Internet of Things (IoT) Challenge: The Sensor That Cried Wolf

William Schmarzo, the "Dean of Big Data," shares a personal story that identifies a tangible issue related to technology in general, and which carries an important message for the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular.
By William Schmarzo, Dell EMC.
c
comments

My daughter called with a frantic message. She was driving my car (why she was driving my car when she has her own is the subject for another time) and a warning message appeared on the car console:

“Engine overheated! Stop engine and allow to cool down” (see Figure 1).

engine overhead

Figure 1: Engine Overheated Warning Message

Fortunately, my daughter was nearly home, so she got the car home, shut it down and called me immediately (I was on the road somewhere…Washington DC, Philadelphia, Knoxville, Chicago, Toronto…I don’t even remember where anymore). I called my trusty mechanic (Chuck) and he was able to work my car into the schedule when I got back home.

So Friday morning I gingerly drove the car to the mechanic (about 2 miles away) and waited for the verdict. Here is the conversation with Chuck:

Chuck: “We found the problem and it’s a sensor that is broken.”

Me: “So the engine was not actually overheating.”

Chuck: “Correct”

Me: “What is it going to cost to replace the sensor?”

Chuck: “Unfortunately the sensor is buried in the engine, so there is quite a bit of work required just to get to it. So it’s going to cost about $500 to replace the sensor.”

Me: “So let me get this clear; it’s going to pay $500 to fix a problem that doesn’t exist?”

Chuck: [Very long pause] “Yep”

So I am paying $500 to fix a problem (overheating engine) that does not exist. And, problems like these could get a lot worse in our new “smart” world.

The Sensor That Cried Wolf

 
As more and more sensors get added to more and more appliances, vehicles, devices, machinery, equipment, and devices, the probability and impact of the false positives as they become connected in the Internet of Things world grows exponentially. The interplay between the sensors and any malfunctions (whether sensors wearing out or poorly designed sensors or criminally hacked) dramatically increases the potential of the Internet of Things world sending out false messages – sensors “crying wolf” about a problem that does not really exist.

And while these inadvertent messages can quickly wear down the customer experience, fixing these false positives costs money – real money – and likely real money to the customer.

Complexity seldom works to the benefit of the user or customer. Adding more sensors to any device increases the potential to negatively impact the customer experience if manufacturers do not give careful consideration to where and how these sensors are going to make the life of the customer – my life – better. Paying to fix problems that do not exist is not a good start.

Customer Experience / Customer Satisfaction Ramifications

 
Many of today’s leading digital organizations go to great lengths to drive a more compelling, more engaging customer experience; to simplify the key decisions that their customers need to make, such as:

  • Uber simplifying my decision how to get from where I currently am, to where I need to be (and in a very creative yet informative interface that allows me to track the exact location of my driver)
  • Amazon who seems never satisfied in improving their customers’ experience from one-click ordering to their “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” recommendations to Prime service
  • Chipotle and Starbucks mobile ordering (they enable me to order favorite selections at my favorite stores with only a couple of clicks of the button)
  • Concur who has made expense reporting almost (almost) bearable with how they have simplified the entry of expense items

There are others as well who got the memo about the importance of providing a more engaging customer experience and the resulting increase in customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer advocacy and likelihood to recommend.

The Internet of Things fascination with more and more sensors to capture more and more data can undo all of this if organizations don’t address a couple of key questions upfront of their Internet of Things initiative:

  • Does the collection of the data improve my user experience, or does it only provide the manufacturer with more ways to exploit my personal usage?
  • What are the potential customer experience, customer satisfaction and customer advocacy ramifications of the above question?

Summary

 
Let’s not make the classic Silicon Valley mistake: just because you can do something with technology does not necessary mean it is the right thing to do. Seriously contemplate the objectives of your Internet of Things strategy and ask a simple question:

Does all the added complexity benefit the customer or does it just benefit your organization?

Ask yourself “How tolerant are my customers going to be to pay to fix problems that don’t exist?”

If the added benefit does not outweigh the added cost and complexity, rethink your Internet of Things strategy and approach, and rethink that strategy and approach from the perspective of your customers. Getting things right with your customers is usually a pretty good strategy.

Original. Reposted with permission.

Related:

  • Chief Data Officer Toolkit: Leading the Digital Business Transformation – Part 1
  • Determining the Economic Value of Data
  • Big Data Dilemma: Save Me Money Versus Make Me Money