Wearables, chatbots and the shared economy – where business takes the internet of things next

Wearables, chatbots and the shared economy – where business takes the internet of things next

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Wearables, chatbots and the shared economy – where business takes the internet of things next

The internet of things (IoT) is now growing fast. The phrase was coined in 1999, but it’s taken the proliferations of smartphones and high-speed internet to launch IoT into the mainstream. Today, public-facing IoT devices and services are gaining mass adoption thanks to maturing technology, switched-on consumers and more beneficial services entering the marketplace.These trends were discussed in 2015 by Vodafone’s Andrew Morawski, head of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) in the Americas. Building on decades of research undertaken by IT leads and futurologists alike, Morawski suggested that IoT would undergo a period of growth in which an increased focus on sophisticated, meaningful solutions would emerge. Two years later, Phil Skipper, the firm’s head of business development for IoT, offers his take on how the predictions have panned out, and what’s next for the sector.

One thing’s for sure, says Skipper, we’re nowhere near realising the full potential of machine-to-machine capabilities and smaller companies are only now able to start taking advantage of the technology. “We’ve seen some key industries adopt IoT – like automotive – but we’re continually seeing that it’s moving into large enterprises, as well as moving down into the smaller enterprises that want to use what is now a proven technology.”

Moving out of the back office

In 2015, Morawski suggested that IoT would move outside the IT department and play a larger role in customer experience and creating competitive advantage. That, says Skipper, is exactly what’s happened, with IoT now acting as a key driver of modern innovation. “What we’re seeing is IoT move from supporting a business case predominated on cost-avoidance and increasingly move into the area of revenue generation.”

In 2015, Morawski suggested that IoT would move outside the IT department and play a larger role in customer experience and creating competitive advantage. That, says Skipper, is exactly what’s happened, with IoT now acting as a key driver of modern innovation. “What we’re seeing is IoT move from supporting a business case predominated on cost-avoidance and increasingly move into the area of revenue generation.”

One example of this is the telematics systems that record how a car is being driven. Originally created for manufacturers and owners to track usage and run diagnostics, now the technology is enabling car-sharing schemes, ride-hailing platforms and personalised insurance. This means businesses can now use IoT to provide services, rather than just products, and enables them to scale and reach greater numbers of customers than small companies were previously able to.

Greater sophistication

Along with becoming customer-facing, IoT was predicted to become more sophisticated and deliver greater returns on investment. Skipper argues that this is due to IoT moving away from being a system of technical complexity and into a period of use-case sophistication.

In short, not only has the technology become more mature and accessible, but its applications are now more innovative and powerful. Think Uber, Deliveroo or the most recent wave of connected home products. “What we’re seeing is that companies can do much more with greater insight, thanks to IoT,” says Skipper. “Rather than one particular driver owning a car – where there is a clear responsibility for the asset – we’re now seeing the shared economy taking off, where that same asset is owned by different people during the day.”

Customer experience

In 2015 it was anticipated that the internet of things would help improve customer experience tools and enable greater levels of business-to-customer communication. We’re now seeing this in practice.

“In areas such as usage-based insurance, a product is installed in the end-customer’s car,” says Skipper. “For insurance companies this creates a bond they’ve never had before with their customers. Typically, an insurance business has had one contact with their customer a year. Once you’ve moved into the IoT space, you’re almost able to reach out to that customer on an ongoing basis.”

The next step? We’ll see IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) merging in this space, with device self-diagnosis enabling products to monitor themselves, and the automation of customer service via chatbots and virtual sales assistants. Friendly bots, like Vodafone’s TOBi, are already interacting with us online by using human-style conversation to help solve customer problems.

Defining the ‘things’ that matter

“In IoT, someone has to pay for the hardware and someone has to pay for the connection. So, if it doesn’t generate enough value they will stop doing it,” says Skipper. That means, we’re going to see a form of Darwinism develop within connected products and services – those that are pointless or provide little utility will drop off.

Skipper describes this as “moving from the art of the possible to the art of the probable”. Things connected for the sake of it, that lack utility, will certainly be the first to go. But we’ll also see some useful devices – such as heartbeat monitors and early augmented-reality glasses – disappear with their utility being rolled into other multi-use products that create greater efficiency and streamline services.

Wearables disappear

“Wearable tech is a brilliant example of where the idea might be right, but the constellation of the technology – at the right size, the right cost, with the right performance – may not be there yet,” says Skipper. If that’s true, it may cause some types of wearable devices to decline – and we may be seeing early signs of this. A number of former sector hotshots have struggled in recent years and many manufacturers are leaving the market entirely.

This appears to contradict Morawski’s 2015 prediction that wearables would proliferate, but the sector is far from collapse, says Skipper. Instead, he suggests that while some types of “first wave” wearables will disappear, they’ll be replaced by miniaturized and more powerful devices with even greater uses and versatility. In addition, the maturing of low-power networks, increased network performance, plus the development of augmented reality and virtual reality, will represent a new era for wearables, with connected clothing, smart materials, and new computer interfaces replacing smart watches and unconnected devices.

