Where is IOT At? The Trough of Disillusionment
Everybody is familiar with the Hype Curve. Right now, IOT has just gone through the Peak of Inflated Expectations and is heading for the Trough of Disillusionment. Everybody is getting excited about the potential but outcomes are simply not going to match expectations. Disillusionment is certain to set in. We will investigate why and explain how to move back up to the Slope of Enlightenment.
Software companies and hardware vendors worldwide are rushing to jump onto the IOT bandwagon. Microsoft, Google and Amazon are racing to build massive platforms to collect and manage IOT data. Telcos are out there actively spruiking SIM card plans and LoRa networks to capture the IOT traffic (and I will explain some of these terms later). Hardware vendors are scrambling to build sensors and probes that can be connected to these networks and platforms and all of them are there expecting to make their fortune by being first. Most are heading in the wrong direction and almost all of them are in for a big shock when they discover that the consumer wont’ come to the party. Not yet, at least.
Remembering back to our definition of IOT, we are concentrating on remote monitoring and control of devices. Please don’t forget the ‘control’ aspect but the data volume will come from monitoring and alerting. There are essentially three things that are going to spoil this party.
I call them the Three C’s of Reality:
First and foremost is cost. This IOT thing is new. The networks are new. The data centres managing this are new. The hardware is new. New means expensive because of the research and development effort required and those participating have to earn a living or recover costs. In another blog I will explain the specific problems of data transmission cost but just think of the relative rate of return that IOT remote might offer. Some examples will help. The farmer considers soil moisture monitoring to help determine planting conditions or irrigation needs. He has two choices: go down to the paddock once a week and stick his finger in the soil or buy a remote monitoring kit so that he can read this from the comfort of his living room. Would he pay $10,000 for the remote monitor? Unlikely. $1000…? Maybe. However, if he owned 20 properties or 6000 hectares, he might. But even the larger farm owner probably already has resources in place to monitor this manually that are just a cost-free adjunct to other responsibilities. What about refrigeration monitoring? Here you could add up the cost of the stock and thus what an unnoticed breakdown might cost you. But you still aren’t going to pay for automation if it costs more than a human to put in place when the human can also provide other services. No home consumer is going to add automated ordering to his fridge or control to his heater if it costs thousands to install. Right now, IOT is expensive and you can read my other blogs to find out why in some detail. Whilst the cost is high, take up will be slow. Cost needs to become relevant to the solution being proposed.
The second reality check comes from complexity. This isn’t for the feint hearted. Just writing the device level software is hard work, let alone the electronics of wiring sensors and cards together to something that can do the transmission. Installing IOT devices isn’t just a matter of plugging two things you want together because you need to acquire compatible hardware. And even if you get all that together and work out how to move the data through the network and into your hands, you need software to visualise, trend and respond to it. The people working in these three zones will need to be specialists and this will only add further to the cost burden. It also reduces the number of people capable of delivering such services and that will restrict the volume of services that can be put in place. It will take some time before the implementation resources will get out there to support a burgeoning IOT market place.
Thirdly there is confinement. IOT solutions are going to be confined to specific niches for quite some time and mainly due to the reasons of complexity described above. Complexity will cause the confinement of solution availability. The flow-on is quite insidious. Lack of availability will cause people to stop looking and this will slow down demand growth or induce scepticism that it will ever be practical or available. Sentiments like these are a massive impediment to system take-up and are only overcome by marketing campaigns or direct action. By pushing people to expect IOT solutions and then not delivering will cause the Trough of Disillusionment.
Is there anything we can do to smooth out a seemingly inevitable Hype Curve? There is but people aren’t going to like what I suggest. Firstly, we need to slow down the hype – don’t speculate. We can’t deliver everything yet so cool down the rhetoric and focus on deliverable solutions. Secondly, we need to reduce our greed for profit and present affordable solutions that match the value of the service being protected or provided. If we are replacing humans, we have a direct labour cost comparison. If we are protecting stock, then we know the value of that stock. Computing these numbers is not rocket science. And finally, we have to deliver genuine and reliable outcomes that have some obvious productivity value. This will require better research and a cooperation between hardware, software and network vendors. That won’t come easily.