Deploying IoT in Retail? Read this before moving forward …

Hello and thanks for reading.

I cam across an interesting article from AdAge (click here to read) where they covered 5 questions that a retailer should ask before deploying IoT.  Here are the 5 points, and some thoughts on each ….

 

1. What is your end goal?

The main point to get across here was that IoT in itself will not help your business.  IoT is about the power of information, as it allows you to see/learn things that you would not have known before.  However, it is how you change your business processes based on that information that benefit your organization.  So, if you learn more about the buying patterns of your customers, but do not change your Marketing strategies, the information is worthless.

 

2. How will your strategy improve the customer experience?

In the age of Amazon, the vast majority of things we need can be ordered while sitting on the couch.  Retailers need to improve the experience of dealing with their stores, both from an online strategy as well as making it more appealing to visit their locations.  Basically, they need to do what Amazon cannot.

 

IoT can help, but only if it is used right.  Things like targeted advertising is great, but as the article points out, if you don’t do it right, people will ignore it.

 

3. What will you do with the data?

Another way to spin this is to say, “are you in a position to use this data today?”  So, as an example, if you are able to see how long a particular demographic looks at a display, are you able to use that data to formulate a new strategy with your existing CRM/ERP systems?  In many cases, companies fail to upgrade the backend to match the great data that IoT gathers.

 

4. How will you capitalize on the network effect?

This was once a very big problem in the world of IoT.  As an example, the Operations team would use IoT to keep things moving, but never shared the data with the Finance team to improve billing.  As well, Marketers would gather data on customer traffic, but fail to tell the customer service team to better improve their staffing levels.

 

IoT helps both your machines work better, as well as your team, but only if the information is both shared and displayed in a way that helps that particular department.

 

5. How will you maintain security?

In many cases, securing an IoT device is as simple as enabling security settings and changing the default username and password.  As well, most cellular carriers allow you to use private networks to make it harder for hackers to gain access to your data.  However, this is a concern for most corporate customers, and rightly so.

 

The industry is starting to take notice and offering things like end to end encryption, right down to the sensors, but we need to push vendors to do more.

 

How Wal-Mart is “really” listening to their customers

Hello and thanks for reading.

Having started out my career in the world of technology working at a call centre, I can verify that when they say, “calls may be recorded”, they really are.  We had to sit through grueling coaching sessions to review how our calls went on a regular basis.

It appears that Wal-Mart is taking this to a whole new level.  As revealed in a Washington Post article, Wal-Mart has filed a patent to allow them to use sensors to also do this when it comes to the interactions between customers and cashiers at their stores.  Before you get too hysterical, filing a patent is often a long way from actually building a technology, let alone implementing it.

However, it does take the world of IoT to a creepier place than some of us would like it to go.

The idea of the patent is to be able to gather audio data (such as how fast the interval is between beeps from the product scanner) to help to better train their team.  That goal may be a good thing, as it would potentially lead to shorter line-ups on your Sunday morning run to the store.  However, the idea that interactions between employees and customers may be recorded is troublesome to some.

One of the areas of concern may be in the area of health, as most of these stores employ pharmacists.  Customers expect a certain level of privacy when asking the most personal health questions.  As well, these audio sensors will also likely pick up conversations between customers themselves, which adds little value to the shopping experience.

It also is the kind of solution that may not bring value compared to the negative connotations that it creates.  Said another way, the benefits of knowing more about the interactions between your staff and your customers may be outweighed by the drop in moral your team has by feeling that they are being constantly watched and evaluated.

Sure, I get the idea that if you are doing your job, you have nothing to worry about.  This is often the same thoughts that are shared when the idea of body cameras for front-line police officers is brought forward, and there is some truth to this.  

However, does that mean that you are OK with the same level of scrutiny?

It has been said that if you were followed by a police officer for 500 miles (800Km), even the most cautious and law-abiding driver would get a ticket for something.  New solutions will monitor things like how many keystrokes an office worker has made or the frequency that a warehouse worker moves their hands to grab a box.  Would you be ok with such monitoring at your job?

The Bottom Line
Sure, you are in your place of work to do just that … to work.  So, there is a level of expectation that you are giving a maximum effort while you are there.  However, IoT solutions should be designed to help increase productivity through an increased level of information (or a “carrot”), not to be used to punish (or as a “stick”).

Should IoT grow a conscious?

Hello and thanks for reading.

For a relatively new technology, IoT sure has done a great job in creating (or increasing) controversy.  Its ability to gather information in new ways has enabled many key technology breakthroughs that have helped society.  Along the way, it has also played a role in helping to enable technologies that are among the most polarizing out there, including:

  • Self-driving cars
  • Automation
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Drones

Now, it is helping to increase the likelihood of making killer robots come true.  So, should IoT “grow a conscious?”

When most people think of robots with weapons, movies like RoboCop may come to mind.  However, many of the moves in this space have been instead focusing on the military as a way to replace front line soldiers.  This is not the first time that we have seen different forms of automation in the military … one only has to look at the rapid growth in the use of drones to see this.  However, those devices have always been acting with the guidance of a human … many planned devices can act completely on their own.

This movement has started many campaigns, including the “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” comprised of many different groups including technology experts and human rights groups.  In addition to the lack of rules of engagement, there is also another factor to consider.

Can we control these devices if they decide they do not want to be controlled?

This is the fear of many smart people, including the late Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.  If we enable these devices to work on their own, they may not be bound to our rules and negotiated treaties.  One only has to watch one of the Terminator movies to get a visual of what that may look like.

In the end, we are not quite at that stage yet, but with the rapid rise of AI, we need to start having these conversations now.

