Human-Centered Design: Addressing The Top Reason 75 Percent of IoT Initiatives Fail

human-centered design IoT
Illustration: © IoT For All

If you’re reading the headlines, you know that companies across all industries are quickly moving to embrace what has been ambiguously titled “digital transformation.” This shift among companies is focused on staying relevant in a digitized world, and includes things such as: adjusting business & manufacturing, processes, teams, marketing & sales tactics; developing digital strategies; and deploying devices, technology, and cloud-based solutions to their customers. But as you dig a little deeper, you also find headlines (including the one above) calling out a harsh reality: the significant failure rate of IoT initiatives to seamlessly integrate device design, connectivity, actionable data, and user experience, all in the pursuit of digital transformation. Our belief is every IoT initiative in that 75 percent figure should and could have been prevented by proper use of human-centered design.

That is not a bold or controversial statement. But whether an IoT initiative succeeds or fails is predicated on business strategy and the discipline to execute on it. Nobody argues that strategy isn’t important; it is baked into every successful business. And if it applies to business in general, it must also apply more specifically to IoT initiatives for the business.

Where Businesses Fail with IoT

The root causes of the failure of a business’s IoT initiative typically boil down to a few key missteps:

  • Watching the competition accelerate their efforts and being caught flat-footed.
  • Feeling the pressure to replicate similar solutions – and fast.
  • Not understanding the time needed or talent required to build a successful IoT solution.
  • Building a spec sheet without understanding what the business and end-users want or need

Among these factors, the number one reason for failure is the last point: Building a spec sheet with an incomplete understanding of what end-users require.

The good news is that there is a process and methodology to understanding those wants and needs, and it all starts with asking one important question.

What Deserves To Be Built?

Most companies embarking on IoT initiatives typically don’t ask this, or aren’t aware of this question’s importance.

It is a vastly different question than what most companies consider, which is: what can we build? By asking what deserves to be built, this question keeps companies and development teams focused on what will provide the greatest value to stakeholders and end-users. It eliminates playing a guessing game of what companies think would be market-worthy and drives more directly at what the market desires. Knowing what deserves to be built also keeps teams from being distracted by shiny new features that can drive them off course and prevent them from realizing the solution as intended.

Human-Centered Design: How To Build What Is Deserving Of Your Effort

Success awaits any company that is willing to answer the initial question – what deserves to be built? – and is then willing to follow a strategic process that is both practical and effective. This does however require being open to new processes and doing critical preliminary work before rushing onward and developing solutions.

To implement the process successfully, a shift in thinking is required. For decades design thinking a.k.a. human-centered design (HCD) has helped design-minded professionals pioneer new products. Herman Miller and Apple are well-known examples of companies that focus heavily on HCD and also lead their industries. Likewise, for decades many business leaders (especially those in manufacturing sectors) have been operating on Lean manufacturing principles that espouse a production- and efficiency-driven approach to business management and growth.

Now in a burgeoning digital economy, industry leaders are quickly recognizing the need to create entirely new solutions alongside and occasionally in place of legacy products and production processes. HCD is the catalyst and proven process to help realize those new solutions. HCD is a four-part strategic process that requires teams to:

  1. Discover and learn through data and stakeholder research
  2. Analyze and identify pain points & opportunities
  3. Create concepts and evaluate if they are deserving, and
  4. Decide on the right concept or revisit earlier steps in the process.

Through the HCD process, teams determine if an opportunity meets three basic criteria before moving forward and making any significant investment in developing an IoT solution.

Is It Desirable?

Desirability comes down to understanding what stakeholders want and need. Users of your product or solution have the greatest say in what form your IoT solution will take. It is their collective pain points you’re trying to solve, and their user experiences you want to enhance – and you need to hear from all of them. Some of the most insightful discoveries on desirability emerge from getting into the field and immersing your team in the world the users and stakeholders operate in. Different stakeholder groups have different roles and needs; sales professionals and service technicians will access the same IoT solution, but what’s important to each of them will differ and drive their unique experiences. Knowing what all the various stakeholders desire will inform what ultimately gets built.

(Source: TwisThink)

Is It Technically Feasible?

Technical Feasibility involves translating what’s requested into what’s required. The varied desires of stakeholders must be analyzed and feed directly into technical requirements. This necessitates figuring out everything critical to bring a concept to life, including what technologies and skillsets are needed to build it, the level of effort and expertise the project demands, and if it will truly solve the stakeholders’ challenges.

Does It Have Business Viability?

Business Viability, then, is determining if there is value in the effort of implementing the solution. Through the lens of HCD, we can continuously weigh viability against desirability and feasibility. Is it what stakeholders desire? Can we build it with an appropriate level of effort? Is this the right decision and direction for the business? Answering these questions is how viability is determined. With all of the necessary information in plain view, the business has to decide if the effort is worth the investment, if the “juice is worth the squeeze.” Without HCD as a guiding strategy, desirability is subjective, technical feasibility is guesswork, and business viability is nearly impossible to tell. But for those who follow HCD, the answer will be clear.

Smart IoT Initiatives Start Here

Applying a human-centered design approach to any IoT-focused development project is a sound strategy and a smart starting point for any IoT investment. By figuring out what deserves to be built, companies will invest a smaller fraction of their overall IoT solution budget and have the peace of mind of knowing what’s desired, what’s feasible, and what has business viability. That initial investment provides a clear roadmap with guiderails for the work ahead and plays a key role in reversing an unnecessary failure trend observed in IoT initiatives. This should become a standard operating procedure, as it is part of what all successful IoT solutions have in common.

Finally, only 25 percent of companies are succeeding with their IoT initiatives if we are to believe the statistics. That also means those successful companies are operating at a significant competitive advantage. To that we say: good for them. But it can also be good for any business that is willing to lean in on HCD and discover what IoT success looks like. It is not as radical as it might seem. At its core it is all about implementing a solid business strategy and following a proven process.

Twisthink transforms companies by bringing new digital and connected offerings to life that their customers desire. We achieve this by leveraging a human-centered design process (HCD) to create new user experiences with digital technology.
Twisthink transforms companies by bringing new digital and connected offerings to life that their customers desire. We achieve this by leveraging a human-centered design process (HCD) to create new user experiences with digital technology.