Navigant Research Blog

Can IoT Redefine Your Shopping Experience?

— February 9, 2017

CodeThere is a lot of hype surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT). The challenge this presents is in deciphering how an IoT solution can deliver better information—not just more data—and tackle specific pain points that lead to customers entertaining a new investment. Navigant Research believes the significant benefits associated with IoT are transforming commercial facilities into intelligent buildings; two specific business benefits of IoT can be highlighted by exploring the application of IoT in retail spaces.

First, IoT can help shoppers spend where their dollar aligns with their green priorities. In 2015, Nielsen released the results of a global survey that demonstrated a shift in willingness to pay and purchasing trends among millennials, the largest segment of the population. About 72% of respondents reported they are “willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact.” This was an increase of 17% from 2014—if the trend continues into 2017, close to 90% of millennials will be putting their green where the green is.

Demonstrating Sustainability

IoT can be the technology backbone to qualify the sustainability claims of retailers. Accurate tracking of energy consumption and equipment performance made possible by IoT infrastructure can help retailers quantify their efforts with data. Energy efficiency efforts can be monitored and verified with real-time data to inform annual reports and marketing efforts on sustainability.

Second, an IoT solution can improve the shopping experience by improving customer service with data-directed sales support. An IoT solution can provide retailers with detailed data on customer traffic, illustrating the flow of customers throughout their stores and even the time spent browsing in specific locations. If store managers utilize this data, they can be proactive about staffing and create new strategies for product placement and incentives to move customers throughout their stores. The efficiency of speedy checkout and the product placement enhanced by this occupancy data can help enhance the shopping experience, which suggests a new avenue to create return and long-term customers. Carrie Ask, Levis’ EVP and president of Global Retail, recently explained the concrete benefits of deploying IoT solutions. “On the opportunity side, we were underestimating the potential within our store traffic to drive sales and conversions. … And on the stakes side, we also realized that when we’re out of stock, not only do we lose in the moment the chance to drive a planned or impulse purchase, but the disappointed consumer may decide that the trip to the store was not worth it—jeopardizing future traffic,” she said.

Interested in hearing more about the role of IoT in retail? Join Navigant Research along with Rick Lisa, Director of IOTG America’s Sales at Intel; Greg Fasullo, CEO at Entouch Controls; and Craig Robinson, Partner at Traverse Ventures Partners for a roundtable conversation exploring how the IoT is redefining the retail experience on February 14 at 2 p.m. ET. Click here to register.

 

Alexa Steals the Show at CES 2017

— January 16, 2017

CodeVoice activation took center stage at CES 2017, with Amazon and Alexa as the leading stars. I spent several days at the annual geek fest, and the device kept coming up in multiple conversations with industry players.

Alexa, formally called the Amazon Echo, is not new. The $180 device was first available exclusively to Amazon Prime members in November 2014. Since then, the device (along with its smaller clone, the Dot) and its cloud-based data service have been made available to anyone, steadily gaining a solid foothold in the smart home-Internet of Things (IoT) market. It has become a surprise hit, and vendors across the spectrum now clamor to include Alexa functionality in their devices. Companies like LG, Whirlpool, Samsung, Mattel, Lenovo, GE, and Ford have (or will soon have) products with Alexa voice technology.

From an energy standpoint, Alexa has already made inroads with smart thermostat makers to work directly with their products. For some months now, Alexa has enabled users to simply say a command, and a Wi-Fi-connected thermostat will alter the temperature to a new setting on a Nest, ecobee3, Honeywell Lyric, or Sensi product.

Waiting in the Wings

Even though Amazon’s Alexa is the clear leader of the voice activation trend, Alphabet’s Google Home device was waiting in the wings at CES to carve out its share of the market. The Home device has only been available to consumers since its launch in November 2016, but a number of vendors I spoke with already have products that can work with Home or are planning to add Home integration to their products in the near future.

While Amazon and now Alphabet are competing head-to-head for voice activation in the home, conspicuously absent in the space at CES were Apple and Microsoft—though that could soon change if rumors about Apple are true. Rumblings out of Cupertino indicate Apple is developing its own competitor to Alexa. Microsoft has its own voice-activated assistant engine called Cortana, but it is still unclear what the software giant’s strategy is in this part of the market and whether it wants to join a competitive hardware-cloud battle where it would likely start out as the number four player.

Other Connected Things: Mostly Incremental Gains

I saw mostly incremental advancements for smart thermostats, smart appliances, and numerous connected-smart lighting products on the show floor, which is not meant as a criticism. As manufacturers hone their skills, I would expect to see steady energy efficiency gains among these products as more sensors and data analytics combine to improve energy consumption. This kind of effort is difficult to achieve and takes time to develop.

