Service Design is the Key for Successful IoT Solutions

Most people working with information technology have heard about the internet of things as there has been quite the buzz around IoT for some time now. The general view seems to be that new technology has made connecting all kinds of “toasters” to the internet possible, but for me IoT is nothing new. This is due to my background in automation engineering, where devices have been connected for several decades. But of course, new technologies have made the devices easier to use and more available to consumers, not to mention really inexpensive.

But with more accessibility come mass production, and cheap solutions in price and design. The market is already quite saturated with different kind of cloud enabled IoT devices that don’t really answer any specific need and don’t therefore serve the user in a meaningful way. I see, that this is partly due to competition, companies compete with technical features, but it is also due to the fact that IoT is such a large concept that companies don’t know how to design for it or even recognize the value of design. So, in a sense, thus far it has been fine to just look at the technical side of IoT, but in the future, that will fade into a small component of the actual services that will rise.

Complexity and Holistic design

IoT is a complex environment of many different technical concepts that are inherently linked together and each part must work in order for the system to function. IoT needs new kind of thinking and holistic design. I think this can be also seen in the closely related Industry 4.0 concept. Industry 4.0 is not only about technology and connectivity, but very much about social change. Just developing new technology is not enough, but a change of attitude and education is needed to support the fast changing landscape in industry and technology, that has been enabled by the internet and computing.

To tackle the inherent intangibility of the different parts of IoT, IoT needs to be looked as a whole and the design methods need to take this into account as well. IoT is all about service and not products or devices. Take amazon echo for example: it’s, only a small microphone and speaker that is connected to the internet, the actual service is not really seen by the user and is accessed indirectly via a speech interface and you can even build the device yourself or just install the Alexa service on your existing device and benefit from the huge Amazon marketplace and the services of the Alexa assistant.

From between the lines you can read, that service design is really the design discipline of the future. Service design is a holistic approach to create value to a user and all IoT solution designs should start with service design and value definition. Interestingly I have just been reading Tenny Pinheiro’s book, Service Startup, about lean service design and the MVS, Minimum Valuable Service, concept defined in the book. MVS can be applied very well to designing IoT services and solutions. MVS combines the lean principles used in hardware and software industry and combines them with service design. Combining the two well established and proven practices, lean and design thinking, leads to a robust and flexible methodology that allows service design to be, practiced in an agile manner.

Minimal viable service practice aims to break the problems and user needs into small enough pieces that can be more easily addressed than the complex world of IoT while still aiming to find actual user value in an early stage. Just like in lean development where the minimum viable products are used to test concepts, lean service design can define concepts and validate them in a similar manner in service design sprints.

The Target Experience

Security and the use of data is often very problematic in IoT solution design and they definitely need to be attention to. A distributed and connected system is susceptible to security issues and on the technical side security should be the most important aspect to pay attention to. Another feature of IoT solutions is data and how it is possible to amass a lot of it, very fast. Hoarding data is not a good idea, so the design should identify the most important measurements. Limiting gathered data also helps with security.

And last but not least, paying close attention to user experience is very important in IoT solutions. As IoT service solutions are very distributed, the user experience of each touchpoint needs to be carefully crafted, as one bad egg can ruin the whole cake. A frustrating experience especially in a phase where the user is not invested into using the system may chase them away for good. Another important factor is the ease of use and easy setup. IoT systems often have very limited interactions or novel ways of use, so attention should be paid into making them intuitive and simple. Finally distributed systems may have many different access points and user interfaces, and as different devices become more abundant users are using more and more devices to perform a single task, so especially IoT system design should support device switching during tasks.