Director, Technology Development
Everything is becoming connected. The digital transformation is well under way and arguably, for better or worse, is changing the ways in which we live, move, work and play. Emerging technologies in 2019 such as 5G, edge computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain and 3D printing continue to develop in maturity and scale. However, there are a myriad of sources such as this one reporting a slow down to the Internet of Things (IoT) adoption. Still, many are still bullish on a massive deployment tidal wave approaching that transcends all industries. Boston Consulting Group recently predicted that even with its known actual and perceived barriers, the IoT market will reach $267 billion by 2020. And Global Market Insights anticipates that IoT for the utility industry alone will grow double digits each year between now and 2024, reaching $15 billion.
In the beginning, first impressions were mixed…
For many of us, we were ushered into the IoT excitement with smart homes; we connected a light bulb or wall plug, a baby camera, a doorbell, or maybe even a cute but slightly annoying robotic puppy controlled by a phone. And when these simple home devices were hacked or arbitrarily stopped working, we were slightly insulted, angry and generally moved on in short order. To deal with it, we replaced the bad ‘thing’ with another low-cost, conveniently replaceable next generation widget promising to do better.
But now you want my car to talk to the cloud?!
But now we are plugging in potentially life-threatening, expensive and complex infrastructure such as cars, buildings, utility grids, surgical instruments, agriculture machines, water plants, etc.; the list literally goes on and on. Modern civilization depends on these products, devices and applications to serve basic needs: shelter, food, health care, education, transportation, etc. Clearly the stakes are much higher now. In order to realize the at-scale outcomes they seek, technology solution providers must acknowledge the shortcomings of earlier generation IoT and adapt their commercialization development roadmap with a renewed prioritization towards etching trust into the fabric of connected solutions.
Trust: a shifting paradigm
I think we all have an intuitive sense of understanding about what trust is, but the meaning can differ depending on who you ask and the context of the situation. Is trust about cybersecurity? Is it about expectations, predictability or reputation? Or maybe it’s more about privacy, reliability, robustness, confidence or capabilities. Trust, like truth, seems to be in the eye of the beholder. The reality is that trust is a decision based on a combination of these and other factors, and their weighted importance shifts balance depending on the situation. I believe trust is actually somewhat complex and evolving. In a rapidly changing hyper-connected world, managing trust is proving to be difficult; consumer trust is at an all-time low. The loss of consumer trust is now showing real and significant impact to the corporate bottom line and future outlook; take for example the recent privacy woes at Facebook. I believe trust is a high risk factor to short-term emerging and long-term future adoption of connected technologies at scale: smart mobility, smart grid, smart everything. However, at the same time I believe there is an opportunity for trust to be a key distinguishing value proposition businesses can build to compete in local, national and global markets.
So you want to be a trusted market leader
Below are 10 recommendations, not all inclusive and in no particular order, I have for technology developers to build trust into the Internet of Things:
Show that the technology works for the customer, not the other way around. Explain and show the human-centric approach you’ve taken to developing a solution to humanity’s problems.
Develop and maintain an understanding of what trust factors matter most to your customers; this should be done during customer discovery not just with early adopters but also evaluated and adjusted continuously with at-scale user sentiment.
Be transparent about data collection, usage and sharing, and communicate your data management policy in plain language that is clear, concise and consistent.
Don’t limit the testing and validation of technology to isolated and highly controlled environments; explore the reality that your product is but one of many interconnected things that must be integrated and interoperable in both relevant and real operating conditions.
If you trust your supply chain, communicate that confidence to your users; convince them your suppliers are aligned to your values and subsequently to customer values. Blockchain as one example could be suitable to providing immutable traceability.
Give your customers an easy-to-use tool to help evaluate the trustworthiness that your company deserves. Examples include honest competitor comparisons and user ratings.
Be accountable. If/when a cyberattack, service outage, or some other vulnerability is exposed in your technology, quickly act to address it with your customers and other stakeholders.
Engage your users throughout the lifecycle of your technology products and services; give them an easy way to make their voice heard and provide personalized feedback with incentives to stay engaged. Show them they are part of a like-minded community where others share their interest in your technology. Form a relationship that can grow and be cultivated over time.
If your technology incorporates automation, explain upfront how decisions and actions are made with/without the user and what they can do to influence/personalize the experience.
Don’t build a wall between your employees and users; show that behind the corporate firewall, you have real people with real values helping to build these solutions that meet human-centric needs.
NextEnergy works with innovators to build trust into the fabric of our cities and communities to make them smarter, cleaner and more accessible. Whether you’re a technology developer or a community interested in adopting newer technologies for a better way of life, I encourage you to explore the mission-driven work we do on our website at nextenergy.org and to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.