How to create a successful ecosystem for your IoT project? Episode 2 - Creating value for the end user
How to create a successful ecosystem for your IoT project? Episode 2 - Creating value for the end user
This is the second episode of our “How to create a successful ecosystem for your IoT project” series of articles, in which we have asked some prominent IoT experts to share their knowledge and best practices to successfully lead an IoT project.
A few weeks ago, we’ve had the chance to discuss with Maxime Schacht, former Head of Sigfox Hacking House, Sigfox’s innovation arm and now CEO of VizioSense, about “how to create value for the end user”.
The Hacking House used to accompany IoT entrepreneurs from ideation to the proof of value. Their 6 months intensive program was focused on design thinking, technical training in IoT and Sigfox technologies, and rapid prototyping. Several ‘crash tests’ along the way helped to adjust the direction of the project. This special methodology, together with a pool of hardware, software and marketing profiles and mentors working under specific time-limits, is a proven and successful way to help many startups and students understand the problem and propose an innovative solution while building a real working prototype.
Maxime, can you define what is a good Proof of Value (PoV) in IoT?
A good use case in IoT is all about finding the right balance between 3 elements:
- A good business case: the project needs to be viable and generate profits, directly or indirectly
- A good design: the device needs to meet the users needs and be easy to use
- An efficient technology: not only does the idea need to be technically feasible, but also easy to use and easy to scale to facilitate adoption.
You need to onboard all interested parties, all stakeholders in the solution development, not only the decision makers: the end-users are equally important. Your solution may be really innovative, bring a lot of value, but not get adopted by the end-users because they were not involved in the project from the beginning.
Generally, IoT industrialization is happening in 4 steps. The Hacking House was focusing on the first two steps: ideation and proof of concept.
- The ideation is the intuition that an IoT solution can solve a specific pain point. At this stage, we analyze the end user needs and the business processes to assess the opportunity and whether the IoT solution can actually solve the issue.
- We then have the Proof of Concept (PoC) or Proof of Value (PoV) phase. The aim of this step is to make sure that the project will meet the customer’s expectation and the economical equation. An IoT project is generally launched by top managers that want to augment the customer experience and/or create savings or new revenue streams. If the project doesn’t meet that economic equation, it won’t find support and will most likely fail. We need to validate the raison d’être of the project and create a framework for it.
In order to do that, we bring together a range of Business and IoT experts. The business experts help us understand the business model and create the first outline of the framework, ie a calculation model in which we plug the various parameters and understand the levers of economy on which we can experiment with the help of the IoT solution. Within this framework, we look at the complete lifecycle of the product. We take into account the cost of the device itself but also the dimensions of the battery, the cost of the installation and the product maintenance, and also the projected end of life. These steps are frequently overlooked or underestimated.
We do a first iteration of the technical solution, often using an off-the-shelf solution, which although isn’t an exact fix allows us to provide an approximate projection on the revenues and costs, validate our hypothesis and do it quickly.
We are then ready to do some ground experiments and see what data the device comes up with. The data is analyzed to find ways to make savings or to bring new revenues. The project ROI is the equation between the expected cost and the gain brought by the solution.
- The next step is the pilot. By now, we are working on a solution that is approaching the clients’ needs. We enter the stage where we are refining the solution, making it more efficient and economically viable. We find partners and manufacturers that can purposely build a specialized piece of hardware that will allow us to improve the ROI, before planning the deployment. During the two previous steps, we were in a top down approach where the needs influence the solution. In the pilot stage however, we challenge that approach with a bottom-up procedure: the field test provides the Go-To-Market (GTM) plan.
- The 4th step is the industrialization. At this stage, the opportunity is fully assessed and the device is ready to be implemented.
Are there some common mistakes that people do during the PoV or the Pilot stage that we should be aware of?
Yes! There are some classic technical errors that lead to increased costs. The first one I guess you know well:
- Not paying attention to the batteries specifications and the components used which could lead to an underestimation of the battery’s lifetime. That could be catastrophic: can you imagine the costs associated with changing millions of batteries deployed in the field? So estimate your device’s consumption with a tool like Wisebatt for example is very important as the battery’s lifetime has a huge impact on the solution ROI.
