IoT, Servitization and the Thirty Year Old Jeep

My ears fill with the sound of angry car horns blasting behind my jeep. It’s a blazing hot afternoon in Colombo and my vehicle just died on me. I pray to the car gods and crank the engine. It purr like an annoyed cat asked to move from the sofa . Second try. A clicking this time. I turn it one last time. No clicks and no purrs. There are few worse things than to be stuck in heavy Colombo traffic on a car with a dead battery. Should I get out and get some help from my fellow commuters? It sounds like a good idea. As soon as I step out of the car the heat hits me like train. I look around. No one is coming to my aid. Amid the cacophony of horns and profanities I try to push my jeep to the side. I push but it doesn’t move an inch. How can I be this stupid? I should have replaced the battery days ago. How did I miss the tell-tale signs? I am feeling dizzy and the world begins to spin around me.

I wake up in my bed and smile; what a terrible dream to have. I can smile because this will never happen to me in real life. No, I don’t drive a fancy smart car. In fact, the jeep I drive is thirty years old. However, under its rusty hood it has a state of the art smart battery. I am proud to say it is from a Sri Lankan manufacture called Exide Batteries. I didn’t not just buy a battery from them. What I got was a promise that I will never be stuck in a traffic nightmare again.

Exide revolutionized how we think of a car a battery. No longer it is a thing you replace few years. What they sell is a guarantee that the engine will always gets the power it needs. In the old days battery manufactures thought; “you have a car so you must need a battery”. Well, “No” they answered. “What you really need was something that continually power the cars engines, AC, head lights etc.” Five years back it was not possible to know these things. At least not cheaply! This was only possible with the IoT revolution and a concept call servitization. IoT maybe the buzz word these days but the servitization has been around since the 80’s. It is the art of asking the right question; What does the customer really need?

Exide’s total solution is called ‘power for life’. At the heart of this concept is the battery with sensors connected to the internet. The data that is sent to remote system are analyses and converted to business intelligence. What it meant to the consumer was that that the system could now see a problem a mile away and take measures to remedy it. Sometimes I get a call or text asking me when would it be convenient for a service technician to come and visit . Most of the times is just routine maintenance. They turn up in their tuk tuks which look like the classic bat mobile. My inner geek is always happy to see them. I never had a battery fail on me since then. Even if it does, I know help will show-up even without me contacting them. I don’t need to wait on some help line. My battery would have already called help.

I feel my battery knows me. It adapts to how I drive and even gets me out of trouble time to time. Few months back I went camping in Yala national park with some friends. We rented a cooler box/ mini fridge along with other camping gear. This was the for the first time I had a cooler box for a trip. After a hard day of off-roading or a long dusty safari drive there is no better feeling than to gulp down a cool beverage. Without much thought I just plugged it in to an out-let. Immediately I got an alert asking if I had indeed plugged in a cooler. I said yes and allowed the system to manage it. Next day we woke up early morning in hopes of watching some leopards. We were lucky to see a mother and a cub. After the morning safari I took my phone out to call home and saw another notification. It had come around 3.00 AM and said that that the system kept the power to the fridge till 2.58 AM . It had cut the power to the fridge just in time and with enough juice to get the jeep started in the morning. If it wasn’t for the system I would have needed a push start. Given that we had camped in the sand it would have taken precious time from the morning safari. If it wasn’t for the smart battery I would have missed that leopard sighting that day.

Before the IoT revelation Excite was one of the many struggling local manufactures. Now they are a global brand. Many manufactures have got on the servitization bandwagon since then. Philips are offering light as a service. They promise to cut the power by as much as 50% with the used of LED lights. Best thing about this is that I never have to buy a single bulb! Manufacturers from a wide range of sectors are already reaping the benefits of servitization. Many have experience an enhanced revenue from 2x to 3x and increased margins anywhere from 3–10%. For me the increased customer satisfaction trumps all above. You just need to see me as I dart around in Colombo without a care in my old jeep to be convinced.

P.S: This has been a thought experiment on servitization. No such service exists called the ‘power for life’ but the possibility of it is.