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Defining the Internet of Things as intelligent interaction between humans and things to exchange data is easy enough, but assessing how and where IoT is playing, or should play, within retail customer experience is a bit more difficult.
Some industry watchers believe IoT remains in a hype stage yet grabbing obvious traction as some companies are boasting billions of connections.
"It's happening quickly, but, yes it's hype," said Jessica Groopman, independent industry analyst and IoT advisor. Groopman was one of three panelists discussing real-life IoT applications during Networld Media Group’s CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit held last month in Chicago.
Fellow panelists in the session, which was moderated by Trey Courtney, Mood Media senior VP, product management and delivery, included Kevin Meagher, who serves as ROC-Connect's senior VP of business development and Aaron Noveshen, who launched a new quick service concept this past May, Starbird, and is founder and president of The Culinary Edge.
"IoT still needs to dive into the mainstream as artificial intelligence and machine learning are picking up traction," noted Groopman. She cited interesting statistics: there are somewhere between 50 billion and 200 billion connected devices in play and in the future the average consumer will be engaging with nine to 23 devices. Right now the average is about three devices per person.
But Meagher didn’t completely agree with Groopman's hype view point.
"We don't realize the big game-changer this will be and it is spreading to everyday things," he said, comparing the advent of IoT with the advent of the mobile phone.
Consumer expectation to have all devices connected will drive adoption, he said, as well as the launch of meaningful services.
In the food service realm IoT can be a differentiator, noted Noveshen, as it could eventually replace the drive-thru option and all the anxiety that comes with the drive-thru ordering experience.
"That's what Starbird is trying to eliminate," he said, noting Starbucks is doing a good job with its easy app and order ahead capabilities.
Groopman believes the value of IoT, at this point, is higher for companies and organizations in the hospitality, and retail environment than for end users.
"We have to up the value on the consumer side," she said. But that, noted Meagher, will take some time.
"It has to be wrapped around something of value," he said, and "no one has hit a home run. We're at the tip of the iceberg," he added.
Meagher, who led the IoT charge for Lowes several years ago, describes IoT today as at the start of avalanche.
"As it rolls out it will be pushing through the same barriers as smartphone adoption did and there will be some serious casualties," he noted.
The panel cited several successful IoT strategies in play, such as Amazon and its smart home focus, Lowe’s big investment and the automotive industry with its connected cars. Groopman also cited Disney as successful with IoT.
"They're doing a lot of things right but then again it's deep pockets," she acknowledged. Disney's strategy of being all about the customer and the journey is key, she added.
"It's about using information to optimize workflow, processes and building for an experience that will drive loyalty," she said.
That kind of consumer value is key for IoT success, noted Noveshen.
"Anything that affects your emotion [home security for example] is really a good value and a game changer," he said. His view was echoed by Meagher.
"It’s about peace of mind," he said, noting that's why home security has been an early planting ground for IoT technology.
Some challenges ahead for IoT applications include some misconceptions. One is that it is a huge technology that's really hard to deploy.
But those are not issues, according to the panel experts.
"Today the issue is business models," said Meagher. Groopman concurred, noting the technology issue is much less a hurdle than it was a few years ago.
"It's much more evolution than revolution right now," she said. "What problem can we solve that would make competitors irrelevant," she said.