IoT Tech Expo: Convergence of Tech, Business Model Innovation, Collaboration and Smart Cities
A year has passed since the last IoT Tech Expo in London, and it’s becoming even more apparent that the Internet of Things (IoT) is growing fast. The sheer scale of this space became immediately clear when stepping into the Olympia venue last week, with innovation after innovation being showcased wherever you turn, from the exhibitors, to the panels, to the presentations. There were, however, several big recurring themes that kept cropping up, including business model innovation, convergence of tech, and smart cities.
Convergence of Technologies
Throughout the two day expo, the convergence of technologies was continuously mentioned, and not for the first time, as a driver of innovation that’s also enabling technologies to reach their full potential. This is particularly clear in the convergence of artificial intelligence (A.I) and IoT, with a good example being the Amazon Alexa, which blends hardware, A.I, and voice control to create one of the most innovative products to come out of the past year.
Max Amordeluso was there from Amazon speaking about the company’s belief that by integrating artificial intelligence into products, it will then enable voice to become the next major disruption in computing. It makes sense that it’s voice leading the charge, as speech in the form of Voice User Interface (VUI) is the most natural, and will help enable technology to become invisible and enter the realms of science fiction, where some of the best inspiration for the next innovative technologies can come from. When thought about under those terms, it’s not really surprising to learn that the inspiration for Alexa came from the Star Trek supercomputer.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur Clarke
Similarly, the next generation of connected cars and mobility panel stressed that we need to utilise A.I to create compelling experiences, and highlighted that by making the system intelligent, the car itself as a platform can create. Think about this, for example: at the moment, taking a trip and having to find a parking space can be a stressful activity. But what if your car could drop you off wherever you wanted, and then go and find a parking space on it’s own, potentially outside of the city? Or alternatively, if your car didn’t require you to do anything, how could we create an experience inside the vehicle that would enable us to use our time more productively, especially now when people are trying to cram more and more into every minute of the day?
“What valuable company is nobody building?” – Peter Thiel
Wearables is another area of IoT that is continuing to grow, with fitness devices still being the most popular wearable, and smartwatches coming in second. However, much of the discussion around wearables is how there is yet to be a ‘killer app’ that takes the market and provides the solution people don’t know they’re looking for. Does the answer lie in the convergence of technology in smart fabrics, A.I, and voice control? Or is it simply that within all areas of IoT, the best answers lie in the technology itself. Perhaps the next great app will be developed by a machine, not a person?
Collaboration and Partnerships
Collaborations and partnerships was discussed across the board at the IoT Tech Expo, with most speakers and panels mentioning the importance of collaboration and partnerships in finding success in IoT projects, from automotives to smart cities.
A notable example in the automotive sector is the collaboration between Amazon and Ford, where Ford has integrated the Alexa system to enable voice control as part of their connected car offering. However, partnerships are not exclusive to large companies. Start-ups and SME’s can provide a pivotal role in the co-creation of new products and services, as the most important thing for any collaboration/partnership to work is ensuring partners have complementary knowledge and skillsets. Think big, start small, and scale fast.
In terms of smart cities, strong partnerships and collaborations can really aid in the development of new technologies and ideas to deliver innovative solutions. An example of this is the Lighthouse Cities (part of Gustaf Landahl’s Grow Smarter project), comprised of Stockholm, Barcelona, and Cologne, who are part of a four year programme to identify, create, test, and roll-out a range of smart cities initiatives. There are already over 12 example of live projects underway, including collaborations between industrial giants such as IBM, but crucially also with smaller start-ups and technologists.
Business Model Innovation
How can you create revenue generating products by connecting dumb things to the internet?
There’s been a lot of talk around connected devices and whether or not the majority actually hold any value. Take L’Oreal and Kerastase’s new hairbrush, for example. Is there any real need for a $200 hairbrush that can listen to your split ends and let you know you’re brushing your hair in the wrong way?
The question of being able to connect things to the internet, whilst also creating revenue generation products, was one posed to the “Monetisation – unlocking the revenue of IoT” panel. It’s an interesting question, as it leads to innovation that goes beyond the product and into the opportunity that IoT creates around developing new business models. The Internet of Things is fundamentally about collecting data, and the business opportunity lies in identifying what data actually holds value, who would want that data, and consequently building a business model around that.
Metromile and Progressive are two current examples of business model innovation already being used in auto insurance, where they employ a pay-per-mile model enabled by IoT. They are both excellent examples of how IoT can enable us to create value and new markets that have never existed before, but which benefit both business and consumer.
On the flip side, during the ‘Using data to enhance sports performance panel’ a new business model idea was touched on, wherein the person using the service may no longer have to pay in the traditional manner, and instead ‘pay’ by giving away any data collected. An example where this model could potentially work well and benefit all involved is in the fitness world, where a gym goer could give away any biometric and fitness data collected during their session in return for use of fitness facilities. It’s a matter of identifying who values the data and building a business model around that.
There is a real opportunity here to be truly innovative around business models and unlock their hidden value, rather than defaulting to the same old structure that, whilst still working for now, has the potential to become quickly outdated as IoT steams ahead. We should take an experimental approach as success in IoT is a journey with plenty of twists and turns (and getting lost along the way), where we can start collecting data, identify the value in the data, and act accordingly.
Smart cities is a big topic in IoT, with projects like Bristol is Open and MK:Smart in Milton Keynes leading the way in the UK. A lot of discussion happened around smart cities at the expo itself, with what appeared to be a focus on ‘green’ smart city initiatives. Our CEO Mick Robins’ favourite idea was around the use of gamification to influence energy saving behaviour amongst tenants in the city’s social housing.
For smart cities to work there is also a need for smart citizens. Karl-Filip Coenegrachts, the Chief Strategy Officer in Ghent, challenged the top-down, big corporate approach to addressing the opportunities of smart cities, which then leads to platform wars where the critical role of the citizen is either marginalized or ignored, emphasising the fact that the ‘role of government is to join the dots’.
Ghent has instead developed a person centered approach, placing the Smart Citizen at the heart of it’s Smart City strategy. Central to the strategy is a belief that Open Data and Open API’s equals Open Government, which includes open citizen reporting, open 3D mapping of the city (which has a dual purpose in being used for educational games, as well as town planning), and citizens often show a preference for smart city solutions that are more Low Tech than High (investment) Tech.
The IoT Tech Expo Global last week in London gave us all a lot to think about, and raised several interesting questions, especially around the growth of IoT and where it’s going to move in the future. Business model innovation and smart cities are two of the biggest topics to come out of the conference for us, and we’ll be sharing a lot more of our thoughts around the two throughout this year. With how fast the entire sector is moving, it will be intriguing to see what’s changed come the Europe and North American Expo’s later on this year.
Author: Mick Robins and David Gregory, Connected Space. Originally published here.