The Internet of Things (IoT) is widely discussed as a revolutionary movement that will continue to have a pervasive impact on our personal and professional lives. But, as is the case with most technological advances that make life more convenient, there are some considerations that must be understood and appreciated by manufacturers as a result of their new symbiotic relationship with customers.
The manufacturing industry has reached an inflection point and those that stay ahead of the curve and learn from customer-shared preference data will be among the most successful and prominent brands of the future. In order to become so, they must meet important legal and ethical standards. On the one hand, the government hasn’t come up with a cohesive framework that addresses the data explosion of the past few years, so the regulatory burden has yet to be fully realized. On the other hand, the legal aspects are usually covered when a company has sound business practices, and it’s within this realm of ethics and transparent customer relations where manufacturers must continue to innovate.
Looking ahead to 2017, here are a few things for manufacturers to pay particular attention to as they aim to maximize customer experience and nurture brand loyalty under the IoT umbrella:
- Data collection agreements. Having direct contact with customers and aggregating great amounts of data is an everyday occurrence for companies like Tesla and Apple, but it’s unfamiliar territory for many manufacturers who are more accustomed to dealing with vendors within their supply chain. IoT has removed those barriers and manufacturers must now explain how data will be collected and used and, in turn, customers will provide them with their permission and access. A sound and mutually understood customer agreement helps ensure everyone keeps their promise.
- Privacy protection. Unlike the health care, financial services and retail industries, manufacturing hasn’t been as attuned to the importance of customer data protection. But as cyber criminals become more sophisticated and target new entities that hold exploitable personal information, manufacturers need to create incident response plans should a breach occur. A good place to start is looking at the playbooks used by companies that collect customer data in similar ways.
- Education and monetization. Among the many benefits that IoT provides is access to information that will improve your current services and make future products better. Once a manufacturer has collected the data—either on a one-time or recurring basis—there are a variety of ways to analyze that information to draw unique conclusions about product performance and customer behavior. And those are just the insights drawn directly, as manufacturers are also afforded the opportunity to identify customer trends.
- Lines of liability. There’s no question that IoT will require manufacturers to shoulder new burdens, as there are many unknowns associated with the end-user of a product and how it’s functioning, either properly or improperly. But it can also position manufacturers defensively in a way they’ve never seen before, as they’ll have more information at their fingertips as to whether the product is faulty or being misused. It will be interesting to see how some of the pending cases involving self-driving vehicles are resolved, as the precedents that are set will be a liability bellwether.
Gone are the days of the warranty card being a manufacturer’s only touch point with their customers during a product’s life cycle. As these smarter, interactive machines continue to change the fabric of our culture, manufacturers must shift to a hypervigilant mindset as they bear greater responsibilities as a result of the real-time information they receive from products in the field related to performance, maintenance and customers’ usage patterns.
This article also appears on Foley's Manufacturing Industry Advisor blog.