Ask an average person what they think about the Internet of
Things, and you’ll likely get a confused look. For us who work in technology, the concept means a great deal, as it
represents the latest frontier in the opportunity to leverage data and
analytics to fuel better business performance.
I raise this distinction simply because to understand how to
take advantage of new data sources from sensors and machines, it helps to
consider what it all means to the now commonplace mobilized consumer. After all, consumers don’t care about the
complexities of a well considered customer experience, but they do recognize a
good experience when it happens (and of course bad experiences as well).
The stakes are as high as the hurdles for retailers, and really
any business to consumer organization, with respect to the Internet of
Things. The use cases in CPG manufacturing
and distribution processes are very compelling, for example. From the machines which produce goods and
generate data that helps predict and head off maintenance or failure issues, to the
flow of tagged goods (via RFID) through the supply chain, and knowing with
confidence their quantity and place relative to demand, there are many cases manufacturers are exploring.
Likewise, retailers have the opportunity to pick up where suppliers
leave off, and know precisely inventory and shelf position for all merchandise,
both in brick/mortar and online stores. With
omni-channel shopping a condition retailers are struggling with, this
capability is crucial to simply maintaining competitive parity.
The approaches and options to attacking these opportunities
vary considerably depending on who you talk to in the technology, data and
analytic market ecosystem. Deciding to
pilot something new is one thing, but embedding this form of intelligence into
a complex and often disconnected business is quite another paved with as much
risk as upside potential.
Bringing it back to the consumer, executives need to look
beyond the back office use cases and analytics to the impact this all has
on their consumer. Mobile is becoming
the ubiquitous interface between consumers and their environment, at any point
along the path to purchase. New technology like
iBeacons get a lot of press due to the ability to connect a consumer to a
contextual interaction “on the go,” but there’s a slew of connected devices
coming online as well.
Mobile devices are not just for texting, emailing, using
apps, and browsing the web, but now serve as the connection point to the
consumer Internet of Things – thermostats, household appliances, security
systems, automobiles, watches, televisions, and even pantry and household products.
I think the stakes are huge for both retailers and their
supplier partners, whether they approach the Internet of Things separately, or
in collaboration. Regardless, what’s
necessary is the ability to move quickly on the opportunity to connect the
tracking of physical goods through the manufacturing, marketing and sales
processes, to consumption by consumers. That’s a complex problem for which solutions now exist.
Gartner describes “business moments” as cross-industry
collaboration scenarios that provide a differentiated consumer experience that
benefits all parties – the consumer and the businesses working together to
deliver the experience. Imagine a can of
paint knowing it’s nearly empty and your car recognizing when you are going to
the hardware store to buy another. Your
furnace then becomes part of the conversation, and notifies you to pick up a
new filter, while the businesses supporting this experience try to connect you
with a location that has both items in stock. A mobile device today and in the foreseeable future is the one place to
which all of these interactions point.
It is a somewhat lofty concept requiring a change of mindset
for industries such as consumer packaged goods and retail that are often at
odds, but makes sense against a backdrop of fickle consumer attention. The most successful business to consumer
organizations will come to be defined by the extent to which they can transparently
support such complex and differentiated experiences.
For both retailers and CPG manufacturers, the future is
nearer than they think, and consumers will come to expect and prefer satisfying
experiences unhindered by limits imposed by disconnected business
processes. Imagining a mobilized
consumer along the path to purchase is a good way to think about The Internet
CPG and Retail Industry Principal