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IoT has massive power to change our lives

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The power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect us to everyday objects and allow them to send and receive data has the potential to change the way we buy, sell, manage and service goods and commodities, writes SEBASTIAN ISAAC, Business Development Manager at Rectron.

Moving from a hardware first to a software first mindset

There has been a legacy of businesses focusing on hardware first, and of bigger businesses outsourcing various aspects of their products and services. The result is a functioning product that does what it’s meant to, but without the business functionality to monitor usage or have any further input in the customer’s experience.

The same businesses are beginning to see the benefits of including an IoT component into their products. For example, imagine operating an office automation business and being able to monitor toner usage in your customers’ devices so that you can deliver new cartridges before the customer even knows they need to be replaced. Or you may own a lighting company and thanks to real-time data monitoring, you may be able to find a problem and redevelop a lightbulb that many of your customers have been having trouble with. It changes the nature of your business from being purely a manufacturer or distributor, to being able to take responsibility for the full customer experience.

However, a lot of existing companies are trying to retrofit IoT technology into their products to take advantage of these benefits and, quite simply, because they need to in order to stay relevant. The problem with this is that if you have been in business for several years, your business model has probably been devised around the way you sell and service your products. Simply plugging IoT into your existing model is going to be difficult.

That’s where newer or more innovative companies have an advantage. Many of them are starting with a blank canvas and designing products with software and service at their core focus.

Tesla Motors embodies this way of thinking. The company designed its whole business around its car, in a ground-up approach. Tesla is in control of its entire ecosystem, from manufacturing through to aftersales service because IoT technology was part of its business model from the beginning. It’s a prime example of using IoT to take control of customer experience at every touchpoint, and making these customers’ lives as simple as possible by choosing to use this product.

Improved customer service and deeper insights

This highlights one of the two main advantages of incorporating IoT into your business: the positive impact it has on customer service. It’s a relatively easy way of looking after your customers by monitoring their usage of your product and then stepping in with assistance before they have to reach out to you. The knock-on effect of this is creating customer loyalty to your brand. This creates a proactive approach as opposed to our current reactive nature in business.

Beyond customer service, IoT can also be a useful tool for you to monitor and manage customer data and gain insights from this data. Alarm companies have been monitoring our homes using a form of IoT technology for years, and they have the potential to take this further by incorporating data collection, storage and analysis to develop a picture of how many houses are being broken into in each suburb. Although they are currently doing it, the incorporation of an IOT platform, allows them much more insight into the data they are able to collect.  They then have the opportunity to work on their product offering and security strategies, to address this.

Companies involved in water management and electricity management are also ideally placed to take advantage of IoT. In South Africa, the City of Johannesburg has already rolled out approximately 92 000 smart meters and plans to deploy another 250 000 by the end of 2016. This can give the municipality important information about energy consumption in the area and per household – and the more broadly this is rolled out, the more information there is for the government to make decisions about energy regulations within the country. Apart from that, it’s also a useful tool for consumers to monitor their own energy consumption and manage it more effectively to cut costs. It’s already fairly common to have an app on your phone linking to your circuit board to turn off circuits that aren’t being used. And there is the potential to develop a similar system to manage water consumption too.

Addressing real, relevant problems

This shows that IoT innovation is not only a nice to have for improving customer service and consumer experience, but actually addresses real and relevant problems within the South African landscape. The good news is that we have a lot of young, innovative talent in the country ready to help us ride the IoT wave by developing new technology and looking at how to transform existing business models to incorporate it.

The technology on the backend is ready to roll. All you need to do now is start thinking beyond your existing business model and put IoT software and services at the centre of your business model. We’re not far away from making this connected world a reality – so the time is now to start innovating to make sure you’re riding the wave rather than being washed away.

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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