[This is part 1 of a two-part post.]

Complaining about neighborhood issues—potholes in the street, graffiti appearing on a utility box or street sign, an overgrown hedge making it hard to see approaching traffic—is an age-old pastime. So is moaning that the local municipality is deaf to the complaints.

Driving through Palo Alto, California (in Silicon Valley) the other day, we were reminded that this is one city that’s making a concerted effort to harness some of the technology arising in its midst to take a fresh approach to serving its citizens. We first heard about the City of Palo Alto Open Data Portal at a fascinating conference earlier this summer. The Global IoT Conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center featured a diverse set of talks, but all shared a common thread: change.

cidade-conectada1-470x210Jonathan Reichental, CIO for the City of Palo Alto, discussed how the Internet of Things (IoT) was supporting a new operating system for cities, including his own. Arguing that smartphones and the IoT will play an important role in smart cities, he also mentioned Beijing, where taxi drivers are using cell phones to report traffic conditions—an example of people acting as sensors. Then there’s the Waze navigation app, which integrates crowd sourcing and other data feeds to monitor traffic and guide drivers to the best route at any particular moment.

Changes Among Consumers

Jessica Groopman, Industry Analyst at the Altimeter Group, provided insightful points on the consumer side of the IoT. She noted that in 2014, mobile sales outpaced sales of desktops and laptops. In five years, we are heading toward 26 smart objects per person. Currently, that number stands at about three smart objects per person in the U.S., and two to four per person worldwide.

Jessica introduced the concept of “object voice.” This starts with a robust multi-way communications model that allows exchanges between object and brand, object and consumer, and object and object, all for real-time predictive rules processing.

Consumer IoT differs from enterprise IoT in a number of ways: shorter buying cycles, an imperative for value exchange, mobile-centric, requirements for distinct standards for transparency and ethical data use, and a demand that companies convey why and how data is being used. Otherwise, people will not participate.

As Jessica noted, businesses are using the IoT “to place the brand usefully and intuitively” as a way to provide utility, service and tangible value to consumers.

Companies can encourage IoT adoption among consumers in five main ways:

  • Reward. The consumer experience can be made rewarding through promotion, gamification or entertainment.
  • Information and decision-making. IoT technologies can provide information and assist in decision-making through navigation, evaluation, monitoring or news. The key is providing the right content and the right usage at the right time.
  • Ease of use. IoT technologies can be used to ease or simplify payment, identification, conversion or utility.
  • Customization. Personalized, customized experiences can encourage more use of connected devices.
  • Service. The IoT can spur improved service by proactively determining upcoming needs, by improving the efficiency of service delivery, or by updating product software or firmware remotely and automatically.

Andrew Thomas, founder of SkyBell Video Doorbell, talked at the Global IoT Conference about using data to create better user and customer experiences. At his own company, user experience feedback from Indiegogo gathered during product development ended up driving hardware upgrades.

SkyBell customers also suggested a silent mode of operation that prevents the door chime from going off, for use when a baby is asleep in the house, for instance. This capability turned out to be so popular that many people now buy the unit specifically for that feature.

Why Change?

While most of the strongest arguments for change are directed at businesses, consumers also need to ponder the meaning of IoT-related change. As more and more kinds of “everyday” products become part of the IoT, consumers can ask themselves:

  • How can I best take advantage of the new connected devices?
  • What changes would I like to make in my daily routines and habits, or in my work or entertainment or social activities, that the IoT might support?
  • How can I use connected devices to achieve personal goals?
  • What kinds of change am I resisting—and why?

The answers might lead to new insights. Or not. But at least it’s worth asking the questions.