Internet of Things and Product Design

Products connected to the Internet of Things are providing unprecedented levels of information. And that, in turn, is changing the way companies can think about what their customers want and how to design the products they need.

In their article “Now That Your Products Can Talk, What Will They Tell You?” in the Spring 2016 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, Suketu Gandhi (A.T. Kearney) and Eric Gervet (A.T. Kearney) write that companies traditionally have relied on surveys and focus groups to understand what customers liked and didn’t like about their products. Social media and online ratings have added to the information mix in recent years, giving businesses additional ways to learn about customers’ opinions about their products.

Today’s new frontier, though, is even more sophisticated. “Some of the products themselves — at least those devices that are part of the connected world of the Internet of Things — are starting to provide unprecedented levels of information that can be used to improve both the products and the customer experience,” they write. “In particular, information from connected devices offers companies three tremendously important core pieces of contextual information that were previously unavailable: where the products are being used, how they are being used, and which customers are using them at any given time.”

On April 15, 2016, MIT Sloan Management Review hosted a webinar, made possible with sponsorship support from Xively, with Gandhi and Gervet as guest speakers. Gandhi and Gervet are both partners in the global digital transformation practice at the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

During the session, Gandhi and Gervet discussed what it means to focus on “practical digital,” what it means to have products that talk, and what it takes to really listen to them. The webinar was moderated by Martha E. Mangelsdorf, editorial director of MIT SMR, and highlighted on Twitter at the hashtag #MITSMRevent. Among Gandhi and Gervet’s key points:

“We still live in a world where products are dumb.”

Gandhi said that this has begun to change: Products that used to be considered mundane devices, such as home washers, dryers, and refrigerators, have begun to be designed to collect information. Still, he added, the knowledge they gather is incomplete. “Most of the information that’s being collected is of a very technical nature that tells you what happened with the product. It ignores the fact that there’s actually a user at the end of it — a customer at the end of it.”

Direct feedback has traditionally been the only way to know what customers want.