The Internet of Things … that don’t need connected to the internet

How often does your house burn down? Pretty frequently it appears if you are a Google exec. As I’m sure most of you are aware Google have just bought Nest, the “unloved home products” manufacturer (not the “unloved, home products manufacturer”) known for their thermostats and smoke detectors.

To excuse the pun but is this a case of Google having money to burn or a pointer towards something more significant for the emerging IoT industry? In my opinion it’s probably a bit of both. First of all current Nest products are niche and will only appeal to gadget freaks or maybe people with OCD who need to regularly check if their house is on fire. A $150 price point for a smoke alarm when I can get one for less than $10 will strangle adoption.

In a previous post I stated that all of the data generated by IoT devices is only of use if it is connected to business processes. Successful IoT companies will produce solutions for essential business or consumer problems not just smart devices.

It has been said elsewhere that there are two IoTs, one for industry and one for consumers. The industrial IoT is alive and well providing things like monitoring and control of for example essential and dangerous business processes. When it comes to consumer IoT successful products will be those that also trigger essential but mundane processes and services for the end user (e.g. car repairs and essential home maintenance) or provide important personal and environment monitoring services (e.g. health, weather and traffic monitoring). Getting back to Nest it’s not the thermostat that needs web enabled it’s the boiler/furnace. Being able remotely adjust my thermostat is not an essential service however I’d really like a call out to be automatically triggered if my boiler/furnace breaks down. Knowing my house is one or two degrees warmer than it should be isn’t critical. I need to know quickly if an elderly relative has remembered to take prescribed medicine or had an accident in their home. $200 fridges, kettles or toasters are non-essential items and don’t need internet connectivity.  The core objective of a domestic smoke alarm is to get people out of a house before a fire takes hold, it doesn’t need to be web enabled.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell told WIRED “Both companies believe in letting the technology do the hard work behind the scenes so that people can get on with their lives,” This statement I think implies an understanding of the key role business process automation will have on the successful adoption of IoT. At the moment Nest products provide the Internet of Things for devices that don’t need to be connected to the internet. However I think Google are buying the technology, patents and potential roadmap rather than the current product suite?

Successful IoT companies won’t simply supply devices, they’ll provide business and customer process solutions.

Nest

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Forget B2B and B2C. What about B2D?

For a while we’ve gotten used to the B2B and B2C acronyms so today I’m going to suggest a new one, B2D or Business to Device.

It has been said elsewhere that the best customer service is one that doesn’t need to happen. As the Internet of Things (IoT) market begins to really heat up increasingly organizations will provide ambient customer service, directly to devices themselves without any human involvement. Over the past few years we have gotten used to this with new software releases and patches being delivered directly to our laptops, pcs, mobile devices and applications. Business relationships will increasingly be B2D or directly with their own products rather than with customers and other businesses.

Business to device is however subtlety different to IoT. IoT refers to ability of everyday objects to connect to the internet and their ability to store and process information. B2D takes IoT a step forward connecting the smart devices to business processes, for example triggering a support case when a product fault is detected.

In a previous post I stated that all of the data generated by OT devices is only of use if it is connected to business processes. There’s no point analyzing the data to predict a future product performance issue if a support process isn’t triggered or collecting customer usage data if the data doesn’t find its way into the hands of a sales person or the product development team.

IOT really has the potential to disrupt the supply chain, marketing and customer service processes of almost all industries. The potential efficiencies however will only be fully achieved when the smart devices are integrated with smart processes (or smart process applications). That’s what I’m calling B2D.

IoT + Process = B2D

IoT + Process = B2D

Social BPM is Dead, Long Live Social Case Management

I participated in an interesting debate on bpm.com this week on the topic “has social BPM failed”.

First of all I don’t think social networking has any place within a Business Process Management (or Case Management) Suite (BPMS), the BPMS should integrate to best practice elsewhere. As I have said elsewhere on this blog I think social has its greatest opportunity within a Case Management and not a BPM context. Social BPM was always going to fail because BPM focuses on the needs of the business and not the knowledge worker. Social Case management is really where it’s at. Case Management after all is about empowering knowledge workers and giving them choices as to how they want to execute a case. Adding social capabilities to a Case Management platform empowers the knowledge worker to choose with whom, how and when they wish to collaborate.

