Driving user experience to industrial environments

Richard Watson

By Richard Watson

The Internet of Things (IoT) has rapidly become part of everyone’s life, whether you know it or not. The collection and consumption of our personal and environmental data is being aggregated and reinterpreted to anticipate how we behave, our purchase patterns, the food we eat, our mates, and our future health and wellbeing. From smartphones and smart appliances, to home energy, personal security, and health management, IoT continues to reach new levels of ubiquity.

However, the debate between the promises and realities of IoT continues to rage. For all the success stories there are a multitude of overhyped fledgling IoT products and services that are compelling at face value but fail to deliver on long-term promises. Often funded and evolved through what feels like some form of Silicon Valley gold rush, many IoT products are built around over-complex systems that target niche market spaces that no one truly cares about. Further, a study by Cisco revealed that 60 percent of all IoT initiatives stall at a proof of concept stage, and there is an increasing list of highly publicised consumer IoT failures.

But failure has always been a component of disruptive innovation – it inspires continuous improvement and helps shape the DNA that drives growth in new markets. So even amidst the IoT failures, lofty predictions for its meteoric growth are justified. When data, people, and things come together in the right way, it is easy to see the vast power of IoT for consumers and businesses alike. However, I believe the real value is emerging outside of consumer IoT, where connected devices and data are informing the efficiency of a multitude of global commercial and industrial operations. It has been estimated that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) could be worth $195 billion by 2022 and add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030. IIoT is likely to be one of the biggest drivers of productivity and growth in the next decade.

The Industrial Internet brings together machines, product platforms, manufacturing processes with advanced data analytics, and, most importantly, people. It’s a burgeoning network of devices connected by communications technologies that are creating systems that monitor, collect, exchange, analyse, and deliver information like never before. IIoT is enabling commercial and industrial enterprises to make more intelligent decisions through data analytics, predictive maintenance, technical efficiencies and worker productivity that are driving proven bottom-line business results.

A growing number of commercial and industrial companies have embraced the Industrial Internet, making it a cornerstone of their future business strategy. Still, many have yet to realise that the data, analytics, platforms, intelligence, and computing components of an IoT framework are not enough to uncover its full value. There remains an enormous opportunity to employ human-centred design into the development of IIoT applications. By putting users at the centre of these connected systems, not only can businesses push the creative boundaries of what is possible, but improve the adoption and efficacy of IIoT solutions through the people that use them.

We have been working within these compelling intersections, uncovering new opportunities for companies to extract value from their IIoT initiatives with user-centred design. We have partnered with clients to tackle a range of IIoT challenges, from aligning the hardware, software, and user experience of flow measurement systems and devices in the energy sector (“GE: Improving Operational Efficiency in Instrumentation”), to informing a service strategy for lift truck fleet management (“Crown: Increasing Warehouse Fleet Productivity”).

We believe that empowering people at the centre of this process can only add to the transformation of the operational practices that are reframing the way industrial environments, systems, and machinery are being deployed and managed. We also believe that connecting the dots between data, technology and machines with the needs of people can reveal richer user-centred product and service opportunities. A well-structured user experience strategy, one that focuses on understanding the contextual requirements of each stakeholder (from management to operator) should be an integral part of any IIoT initiative. A user-centred focus can enhance the productivity of technicians in the field or on the factory floor, enabling them to function at optimal performance, by instilling confidence, improving accessibility and streamlining their workflow.

At the centre of the industrial internet there is data and things, but most importantly there are people, who have the opportunity to collaborate in new ways, operate with greater autonomy and develop new work practices that will not only be more productive but be significantly more rewarding.

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