Evoke’s technical director Dean Ward’s reflections following Grant Thornton’s Internet of Things (IoT) panel discussion
In June and July 2016 we enjoyed numerous blue-sky talks and exhibitions as part of the International Festival Business 2016, with commercial director Neil Clark claiming his five-minutes-of-fame, discussing the new business opportunities and information available to growing exporters such as ourselves on North West Tonight!
But a highlight for me was Grant Thornton’s Internet of Things (IoT) discussion, hosted at the firm’s Liverpool office in the Royal Liver Building as part of The Edge, a fringe festival running alongside the main IFB programme.
I was invited to sit on a panel which included Tim Griggs of multi-national consultancy firm Arup and Steven Revill of Urban Tide – a business specialising in planning and delivering smart cities. Our brief was to discuss the opportunities and benefits of the IoT, along with the potential pitfalls.
Cisco – the world’s largest networking company – has recently increased its forecast for the economic value created by the “Internet of Everything” in the year 2020 to $19 trillion. With retail and manufacturing two of the industries expected to benefit from this, it’s a topic I’m genuinely excited by.
The implications for retailers are numerous. Our clients ask us design the end to end customer experience, and increasing connectivity between devices – from smartphones, to tablets, to wearables – is set to revolutionise this.
Technology is already in available to allow in-store displays and kiosks to change to show a product that may appeal to a customer, depending on their smartphone browsing history, or to monitor the amount of time spent looking at a product and follow that up with emails and social media adverts targeted specifically to that customer’s interests. By analysing the collective data, retailers can track footfall, both in terms of volume and actual routes taken around the store, and see which elements of store design are working and which need changing.
The potential stumbling block to all of this innovation taking root is: are customers happy give up their personal data in this way?
Arguably, as much as it may improve the high street shopping experience, data and connectivity used primarily benefits sellers and the uptake and continued development will be undoubtedly be commercially driven.
Reduced burden on the health service
But the ways in which the IoT looks set to aid the health sector promises far more obvious social value and has the potential to relieve pressure on strained healthcare provision in the UK.
We talked about early adopters of the technology and a company making a smart plug called 3rings to send alerts to a mobile phone if an elderly or vulnerable person hasn’t switched on an appliance such as a light, kettle or TV, that they habitually would do and provide an early alert that something might be wrong.
Such a simple, but brilliant, idea.
In a very real way, that technology has the potential to allow older generations to retain a sense of independence in their own homes – benefitting them and reducing the need for hospital or care-home admissions.
Evoke’s own health-check kiosks are greatly enhanced by new IoT devices. The connectivity and sharing of data improves diagnosis accuracy and patient outcomes. While still in its relative infancy, it’s clear the technology has a huge role to play in the ongoing personalisation of medicine.
The panel also touched on the concept of smart cities and, in particular, the reduction in traffic congestion that could be achieved by the IoT. Technology can be installed to monitor traffic flow, provide real-time information to drivers provide information to drivers and ease congestion through variable speed limits and instruction to use the hard shoulder.
The reduction in pollution and the economic benefits resulting from more efficient commuting will be brilliant – not to mention that it will just be nice to sit in fewer traffic jams!
Security and drawbacks
Of course it would have been easy to get caught up in all of the potential benefits, but a lively and engaging audience posed some interesting questions.
The issue of security – what should and what shouldn’t be connected – and the importance of keeping personal data secure is perhaps the major caveat in what is otherwise an incredibly promising concept.
Whether the existing infrastructure is capable of supporting this connectivity is another hurdle, but one which I feel will be overcome. There is so much to be gained, both financially and in terms of social value, that public and private interest will ensure this doesn’t hold the IoT back.
In terms of allaying fears around security and encouraging people to buy in: that’s on us.
One of Tim’s closing comments, which I particularly liked, was that the best digital technologies are like a good waiter; there when required and seamlessly enhancing your experience, without you even realising.
Designers and manufacturers of innovative technology will have to ensure that the devices of the future are simply too useful and too appealing not to use.
I’d like to thank Grant Thornton for a thoroughly well organised discussion and a great evening. The promise of the IoT will continue to factor in all of our thinking at Evoke and we’re excited to be part of its development.