Integration with a case management suite will allow organizations to extract value from their Enterprise Social Network (ESN) investment. Tools like Yammer, Chatter or Jive have limited value and will continue to struggle for adoption unless they are plugged into some actual work. Plugging social into knowledge worker based business processes helps people to establish and strengthen personal relationships, develop trust, reduce friction and accelerate the business processes in which people are engaged. Social integration has the potential to reconfigure the BPMS and Case Management suite for the post email world and the next generation of employees.

Enterprise social

Anyway looking at what some of the ESN vendors offer today I’ve had a bit of a brainstorming exercise and have come up with some features that could be delivered through the integration of the Case Management suite with an ESN platform. At a basic level all of these features are focused on enhancing knowledge worker productivity by delivering enhanced collaboration and support opportunities. Let me know what you think:

  • Enhanced collaboration and file sharing
  • Collaborative creation of content within a case
  • Automatic creation of temporary team workspaces or groups focused on a specific process or a specific case to facilitate the collaboration and sharing of ideas among co-workers
  • Runtime guidance from subject matter experts
  • Rapid access to shared content and content ranked on utilization by co-workers and teammates
  • Crowdsourcing or distributed problem solving
  • Social Stream and BPM work queue integration i.e. the Social work queue which many BPM platforms already offer today
  • Shared team folders and shared case management folders
  • Collaborative process design and continuous process improvement.
  • Leveraging social awareness to deliver automatic process routing based on availability

It Was, Is and Always Will Be about Empowerment

Does anyone pay for mobile ring tones anymore? A few years ago it was usually the first thing I tried to do when I got a new mobile.  Now I can change my ring tone in seconds and choose from my own music catalogue.

Does anyone still rent DVDs? We’ve moved from watching films in a cinema, to watching them at home, to being able to choose from a catalogue of movies and TV programs and stream them on demand. Each step has been about increasing consumer choice and providing more options about what, how and when we choose to consume.  The music industry has followed a similar journey of increased consumer choice. Successful IT companies don’t deliver new features; successful IT companies give customers more choices. The iPhone would have been just another expensive phone were it not for the explosion in choice driven by the App Store.

Chocie = EmpowermentEmpowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. As humans we’ve always searched for empowerment. Whether its civil rights, politics, medical care or in our personal relationships it’s a basic human instinct to try to strive for right to make choices. It seems that with choice comes personal freedom.

While empowerment is a hot topic in the IT industry to date almost all of the focus has been on the customer rather than the employee. There are no shortage of analysts, consultants, speakers and quacks out there ready to bore you to death and tell you what you already know, that consumers are more powerful and connected than ever before. Yes we all know it’s never been easier to research buying decisions or switch suppliers. Yes we all know that a single tweet or review can have a long term negative impact on a business. Yes we all know that our customers are increasingly using mobile as their first choice system of engagement with organizations. We get it. Enough already.

We read much less about employee empowerment. Why, because at heart most businesses still view many of their employees as a cost center rather than as a value center. Yes even those zeitgeisty new technology firms with pool tables and bean bags all over the foyer are quick to reduce the cost of their service desks by focusing on a web only strategy that funnels all customer problems down the same fixed process. Chances are you’ll struggle to find their call center number.

There are few, if any, business processes that don’t have exceptions and that’s when you need your employees. Your employees fill the gaps business processes can’t reach.  At some point customers will engage directly with employees. However what’s the point of spending all that money optimizing digital customer engagement channels if when the customer reaches an employee they are greeted by a person who is disengaged, demotivated and tied to inflexible business processes. All that work you’ve done to address the needs of the customer goes up in smoke. It is estimated that 70% of us are disengaged at work, using business processes and software applications into which we have had no input and which may not suit our working style.

