December 2013

Your team has been hard at work for months, and you feel they are finally on the verge of success. The speech you gave them after returning from the Consumer Electronics Show this past January worked. Your challenge was clear, and they actually heard it: “If a spoon can be connected to the Internet, then why can’t our products?!?!”

The engineers had been working with a new partner and have finally found a way to fit that newest communication technology inside of your product. Your purchasing group has done a fantastic job making the model fit economically. Even your CIO has shown her team isn’t only capable of running your backoffice systems, but is actually a key partner in this connected era being able to apply IT skills to your core business. Her team has set up a massive “cloud” to store and process all this usage-based information about how the product is performing.

As you sit in the corner coffee shop and sip your large black coffee (you never have been able to get into that latte kick), you are observing that “next generation consumer” who is key to your company’s success. There they are: the 18 to 28 year olds who will dictate approval for this new connected product. They are mostly focused on their devices, some with headphones listening to something, others just tapping/pecking. There is even a trendy one in the corner trying to be noticed with her new Google Glass and fancy connected watch, both of which seem to be providing her some information.

Just then it dawns on you. You reach for your tablet and pull up the systems architecture that has dictated the last year of development and what you believe to be the future of your company. You shake your head with concern, as you confirm that your team has missed a major component of the system. Your assistant answers on the first ring and promises she can assemble your leadership team together in less than two hours. You sip the last few drops of that caffeinated nectar before rushing to the train. You head out to meet your team and discuss what you now know is the most important element of the connected system. You must ensure this element makes it into the design.

By the time you arrive, the room is full with all of the brilliant minds who lead the departments of your company: head of engineering, head of IT, head of marketing, head of services, head of after sales and services, head of sales, and your chief of staff ’s intern, as he was on vacation. You cast to the plasma on the wall the systems architecture and say, “See anything missing up there gang?” Everyone looks to the head of engineering and CIO to let them respond first. After all, this is a technology thing and that is their domain. You continue, “Mark, as the leader for marketing, who are we targeting for this product?” He pulls out the personas his marketing agency mocked up and says, “19-25-year-old women, and 17-23-year-old men.”

“Where are they?” you ask. The room grows silent. Your CIO speaks first. “They are represented by the little stick figures on the right hand side of the page, under that data structure.” You see that there is a small icon with a single two-sided arrow pointing to it. It is labeled “User.” You smile, and sit down. “Jennifer,” you say with your back to the table, “as the only one in the room in that target demographic, what do you think about being a stick figure with an arrow coming in and out of you?” Your chief of staff ’s intern is a bit taken aback. She was just there to take notes for her boss, but as a soon-to-graduate industrial and systems engineering student, she loves the challenge. “Well, sir, perhaps industrial design principles need to be applied. I mean, it seems a bit odd that the only interactions the user has are summarized in that single arrow. I always feel like I am multi-tasking these, and I really think our product needs to be aware of more of me than just the interactions I have with your product.”

As she speaks, you think she is exactly right and that you’d better hire her before telling the group that this young lady is on to something. You go on to explain that their technical design is brilliant, but you have allowed the team to be too driven to the formal definition of M2M. Machine-to-machine absolutely depicts what some of this industry is all about, but you know for a fact that your products are consumer facing, and the so called “user” is actually your customer, who has experiences well beyond the boundaries of this product interaction.

Your head of engineering has never been shy. He states immediately, “We don’t need to worry. The ‘pipe’ that has been designed into the product allows for plenty of space to capture information about how the product is working. The new designs can be updated based on performance.” Your CIO jumps in and adds, “We can also tie this to our CRM record so we don’t only collect product information, but also can ‘mash it up’ with user information making this a much richer set of information.”

Your head of marketing picks up on this quickly and allows the conversation to develop a bit more before making a move to properly position this conversation. “Perhaps we need to make M2M more than just references to communication between ‘machines.’ This reference brings to mind cold, hard metal or even worse, plastics formed. The connections we are ultimately after are those with customers, i.e., human beings; Misters and Misses. Perhaps M2M should really stand for Machine to Mr. or Ms. to Machine”

You stand up, and start toward the door when you hear your head of engineering ask “Did we miss something?” You smile back and simply reply, “We all have been missing something. As we have been so focused on getting a connected product to market, we almost forgot that all of this is really about a customer experience. We have it now though. Clear your calendars for the rest of the day and get your teams in here and revamp this architecture to ensure we capture the essence of the user:

  • To you, Mr. Engineer – please make sure the design fits with other elements of the users connected life.
  • Mrs. CIO – Please ensure that we can use those fancy analytics capabilities to determine patterns about ‘as-used’ information so we can be the best possible ‘partner’ for our customers. Our customers see our product as part of their ‘connected life system’!
  • Mr. Marketing – You obviously get it. Make sure it is linked with our brand, campaigns, and CRM platform. We have to have connectivity mean more than a cold connection.
  • Mr. After Sales – This changes your world. It is not about servicing a connected product, it is about redefining service.
  • Mrs. Sales, you realize you now have a channel. The product itself can be a channel; how will that change our industry?

Finally, you add: “What I realized this morning sitting in that coffee shop was that M2M isn’t about machine-to-machine communication. It is about redefining our business, our industry, and our customer’s way of life. Oh, and Miss Intern, make sure that resume is ramped up. We are going to need a lot of assistance in taking this product architecture and forming it into a strategy that we can sell to our board.”

It truly is a new era of business. A connected one!

Gregg Garrett leads a team that advises clients on how to harness innovation in the connected economy as CEO and president of CGS Advisors. He lectures at several universities and contributes to Connected World. Previously, he served in chief strategy roles at Volkswagen Group of America and Deutsche Telekom in North America. He can be reached at

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