- Another mistake is poor antenna design. Antennas are a complex subject. This particular mistake is an example of a more generic mistake: You need to take into account the environment in which the device will be deployed, as it impacts the device’s performances, such as the battery’s or the antenna’s performances. For the latter, beware of metal objects, move away from them and again, this cannot be understated, always test your solution in the field.
- The lack of software capacity or the necessity of software updates is also something to be careful of. There might be bugs or technical evolutions that would necessitate an update. If your device lacks a mechanism to update it remotely via a Bluetooth beacon, 3G connection or a long distance protocol, it could lead to very expensive maintenance operations and ultimately to the project failing.
- Underestimate the effect of the environmental conditions in which the device is going to be deployed and what impacts they will have on the design. For example, the case needs to be sturdy enough to withstand wind and rain or other detrimental elements, especially in an ATEX environment...
- We are starting to see devices that use autonomous energy solutions, harvesting solar, turbine or wave energy... Once again we have to come back to the ROI because these solutions can be expensive.
- Complicated deployment and installation can impact the total solution cost too. Simplify it to the max and think about the time that will be needed for the installation right at the beginning of the design phase. Try to automate the registration of the devices. Have them already registered to the connectivity service so you just have to pass a magnet to activate it at the right moment.
If you had to give a recipe for success when working on the PoV, what would it be?
- First of all, move forward but do it step by step, one milestone at a time, with limited investment at each step and numerous tests.
- Set up a team of business experts and IoT experts to recommend and validate the right technology. There must be an alignment of the direction, a convergence in terms of the technology and partners to follow, otherwise it can rapidly become a blocking point.
- Make sure you properly define the project needs and have good technical and functional specifications. Avoid continual changes as this generates costs.
- When doing your PoC, work with existing hardware to limit the costs of the tests and ensure that there is an ROI to the solution.
- Anticipate the life span of your device and its Total Cost of Ownership. The cost of a solution is not only the hardware, but also, the installation, the maintenance, the disposal and recycling costs put together… and foresee a margin of error. Ask yourself “will the technology that I take on board have longevity? Will it still be around in 10-15 years?” Anticipate technological breakdowns of each component and negotiate it contractually with your providers.
- The solution you come up with must be transparent and have a minimum impact on the way of working of the end user if the IoT solution is to be adopted.
- Listen, and involve the teams early on in the project and bring them onboard before going on to the field. Interview them to ensure that the solution will bring them value and that they adhere to the project goals. You must ensure from the outset that the entire team is aligned with the business objectives and therefore advise and communicate upstream.
- Don’t try to go towards the most efficient solution. Choose the most cost-effective one, the one that meets the need whilst offering the cheapest possible option.
- Think about the way the data is going to be integrated to your client’s existing system. Plan an API.
- Don’t be afraid of failing!
At the end of the day, what will ensure the success of the project and allow it to go all the way is this: the human and financial equation and the business impact.
You’ll need to keep in mind the client’s benefits and the maximum price they are willing to spend (which is why you do the framework). The technique comes next, although it obviously impacts the project cost too.
Thank you Maxime!
Sigfox is the initiator of the 0G network and the world’s leading IoT (Internet of Things) service provider. Its global network allows billions of devices to connect to the Internet, in a straightforward way, while consuming as little energy as possible. Sigfox’s unique approach to device-to-cloud communications addresses the three greatest barriers to global IoT adoption: cost, energy consumption and global scalability. Today, the network is available in 72 countries, with 1.3 billion people covered. ISO 9001 certified and surrounded by a large ecosystem of partners and IoT key players, Sigfox empowers companies to move their business model towards more digital services, in key areas such as Asset Tracking and Supply Chain. Founded in 2010 by Ludovic Le Moan and Christophe Fourtet, the company is headquartered in France and has offices in Madrid, Munich, Boston, Dallas, Dubai, Singapore, Sao Paulo and Tokyo.
VizioSense is an AIoT company that build end-to-end connected AI-based solutions. Their plug-and-play optical sensors embed an AI processor enabling on-device computer vision to count and detect people or items. The generated data provides insights to businesses to improve their operations and generate savings or new revenues.