Imagine the convenience of your refrigerator alerting you when you’re about to run out of milk. Or the energy savings as lights automatically flip on and off as you enter or leave a room. Or just the pleasure of never having to heave the vacuum cleaner from room to room, tripping over the wire that’s never quite long enough to reach every corner, as a robotic vacuum now glides itself along the carpet every day as you leave for work.
Smart devices have begun to monitor almost every aspect of homes and buildings, such as security and access, energy efficiency, appliances and entertainment. It is predicted that the connected home and building industry will reach $152.5 billion by 2022, with smart buildings topping the list in terms of revenue. This increase in popularity also enables exciting new opportunities for businesses as they shift to a more user-centric and personalized model, expand their revenue streams and develop strategic partnerships.
But what do we still need to accomplish so that smart homes and buildings can achieve their full potential? To explore the future of smart home and building solutions, Jabil sponsored a survey of 201 manufacturing decision makers around the world who are robustly rolling up their sleeves to deliver a variety of connected solutions to the places we work, live and play. These individuals, who represent diverse responsibilities and management levels, provided practical opinions into current connected home and building trends.
Overcoming Challenges to Achieve Full Potential
While there are many advantages of connected solutions, there are also several challenges that OEMs must overcome before smart homes and buildings can reach full Internet of Things (IoT) potential. When asked about the biggest obstacles they face in developing their smart home and building solutions, 50 percent of respondents indicated the challenging nature of delivering an interface that operates in a way that users expect.
Other obstructions include high prices, problems integrating other connected devices, security and privacy concerns and a lack of buyer awareness about the value of their smart devices.
Survey participants overwhelmingly affirmed that the connected device industry would benefit from data and communication standards. Almost half of manufacturing decision makers also mentioned that it would speed user adoption because it eliminates the hassle of integrating their devices. Standardization would also enable businesses to focus on best-of-breed capabilities, capture rich data sets by correlating with other types of use, and simplify payment for up- or cross-sell opportunities.
Leveraging Data and Alleviating Privacy Concerns
The connected home and building industry is still maturing. Ninety-nine percent of respondents admitted that they face challenges, with just under 45 percent citing consumers’ security and privacy concerns as one of the top problems. More efficient cybersecurity could help resolve this formidable problem for smart homes and buildings.
As an experiment, journalist Kashmir Hill turned her home into a smart home for two months while a coworker hooked up a router to analyze how much data her connected devices gathered and who it sent it to. They discovered that devices sent data to servers every hour of every day…even when Hill and her husband left for vacation for a week. They even tracked how frequently she brushed her teeth, which is useful data for dental insurance companies.
Data will be instrumental in several of the most advantageous features of the connected industry, such as predictive and preventative maintenance, personalization and targeted advertising. Survey participants almost unanimously agreed that their company will use their connected home and building solutions to collect data through their own products or infrastructure, a public cloud infrastructure or a user’s local device.
This data will primarily be used to identify and solve problems with devices and connectivity, guide product development and provide reports to end-users.
However, with the profusion of data security breaches, perhaps the most notable being Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, almost 70 percent of companies, especially those who sell to consumers, have reexamined their plan for data collection and usage, searching for ways to improve data security.
More than three-fourths of the companies that said they would not reassess their plans to collect and use data indicated that they already have a strong data privacy program in place, so further scrutiny would be superfluous.
Hill championed that all companies need to rethink their data collection policy. “I think most of us know that these things connect to the internet and send data out,” she said. “And fine, maybe you’re okay with living in that commercial panopticon, but others aren’t. We need companies to rethink the design of these devices with our privacy in mind, because we’re not all willing to participate in ‘market research,’ just because a device we bought has a Wi-Fi connection.”
Integrating Devices in a Cohesive Ecosystem
In addition to better security, OEMs also need to figure out a way for end-users to communicate with all their connected devices from a single, easy-to-use-and-install platform. While survey respondents were nearly in perfect agreement that interoperability is necessary for the progression of connected homes and buildings, they were almost evenly split on the best approach to interoperability.
Forty-five percent favored a “controlled” method of interoperability. Essentially, this means that the company would deliver all needed functionality within an ecosystem that they manage, allowing them to maintain full control of the customer experience. However, this does limit the type or brand of smart products that the consumers could connect to a common platform.
Rather than keeping strict supervision of the connected ecosystem, 47 percent of manufacturing decision makers leaned toward a more “interoperable” approach. In this method, the industry sets generally accepted standards for companies to adhere to, enabling interoperability within a broad ecosystem. This would enable customers to connect a wider range of devices.
The smart home and building industry presents many new opportunities for both homeowners and businesses, such as the ability to create new solutions based on data, charge subscription payments for ongoing services, sell through new partnerships and automatically reorder supplies.
Written by Sam Salem, Senior Director – Technology and Strategic Development, Connected Consumer Technologies, Jabil.