Fear fuels changes. More accurately, fear often fuels a sudden passion for change among normally conservative corporate executives. But this sort of anxiety alone has no power to alter a company’s business model or inspire fresh product designs.
The coming era of the “smart, connected world” apparently has many C-level executives running scared. Whether they are developing cosmetics, processing chemicals, or building coffee machines, more than 90% of CEOs and vice presidents interviewed by Accenture last year responded, “If we didn’t do anything [about the smart connected world], we would be out of business,” according to Craig McNeil, global managing director, internet of things, at Accenture.
Consider, for example, connected coffee machines, McNeil told us. “Once your coffee maker gets connected, everything changes.” You need a new industrial design, an embedded software that runs on top of it, apps for iOS or Android, and an IoT platform that connects the machine to the cloud. But wait — there’s more. As soon as your coffee maker is connected, you’re dealing with cybersecurity threats. Once your machine starts collecting data, including user habits, coffee bean preferences, and cups per day per drinker, you need smart analytics. Pretty soon, the cloud is raining on the financial and economic aspects of your business model.
In short, building IoT is no cakewalk. There is a lot to acquire — everything from embedded software to deep knowledge in hardware engineering — and broader expertise in digital operations before you connect your coffee machines and get them working flawlessly.
Bluetooth, apps, AI, and blockchain
Judging from our recent interview in Lausanne with David Atienza, professor at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the business community is, indeed, already overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge that they need before their business is connected, gets smarter, and goes digital.
Atienza’s team at EPFL has been working with Nestlé to design a family of connected Nespresso machines — the exact example that Accenture’s McNeil shared with us. Of course, Nestlé isn’t the Atienza team’s only corporate client — there are many.
Atienza said that it is not unusual to encounter companies that come to his team seeking advice to develop IoT devices featuring “Bluetooth, apps, AI, and blockchain.”While such requests hit all of the popular keywords on the standard corporate IoT checklist, the reality is that many executives often have no idea how to pull it off or, more importantly, how any particular IoT technology might serve their customers.
Clients often show up at consulting companies such as Accenture with more buzzwords than thoughts. This is the consultants’ golden opportunity to field the clients’ fears, discuss inevitable paradigm shifts, and nudge them toward a brave (smart, connected) world — for a price.
Hands-on help in hard engineering
Among the consultants, Accenture’s edge is the knowledge that talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the smart, connected world goes nowhere. Clients need hands-on help, backed up by the deep engineering required for product innovation.
Accenture identifies the “smart, connected world” as one of the key pillars of its business, aptly named “Industry X.0.” Although anyone can dream about moving into the smart, connected world, it is tough to redefine the software and develop products that will trigger effective change. Just take one piece of the puzzle: embedded software, said McNeil. “It isn’t an easy skill” to learn.
Instead of preaching about the merits of Industry X.0, Accenture is rolling up its sleeves to help customers with “product innovation.” To that end, Accenture last week announced acquisitions of two companies — hardware engineering firm Mindtribe and embedded software company Pillar Technology.