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The Rise Of Smart Products

Meaning Making
Code Halos
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Smart Product Strategies
Digital Age

The Rise Of Smart Products

Have you seen the Smart Toothbrush yet? I’d be toast if my toothbrush “tweeted” its brushing history (or lack...

5 Minutes Read

Have you seen the Smart Toothbrush yet? I’d be toast if my toothbrush “tweeted” its brushing history (or lack thereof) when I was a kid. The British—and especially the Scottish—throughout the 1970s weren’t exactly known for their great teeth, and I was fast conforming to type. Now, to the horror of every boy in the UK (or is that just my son…) that’s about to change with the innovative new “Smart” Toothbrush. And to me, the field of information or data that surrounds a product, in this case the toothbrush, signals something much more profound as products start to communicate with us and with each other. The toothbrush’s data becomes more valuable than the toothbrush itself. Welcome to the world of Smart Products.

Whether it’s our smartphones, smart cars, smart toothbrushes or even smart cities, smart technologies are finding their way into and around, the everyday stuff we like to buy and use. There’s the tennis racket that pin-points the (many, many) issues with my backhand or the whisky bottle that tells me another way to enjoy a wee dram. The smart Johnnie Walker bottle detects whether it’s been opened or not, sending a personalized message to me or every customer like me who waves his phone in front of it (fancy a Whisky Mac Euan?) Moreover, that bottle of whisky can now be tracked across its supply chain, from its point of manufacture to its point of consumption and the opportunity for insight and meaning making is profound.

Instinct tells me to watch the B2B space rather than the consumer space to see how the smart product market will unfold however because this is where I believe the real action will be. Inexpensive sensors and embedded software running on IP networks, enable once dumb products to sense, monitor, optimize and regulate themselves in increasingly autonomous and impactful ways. And the smart whisky bottle slowly shows us the art of the possible—the data it now generates can open a Swiss army knife of applications beyond some funky marketing (and that’s a perspective from Diageo). 

Smart products are the focus for a major new study that I’ve been working on and soon to be released through Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work. We’ve decided to focus on smart products because the concept of giving a product a virtual identity means giving each product a “Code Halo” If you have been following the work that the center did in 2014 you will know and understand the narrative behind our book Code Halos (“if it costs more than £35 and you can’t eat it, it should have a code halo around it”). We are finding a wide number of business process areas like product development being disrupted (you can also see the video behind the book “Is Your Business Model Being Disrupted? ).

With the Economist Intelligence Unit (the research arm of The Economist magazine), we surveyed over 200 product design and innovation executives across the U.S. and Europe to chart the rapidly developing phenomenon of smart products. We selected companies from the healthcare, pharmaceuticals, retail and manufacturing sectors that have, or are actively developing, smart products in order to map the market and understand what it takes to succeed. These are the market pioneers and what they reveal is fascinating: Smart product strategies offer a profound new level of customer insight; they offer new opportunities to drive efficiencies from across a product eco-system; and they offer the ability to truly personalize product innovation. As they scale, there is a flipside however as they unleash a number of uncertain dynamics. Smart products can radically alter a manufacturer’s business model and disrupt entire sales channels, if not entire industries.

What I would like to do in the next few posts is introduce to you the study’s main findings, showcase some the rich survey data and reveal some of the respondent data that didn’t make it into the report because it offers more insight in terms of geography and by industry. The product model is clearly changing for the digital age. To bring this concept to life, perhaps not too far into the future my son will go to his dentist and his dentist will dial up his data beamed direct from my son’s toothbrush, wag his finger and tell him to brush more frequently. The potential to spark new outcomes and business models from product data is clearly up for grabs.


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