The billions of smart devices that transmit data in real time all around us are bringing about an era of change, not just for people, but also for business. Businesses that can capitalize on the Internet of Things can transform themselves by making better products and more informed decisions, while those that shy away from the technology can miss opportunities for growth.
W. David Stephenson wants readers of “The Future is Smart” to know that the “Internet of Things” — the concept that everything can be connected to other things on the Internet — is nothing short of a revolution, because now businesses that embrace the technology can get data about practically anything in real time, a feat that until recently was impossible.
Stephenson opens his book with the example of a city trash can, something that just sits there. A company called BigBelly improved the trash can’s capacity by adding a compactor and solar panel to power it. When the company added networking to their solar-powered trash can, they realized they could change from a fancy trash can maker to a company that could help cities improve the way they remove waste.
Cities that use BigBelly trash cans can move away from old-fashioned trash collection routes and use real-time data to inform their operational decisions. That can reduce the frequency of trash collection by as much as 80% while increasing the volume of recycled materials.
BigBelly also works with cities to add Wi-Fi hotspots, sensors, beacons and other connected services to their trash compactors. Stephenson’s point is that if interconnectedness can transform something as ordinary as a trash can, it’s worth imagining what can happen if the world re-invented every product and management system as part of the Internet of Things.
Stephenson divides the book into three parts. Part I discusses how attitudes must change to capitalize on the Internet of Things, and what tools you can use to make it happen. In it, he spends one chapter explaining what he calls the four essential truths, or attitudinal shifts necessary for transformation: that privacy and security must be a top priority, that data should be shared, that data should flow in a cyclical rather than linear fashion and that products and their roles should be re-thought.
Part II discusses how businesses are transforming because of the Internet of Things. One example Stephenson cites is that of Winterhalter, a commercial dishwasher manufacturer in Germany, which rethought its product by offering customers a “pay per wash” option. Customers who use this option don’t have to pay up front for a commercial dishwasher; instead, they use a credit card online to pay to unlock wash cycles on the dishwasher.
Winterhalter benefits because they have a more predictable revenue stream and a continuing relationship with their customer, who may be less likely to shop around because their needs are already met. Customers benefit because their washer can be better maintained because of data it sends back over the network, and because they don’t have to make an up-front investment.
Part III describes corporate strategies that Stephenson says can be used once the Internet of Things is fully realized. Everything will be different: customers will become empowered to help with product design. Maintenance will be aided by predictive insights. Products will be replaced by services. How will your business adapt?
For those interested in doing more reading about the possibilities of an interconnected future, there are 20 pages of notes and citations at the end of the hardback book, a cursory check of which reveals no hidden sensors or networking capabilities.
The future is coming when chunks of data will flow in all directions around and within your business. Reading this book in one direction, from cover to cover, could help you reimagine how your business will work in the future.
The Future is Smart
How Your Company Can Capitalize on the Internet of Things And Win in a Connected Economy
By W. David Stephenson
HarperCollins Leadership. 234 pages. $27.95.