ShopperTrak’s CTO gives his take on the current and future state of IoT, and what retailers must know.
Over the course of his nearly 30-year career in technology, ShopperTrak’s CTO, Adan Pope, has seen plenty of once “new” technologies come and go, but none have had the impact or staying power like the Internet of Things (IoT).
Below, Adan discusses the IoT basics that every retailer needs to know: such as, what exactly IoT is, the possibilities it creates, and IoT guidelines for retailers.
Q: To begin, how would you describe the Internet of Things (IoT) to someone who does not work in technology?
A: Generally speaking, IoT refers to the increasing number of devices that connect to and transmit data to a network (e.g., the internet). Right now, it’s estimated that there are about 15 billion IoT devices in the world — this includes everything from smartphones to FitBits to lights. This number is expected to jump to 50 billion by 2020. Ultimately, the data that’s gathered by these devices will be used to alter experiences in our everyday physical environments.
Q: In terms of IoT, what’s going on right now, and how are things going to change as more devices are connected — where are we going?
A: I imagine IoT as an iterative cycle of experimentation and improvement that has three main stages: deploy, understand & predict, and influence. Likely, these stages will advance simultaneously as IoT devices, applications, and networks expand.
Currently, many industries (telecommunications, consumer electronics, retail, etc.) are laying the groundwork for what’s to come by continually deploying data-collecting devices. This is part of today’s predominant “deploy” stage, in which separated, siloed companies collect data and report findings.
In the coming years, I imagine that currently separated applications and industries will converge on unified cloud-based software platforms that are suited for not only measuring and reporting on, but also for predicting, human behavior within certain environments. This will happen while we try to influence everyday physical, virtual, and hybrid environments.
Q: Can you further elaborate on the three stages that you just mentioned: deploy, understand & predict, and influence?
A: Deploy. This is the stage that many technology companies are currently focused on, as it deals with the deployment of devices that collect and deliver data to a cloud-based application. A well-known example of a deployed device is Google’s Maps application, which collects data on people’s whereabouts.
Understand & Predict. While there is still plenty of work to be done in the deployment stage, companies that have collected data for years are taking the first steps toward using the data to understand and analyze the tendencies of human behavior. While these companies can be successful, there are endless possibilities for improvement. As people request more targeted and effective data-backed insights, the need to gain the “truest” understanding of our physical environments will emerge.
This stage is challenging for a number of reasons. Above all, aggregating structured, actionable data from multiple sources is a logistical nightmare. Another unavoidable issue is that truly understanding (then, predicting) human tendencies is where IoT’s real opportunity lies. In order to access this tremendous pool of opportunity, data points will need to be continuously collected and analyzed, and devices will always need to be deployed accordingly. Hence, a cycle is created.
Influence. As some have put it, when we are fully influencing our environment, we will also be fully “living in the data.” As the full power of IoT is gradually harnessed, our behavior and preferences in any given environment will be known, and our environments will be altered and, hopefully, improved – picture the Nest device multiplied by a million.
Q: Finally, given digital’s increasing influence on shoppers and retailers alike, what advice do you have for retailers as they continue to use data and technology to influence the shopping experience?
A: Discriminate, don’t be enamored: Do not become heavily invested in too many data-collecting devices or services. Invest wisely by determining which metrics are most important to your brand, and deploy the necessary information services (and associated devices) accordingly.
Investigate the data: Have an expert examine how the data is collected and structured. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Acting upon untrustworthy data defeats the initial purpose of investing in a data solution.
Think long-term: When determining which metrics to collect, remember that the best way to use data to influence behavior is to act upon long-term data trends from many sources. This is especially true now, in the earlier stages of IoT. Relatedly, you’ll want to consider whether your data partner is evolving with technology. Make sure that your analytics provider will grow with your brand.