Nonetheless, there was one notable product in terms of energy efficiency called LaDouche from French startup Solable. LaDouche is a residential water heater, and it was named as a CES 2017 Innovation Awards honoree for its heat exchange capability, which ostensibly can lower an electric hot-water bill by up to 80%. That is impressive (if it can be verified).

Voice Technology as Transformative

The 2017 CES was a showcase for voice technology as a transformative trend, and one that Navigant Research has pointed out as a key new input for the IoT and computing in general. This was CES’ 50th anniversary event, and the show remains one of the few places where transformative technology gets a megaphone and where one gets a glimpse of what potentially lies ahead in coming years—maybe even in the next 50. Flying cars—are you with me?

 

The Internet of Things and Time Series Data

— December 21, 2016

Cloud ComputingThrough the Internet of Things (IoT), the world is becoming more and more interconnected and intelligent. Enormous amounts of data are being generated while the cost to store it is decreasing. Consequently, companies are looking to leverage this data to conduct analysis and deliver insight into their businesses. According to Navigant Research, IoT will represent a $500 million addressable market by 2020; most industries are expected to transform themselves in some way as homes, offices, cars, and even healthcare services become smarter through IoT devices.

Among all types of data, time series data (e.g., data from sensors) is becoming the most widespread. Unfortunately, collecting, storing, and analyzing massive amounts of this data is often not possible with traditional SQL databases. The challenge with time series data is that reads and writes to the database must be fast, reliable, and scalable.

What Is Time Series Data?

Time series data is any data that has a timestamp, such as IoT device data, stocks, and commodity prices. This data also often has very high write volumes, so it must be compressed and yet must also be easy to retrieve. While storing time series data is not a new challenge, the need to collect and analyze massive amounts of it from thousands of devices is a more recent requirement. Traditional SQL databases are not designed to manage time series data as these databases input each data point separately, thereby creating a massive number of duplications.

With such high volumes of information, it can be challenging to find a simple, scalable solution to easily store and access data. However, there are distributed NoSQL databases geared toward time series data storage that are designed to scale horizontally, making it easier to add capacity. Some of these databases and their users include:

  • InfluxData InfluxDB: Used by Nordstrom, Cisco, eBay, SolarCity, and Telefonica
  • Elasticsearch: Used by Verizon, Symantec, Facebook, Salesforce, Emerson, and Esri
  • IBM Informix: Used by Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and NASA
  • Kairos DB: Used by Proofpoint, Enbase, Abiquo,  and Lampiris
  • Basho Riak TS: Used by The Weather Company

What’s Next?

Tremendous value can be generated by deriving insights from times series data. Example use cases include utilities with smart meters that create billions of data points a year; smart building companies that detect security break-ins or inefficient energy usage in real time; and vision sensors in autonomous vehicles that collect critical data to guide driving. The possibilities for IoT and time series data are profound, but the technology requires high-speed data processing, storage, and analytics in order to be as effective as possible.

 

US Government Struggles with IoT Vision, but Opportunity Exists to Get It Right

— December 21, 2016

CodeThe US government needs to up its Internet of Things (IoT) game, according to a new report that calls efforts so far uncoordinated and lacking a strategic vision. I tend to agree. The report, produced by the Center for Data Innovation, does, however, credit the government for having initiated an array of activities in support of IoT action in the private sector.

Report authors Daniel Castro and Joshua New note the many potential benefits of IoT technology across a variety of economic sectors, such as manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and healthcare. Noticeably absent, however, is energy (which could be a mere oversight). Nonetheless, the authors characterize current government IoT projects as relatively small scale and one-off.

The report joins a growing number of voices opining about what should be done by government in the wake of the October 2016 Mirai botnet attack. A letter from Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) to outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler raised legitimate concerns surrounding wirelessly connected consumer devices. (Warner is a cofounder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus.) Wheeler’s response points out the need for postponing next steps until the Trump administration is in place.

Security experts like Bruce Schneier have also told Congress of the imminent need for oversight of the IoT because of the potential for serious dangers if left unchecked. Schneier said the recent botnet attack illustrated the catastrophic risks involved, and he has urged action now while there is time to make smart decisions.

Blockchain to the Rescue?        

Others are suggesting Trump and his advisors consider blockchain technology. The idea would be to leverage the consensus mechanism inherent to blockchain that enables all of the computers in a system to agree on which new data is valid and which is a threat. My colleague Stuart Ravens explored the blockchain concept for distributed energy in a recent report, and the technology could be useful for multiple industries.

While there is ample evidence to be concerned about the federal government’s role in regard to the IoT, officials are at least struggling with the issues and are not clueless to its significance at this point. They see the economic value of IoT technologies and the opportunity to get it right with regulations, especially with a new team in place come January. There is reason to believe the IoT will get the attention it deserves in the coming years, or they could blow it. But at least they are on notice to seize the chance to provide a framework for success, from both a security and an economic perspective.

 

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