persistent and cheap – effectively leads to excited and timely satisfied customers. This dynamism is the rationale behind BJ Fogg’s Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. It can however be argued that a well-chosen mix of calmness and persuasiveness yields the most durable customer satisfaction. Embracing your customers that way involves SMAC.
A proper combination of Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud intertwines things and services for a splendid customer experience. It’s all a matter of what Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in their 1997 book ‘The Discipline of Market Leaders’ brought under the common denominators of customer intimacy, operational excellence and product leadership. The authors advised executives to focus and choose, but in modern digital times there is no choice: disciplined market leaders do all three and operate on the basis of SMAC. Social is a dominant digital force from 2004 on: Web 2.0, Facebook; Mobile from 2007 on: touch devices, apps, smartphone-on-wheels; Analytics effectively from 2010 on, since the first international workshop on MapReduce and its applications; and Cloud from 2006 on when Amazon Web Services were launched.
Tipping point 2015
The tipping point is now, 2015. This moment has been identified as tipping point in the development of things and services in an unsuspicious ICT Industry Study, belonging to a set of 21 sectorial explorations, published in the Spring of 2012 by The Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the U.S. National Defense University. Their report places the Internet of Things on the following timeline:
0-18 months from Spring 2012 onward – this period now lies behind us
The focus lies on mobile computing, and we will see an explosion of smartphones and tablets. Privacy and security remain tricky issues, especially in the context of cyber security and legislation. This has proven to be correct, including all commotion around covert NSA practices.
18-36 months from Spring 2012 onward – that is the present
Internet connectivity is expanding across the economy. In 2008, there were already more digital things than people connected to the internet. Indeed we see mobile devices assuming the function of intermediary between the current internet and the expanding development of things and services.
3-5 years after Spring 2012 – thus from Spring 2015 onward
The development of the Internet of Things is ongoing, and autonomous machine-to-machine communication, in particular, is evolving rapidly. The so-called Smart Grid (intelligent energy supply through feedback loops) will further develop and internet connectivity is becoming increasingly “ubiquitous” and “pervasive” in the cyber-physical world of people, things, services, apps and websites. After the smartphone and tablet explosion, mashups of intelligent things and services will define the next stage of Being Digital.