Employees Fill The Gaps Your Process Can't Reach

Employees Fill The Gaps Your Process Can’t Reach

Most of us are both customers and employees.  It was thus inevitable that our personal quest for empowerment would extend to how we use information technology in our work environment. Trends such as the consumerization of IT and the rise of enterprise app stores are the manifestation of the desire for employee empowerment. Tech savvy knowledge workers are no longer prepared to wait for or accept IT driven business software and hardware decisions and are bringing their own hardware and software to work. Increasingly we’ll do the same with business processes. We want the same choices and experience in our business IT environment as we have in our personal IT environment. Personalizing the color and layout of our home screen is no longer enough. Instead we want to be able to choose both the hardware, software and the business processes we use to carry out our work.

Understanding the business user need for empowerment is essential for the successful future adoption of new products, services and business processes. If you are looking at transforming customer experience within your organization avoid organizations that focus only on the needs of the customer and ignore the needs of the employee. Look for products features that provide new choices for employees and recognize that how work gets done within an organization varies between employees. Evaluate new products not on features but on the choices they provide for both your customers and employees because the IT industry was, is and always will be about empowerment.

If This Then What is the future of Workflow and BPM?

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a service that lets users connect multiple different mobile apps based on a simple rule. “This” is the process trigger, “That” is the process action. Today the tool lets users rapidly create connections between 71 applications or what IFTTT calls “channels”. The simple workflows created between channels using the IFTTT rule are called recipes and can be shared within an IFTTT community.

iftt

So what’s the big deal?

In the BPMS suite we’ve been executing simple and complex business rules like If This Then That for years. The emergence of IFTTT is important because it does two things that BPMS does not do well; integration and simplicity.

Many business processes cut horizontally across organizations and as a result touch multiple business applications. There is thus an ongoing drive among BPM and Case Management vendors to continuously enhance their integration capabilities. This is however a continuously moving target and integration remains one of the greatest obstacles for the successful deployment of both cloud and on premise BPM solutions, often adding considerable cost and time to projects.

When it comes to the integration of cloud and mobile applications into business processes the difficulty multiplies. We are only just seeing the emergence of smart process applications and on demand business processes. Mobile BPM applications have emerged with integration to back end systems but is any BPM vendor doing mobile app to mobile app integration?

Mobile and cloud app integration is a key IT battleground. As business software users we regularly use mobile apps and on demand software to address business problems. This consumerization of the business IT landscape however sits uncomfortably with IT heavy BPM projects.

IFTTT radically simplifies the process of stitching together and automating web services and as such throws down the gauntlet to other business applications that are heavily reliant on application integration.

Consistent with consumerization IFTTT empowers users to integrate and develop their own workflows. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to expect this simple IFTTT rule to be extended to support more complex rules and events and ultimately encroach into the market for workflow and BPM applications.

IFTTT Channels

IFTTT Channels

Have You Curbed Your Enthusiasm? – The Disengaged 70%

A recent Gallup opinion poll makes grim reading for U.S. organizations. It finds that 70% of American workers are either “Not Engaged” or are “Actively Disengaged” from their workplaces. One of the most interesting things about the survey is how little the results have changed in the 12 annual surveys since 2000 with consistently between 70 to 74% of employees either “Not Engaged” or “Actively Disengaged” from their workplaces.

Disengaged

Disengaged

Is this therefore a problem that can’t be fixed? Is the very nature of the modern work place one where only about 30% of us are really interested in what we do? The scary thing for organizations is that on average 7 times out of 10 your customers are coming face to face with employees who just don’t give a damn.

Now there are probably a wide variety of social, psychological and economic reasons for why the level of disengagement has stubbornly remained around 70% but I think we can safely state two things;

  • Technology has not, yet come to the rescue. It’s pretty obvious that even with the rise in productivity  brought about by the internet and mobility that employee engagement levels have not been impacted and have remained static.
  • Addressing the disengaged 70% is a huge business opportunity. Major achievements in productivity and customer experience will be achieved by the organizations that can tap into this 70% pool and convert them to engaged employees. This will not only require changes in managerial techniques and soft skills but also in the design of flexible IT applications that engage and empower employees rather than lock them into fixed business processes.