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Connected devices and connected people in today's sensor-driven world

Connected devices are all around us. From cars and airplanes, to factories and nuclear power plants, to even our homes and bodies, there is a sensor for just about everything. Similarly, this trend is showing no signs of slowing down; by 2025 there will be even more — about 75.44 billion connected devices, by some estimates.

Of course, we as humans are also connected. When Martin Cooper made the first ever mobile phone call on April 3, 1973, the ability for individuals to connect themselves to the grid was made possible. Forrester Research predicted that by 2022 over half of the humans on the face of the Earth will utilize a smartphone — that is 3.8 billion phones. Impressive numbers from any perspective. Wearables, which are smart connected devices such as Fitbits, have also connected the individual to the digital landscape. IDC stated that 27.9 million of these devices were shipped in the second quarter of 2018. So, what does this mean? Not only will more data be created by connected devices, but the increased number of connected humans will inevitably add to this massive ocean of information.

One of the main fields that stands to benefit from greater access to human-generated data is the health industry. Early generation wearables, such as Fitbit or Garmin, offer users access to simple connected wristbands. These connected devices motivate the user to walk a certain number of steps and achieve a certain amount of cardio time during the day, and encourage the user to stand more frequently. Greater connectivity also means you could link your data back to a network, analyze the data and even share with others. These early health-focused wearables have taken a big leap with the rise of the more powerful connected watches.

To understand this firsthand, all one must do is watch the latest Apple meeting in which the next-generation iWatch’s features about health monitoring are heavily emphasized. The heart monitoring function on the Series 4 watch is capable of “generating an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram.” There are even stories of users discovering they have an irregular heart beat thanks to the watch. Rumor has it, Apple is looking to add further functionality, such as glucose monitoring, to help diabetics manage their blood sugar. Now, consumers have access to a portable, always-on health monitoring device. Furthermore, there is tremendous opportunity for healthcare providers to responsibly use this new data source to better treat and work with users. Remote monitoring, remote diagnosis, better nutrition and exercise coaching are all avenues that are possible with these devices.

Another consumer-centric field that will work with this new connected person is the retail supply chain. Retailers have already rushed to gain access to our smartphones. A mobile-first strategy is no longer cutting edge, but simply table stakes. Traditional retailers such as Nordstrom, Best Buy, Banana Republic and Nespresso pour resources into keeping their apps fresh, informative and transactional. Upstarts, such as Bonobos and Gilt, understood the importance of being accessible on mobile supercomputers. Of course, Amazon — the 800-pound gorilla in this world — is the master of using the connected human through the app on their phones and the Alexa-enabled devices in their homes. With features such as using the camera to identify an item or barcode, voice-enabled search and shopping, and geotagging to identify where to deliver a product, Amazon has been a leader in bringing the retail experience to the connected consumer. Even traditional retailers have experimented with geotagging to connect with on-the-go consumers and offer more personalized services. Home Depot is using this idea to provide directions to products within its stores via the users’ mobile phone. Other retailers have been using geofencing to drive promotions and updates to users’ phones only when they are physically near a store. Likewise, retailers are also using their personally connected consumers to track how stores are navigated. This creates heat maps to better understand how to place merchandise and promotions, and where it makes the most sense to have labor positioned.

Consumer goods manufacturers might soon gain more insights into how their products are being used post-purchase, as connected consumers begin to digitally interact with the products they purchase. For example, Vitamix, a company that produces kitchen appliances, offers an IoT-connected blender. It can communicate with your connected device to determine what kind of fruit smoothie might be best for you based on your activity that day. Consumer packaged goods firms could take that aggregated data and understand how their products are being used, when, where and with what results.

The connected person is no longer science fiction; everyone who carries around a smartphone is connected is some way. Those of us who also wear a smartwatch or smart wristband are also tied to the digital ecosystem. The healthcare, retail and consumer packaged goods industries have tremendous opportunities to harness this data to communicate with, cater to and offer new services for that consumer. But as consumers allow these industries to get closer to our lives, via digitization, these industries must also assume tremendous responsibilities in how they handle that information. We have already seen major breaches of trust by the likes of Facebook who used information for corporate gains. In the same light, wearables have the potential to offer up much more intimate information. Quite literally, the closer that digital signal gets to the human heart, the higher the stakes are with regards to privacy and data protection. There are great opportunities for those who ensure they can find the proper balance between this aspect and the desires to monetize the data.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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