Content on this page is paid for and produced by Vodafone, sponsors of the Business Made Simple hub on Guardian Small Business Network.


The internet of things (IoT) is now growing fast. The phrase was coined in 1999, but it’s taken the proliferations of smartphones and high-speed internet to launch IoT into the mainstream. Today, public-facing IoT devices and services are gaining mass adoption thanks to maturing technology, switched-on consumers and more beneficial services entering the marketplace.

These trends were discussed in 2015 by Vodafone’s Andrew Morawski, head of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) in the Americas. Building on decades of research undertaken by IT leads and futurologists alike, Morawski suggested that IoT would undergo a period of growth in which an increased focus on sophisticated, meaningful solutions would emerge. Two years later, Phil Skipper, the firm’s head of business development for IoT, offers his take on how the predictions have panned out, and what’s next for the sector.

One thing’s for sure, says Skipper, we’re nowhere near realising the full potential of machine-to-machine capabilities and smaller companies are only now able to start taking advantage of the technology. “We’ve seen some key industries adopt IoT – like automotive – but we’re continually seeing that it’s moving into large enterprises, as well as moving down into the smaller enterprises that want to use what is now a proven technology.”

Moving out of the back office

In 2015, Morawski suggested that IoT would move outside the IT department and play a larger role in customer experience and creating competitive advantage. That, says Skipper, is exactly what’s happened, with IoT now acting as a key driver of modern innovation. “What we’re seeing is IoT move from supporting a business case predominated on cost-avoidance and increasingly move into the area of revenue generation.”

One example of this is the telematics systems that record how a car is being driven. Originally created for manufacturers and owners to track usage and run diagnostics, now the technology is enabling car-sharing schemes, ride-hailing platforms and personalised insurance. This means businesses can now use IoT to provide services, rather than just products, and enables them to scale and reach greater numbers of customers than small companies were previously able to.

Greater sophistication

Along with becoming customer-facing, IoT was predicted to become more sophisticated and deliver greater returns on investment. Skipper argues that this is due to IoT moving away from being a system of technical complexity and into a period of use-case sophistication.

In short, not only has the technology become more mature and accessible, but its applications are now more innovative and powerful. Think Uber, Deliveroo or the most recent wave of connected home products. “What we’re seeing is that companies can do much more with greater insight, thanks to IoT,” says Skipper. “Rather than one particular driver owning a car – where there is a clear responsibility for the asset – we’re now seeing the shared economy taking off, where that same asset is owned by different people during the day.”

Customer experience

In 2015 it was anticipated that the internet of things would help improve customer experience tools and enable greater levels of business-to-customer communication. We’re now seeing this in practice.

“In areas such as usage-based insurance, a product is installed in the end-customer’s car,” says Skipper. “For insurance companies this creates a bond they’ve never had before with their customers. Typically, an insurance business has had one contact with their customer a year. Once you’ve moved into the IoT space, you’re almost able to reach out to that customer on an ongoing basis.”

The next step? We’ll see IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) merging in this space, with device self-diagnosis enabling products to monitor themselves, and the automation of customer service via chatbots and virtual sales assistants. Friendly bots, like Vodafone’s TOBi, are already interacting with us online by using human-style conversation to help solve customer problems.

Defining the ‘things’ that matter

“In IoT, someone has to pay for the hardware and someone has to pay for the connection. So, if it doesn’t generate enough value they will stop doing it,” says Skipper. That means, we’re going to see a form of Darwinism develop within connected products and services – those that are pointless or provide little utility will drop off.

Skipper describes this as “moving from the art of the possible to the art of the probable”. Things connected for the sake of it, that lack utility, will certainly be the first to go. But we’ll also see some useful devices – such as heartbeat monitors and early augmented-reality glasses – disappear with their utility being rolled into other multi-use products that create greater efficiency and streamline services.

Wearables disappear

“Wearable tech is a brilliant example of where the idea might be right, but the constellation of the technology – at the right size, the right cost, with the right performance – may not be there yet,” says Skipper. If that’s true, it may cause some types of wearable devices to decline – and we may be seeing early signs of this. A number of former sector hotshots have struggled in recent years and many manufacturers are leaving the market entirely.

This appears to contradict Morawski’s 2015 prediction that wearables would proliferate, but the sector is far from collapse, says Skipper. Instead, he suggests that while some types of “first wave” wearables will disappear, they’ll be replaced by miniaturised and more powerful devices with even greater uses and versatility. In addition, the maturing of low-power networks, increased network performance, plus the development of augmented reality and virtual reality, will represent a new era for wearables, with connected clothing, smart materials and new computer interfaces replacing smart watches and unconnected devices.

Content on this page is paid for and produced by Vodafone, sponsors of the Business Made Simple hub on Guardian Small Business Network.


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