Why we need a more human-centric approach to IoT application design

Many businesses have yet to realise the promised benefits of IoT

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The expectations around the value that IoT promises to deliver are high with worldwide IoT spending expected to hit a trillion dollars by 2022. IoT offers enterprises an opportunity to digitally transform their business models, enhancing efficiencies and increasing customer and employee engagement. This technological phenomenon is set to have a huge impact on the global economy.

However, many businesses have yet to realise the promised benefits or expected value of IoT, leading to lower than expected adoption rates and reduced ROI. This problem is particularly acute for those who are developing IoT for industrial applications (IIoT), where it needs to be scalable and where near-and-long-term ROI is imperative for promoting enterprise adoption.

For example, many products brought to the market today — from industrial sensors to smartwatches — incorporate features that owners or operators never use. This is because they are too difficult to adopt, too cumbersome to use, or simply not relevant to users.

At the heart of this problem lies the reality that too many IoT applications today are being designed without sufficient focus on human experiences, because of which, businesses cannot unlock the full potential of IoT. This fundamental flaw in the design is what is holding back businesses from delivering real value to customers, employees, partners, and other stakeholders. But before businesses set out on a course correction, they must first start from the roots of the application.

The importance of human-centred design in the age of the algorithm

The design of an IoT application fails when not informed by how people engage with it — not just what they say they want or need, but how they actually behave. Because of this, developers and designers need to reframe their approach from “what we can we do” to “what will work best for people”.

IoT applications are often looked at as multi-layer solutions for the management and automation of various connected devices, and are therefore designed to fulfil that role alone. But they need to do more than just serve their basic function ― they must deliver seamless user experience as well. After all, people shouldn’t have to work to make products work.

It’s easy to state the challenge and it’s just as easy to assert the importance of human-centred design. But the hard part is actually developing products in a way that addresses this challenge. Simply adopting a charter of design principles or expressing a mission and vision for how humans can be integrated into the design loop is not enough. The end user must be top of mind at all stages of the development cycle.

True change requires businesses to adopt a tangible and analytical approach to product or solution conception and design. It also necessitates that the whole development cycle is anchored in rigorous research into actual human needs.

The IoT value equation: data + people = value

With an abundance of data and insights today, there are now more opportunities for creative digital engineering and design of useful applications. But without analysing the way people interact with these applications and learning from their behaviour, businesses will have a hard time maximising value for their customers.

Successful IoT applications incorporate insights into human behaviour before building things, thereby reducing adoption risk, improving productivity, compressing development cycles, and more quickly realising the intended ROI.

Data also allows businesses to identify unmet needs and opportunities and make recommendations to leadership based on the behavioural insights gathered. By reframing the IoT design mind-set and leveraging relevant data, businesses can lay a strong foundation for the development of useful IoT applications.

Reframing your IoT strategy

With such a framework in place, businesses should develop an IoT strategy and advisory roadmap to guide the development and design of these applications. Milestones should then be set at key points of the development journey, from ideation to product realisation, to ensure the applications are being designed for a seamless experience that meets the needs of the end user.

Keeping humans in the loop ensures the relevance and desirability of the product. But businesses can only achieve successful IoT solutions by marrying data analysis with the measurable, qualitative insights derived from social and behavioural research.

IoT has great potential, but its benefits can be optimised only if we are focused on developing answers for real human needs. We are building applications for people, so humans are ultimately the key to developing useful IoT applications.

At a time when digital thinking and technology have come to require considerable investment, miscalculations in the way applications are designed can be costly and businesses cannot afford that risk.

Narayan Iyer is country manager ― Australia, Cognizant.

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