 

Isn’t it great when technology is simple to use?

Hello and thanks for reading.

While I am writing this, I am at the auto dealership having some work done.  For the most part, the idea of doing work on your own car is becoming a distant memory, as cars are filled a ton of technology that requires complex equipment and training to work on.  

This is a common concern for many when it comes to technology ... are we making things too complex without seeing enough benefit?  If adding a bit of complexity makes things last longer or safer, it is likely a good idea.  However, in the age of IoT, this is not always the case.  We are seeing products cost much more than their “dumb” counterparts and consumers are not seeing a reason to upgrade.

It is for that reason that I truly love simple technology.  In the past, I have written about my love for my home rowing machine, the Concept 2.  Like it sounds, you row on it.  It has some technology that allows you to see how you are doing during the row and to record different activities for comparison.  The company has done a great job in providing an easy to use experience, in addition to producing a well-built machine.

This contrasts to a new coffeemaker that I bought that was so complex, I had to actually (gasp) read the user manual just to make the first cup of coffee.  It had multiple layers of menus for many items that most would not use ever.

This is especially important for products that may have an appeal to the elderly market, who often are not as technology savvy as the younger generations.  Enter products like the GrandPad tablet ... this interesting product takes much of the complexity out of connecting to the Internet for your loved ones.  It uses cellular, so no need to set up/run Wi-Fi in their homes and has easy to understand menus.  While this product may not appeal to everyone (many will find the iPad an easy to use choice), hats off to those trying to make things simple.

I think many manufacturers need to take a step back and ask ... how can we take out complexity out of our product, or can we produce a simpler version for those who “just what stuff it work.”

 

The best way to invade a country is not using military force …

Hello and thanks for reading.

Another day, another story about a failure in cybersecurity.  However, this report is potentially much, much scarier than all others.

A story in Bloomberg Businessweek, if true, would be the worst case scenario for many of us.  Few people fear that a country with a military as powerful as the US could ever be attacked on a broad scale using military force.  It would likely prove to be an act in futility.  However, a truly well orchestrated cyber attack could be just as dangerous.

The report cited over a dozen unnamed sources that claim that China had placed spy chips inside of various pieces of equipment, including some made by Apple and Amazon.  The companies have denied the report, and perhaps there is nothing to it.  However, the idea of such an attack is a threat that is both real and one that could have huge consequences.

Much of the equipment used in the business world is manufactured overseas, often in China.  Think equipment that powers the traffic lights, air traffic control, the power grid and much more.  The idea that there may be a cyber attack on these things is well documented (both by the media and by Hollywood), so there are very large protections in place to prevent this.

But, if the attack came from the device itself, how would you prevent it?

This particular alleged attack was not aimed at causing such havoc but was actually targeted at gaining access to key commercial and government secrets, but is there any reason why it could not be aimed at much more?

I have written extensively at how there is a lack of IoT security among many devices, mostly those in the consumer space.  Having been involved in many high priority and secure deployments, I can tell you this is not the case for most high-risk deployments.  There are strict rules and procedures followed, and I have never been made aware of a successful attack on any of these assets.  However, all of the procedures in the world will not stop an attack from within the components of the device themselves.

It kind of reminds me of the movie Terminator Genisys, where the plot to take over was based on something embedded inside of a new operating system is going to cause huge issues … in this case, we need to learn from Hollywood to know more about what is inside of our devices before we widely deploy them.  This means increased security at facilities and more required testing for possible breaches need to be mandated by the government.

However, will e

 

IoT and Agriculture: Using the power of Data to improve how our food supply is managed

Hello and thanks for reading.

Few areas have seen change over the past few hundred years more than the world of Agriculture.  Years ago, the vast majority of the population was involved in the production of food … now, it is a relatively small percentage.  However, thanks to technology advancements, we are producing more food than ever.

Today, the world is demanding more … better quality food to be produced, while reducing the impact on the environment, as well as doing so with less water and pesticides.  IoT is here to help.  IoT is all about information, and this information allows for improvements for farmers that we wouldn’t have dreamed about even a decade ago.

Here are a few examples:

Smart irrigation = less water used

By knowing precisely how much rain has fallen in a particular area, farmers can optimize how much irrigation to do.  This not only produces better crops but also reduces water usage.  Solutions even allow for certain zones to be set to accommodate the different water needs of particular plants.

 

More accurate planting
Using a nerdy technology called “RTK”, farmers are able to plant more efficiently.  By better aligning their crops, they use less resources and are able to plant longer hours during the early part of the season, even while in total darkness!

 

The use of drones
Besides being cool, drones plan an important part in the world of farming.  They allow farmers to see things that might not be apparent from the ground, such as dryness levels, how plants in dense areas are growing and how close some plants are to being ripe.

Improving the storage of grain and other crops
First, bar code technology is used to ensure that the correct crop is placed in the silo, eliminating the chance of cross-contamination.  Once inside, smart sensors are used to monitor things like humidity, temperature and even a possible theft.

Making the cows “smart”
IoT helps improve livestock monitoring by using ear tags to monitor location, using sensors to monitor for periods of conception and to track the behaviour of the animal … all of which is viewable on a smartphone application.  As well, smart lactation solutions allow the farmers to know the optimal time to milk each cow for maximum output.

Keeping our food system safe

Once the product leaves the farm, smart solutions allow for better tracking of food from farm to table, as well as ensuring that each food product is stored at its ideal temperature/humidity level while on its way to the store.  Finally, IoT solutions help alert consumers quickly of possible contamination issues, as well as preventing them from getting into the food system in the first place.