Johan den Haan: 5 Best Practices for Developing IoT Applications with Rapid Experimentation

By Johan den Haan, CTO at Mendix

The Internet of Things (IoT) has opened up countless opportunities for businesses to drive smarter operations, create new products and change how they interact with their customers. Virtually every device and asset around us is becoming equipped with sensors that transmit data to the cloud. Consequently, Gartner estimates that by 2020, there will be 34 billion connected devices, causing the world’s data to double every two months.

While the IoT hype is big, early adopters have proven that the potential business value can be enormous. As a result, more companies are eager to make IoT applications part of their business to create new experiences for their employees, customers and partners. But it is important to emphasize the word “new” here. There is no shortage of potentially groundbreaking ideas out there, but the technologies are still very new and therefore the solutions are not well defined, requirements are loose and changing, and there is a high level of uncertainty.

With the lack of established use cases already out there, it is hard for customers or employees to know what they are looking for from the Internet of Things. This is why IT teams need a way to continuously experiment and get new applications into the hands of users quickly, without spending a lot of time and money. With this nascent market comes uncertainty and the need to iterate and adapt quickly based on user feedback and changing market conditions.

To help the business unlock the value of IoT, IT teams need a way to experiment quickly and cost effectively. Above all, they need an approach that facilitates frequent iteration and close collaboration between developers and the business, so they can turn new ideas into value-driving IoT applications.

Rapid Experimentation Makes IoT Applications Possible

In order to adopt a development process that allows for rapid, low-cost experimentation, companies need to approach IoT projects with a willingness to fail often in order to succeed sooner. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb with a brilliant eureka moment. Instead, he was an experimenter. In his mind, he thought, “I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

And Google, one of the most successful and innovative companies in the world, has a failure rate of 95 percent, recognizing that you only need to succeed once in order to win big. According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “This is a company where it’s absolutely okay to try something that’s very hard, have it not be successful, and take the learning from that.”

With that idea in mind, companies need the right set of tools and processes to foster low-cost, high-value experimentation. 

5 best practices for fostering rapid experimentation in your organization:

  1. Allocate time and resources for this type of experimentation to prove to your organization that this new approach can work, and then scale it widely as a new mindset.
  2. Create cross-functional teams that include the business and IT. Bring together a person with an idea and someone with the technical aptitude to bring it to life.
  3. Use visual, model-driven development in order to create a common language between business and IT to allow for faster experimentation and greater collaboration.
  4. Create a feedback loop. It is important to have a mechanism to continuously capture feedback from users that you can take back into the process for continuous innovation.
  5. Test a minimum viable product (MVP) early in the process to ensure the ability to change direction with minimal risk based on what you learn.

From Idea to Reality in Just One Week

A media and entertainment firm has adopted these practices to rapidly bring their ideas to market with an IoT app. The firm was faced with the challenge that many of their clients, large festivals, are forced to turn away attendees at the gates of free events due to overcapacity without being able to take into consideration how many people left the venue. The firm had the idea to create a solution that leverages sensors in turnstiles to visualize attendee traffic in real time.

With constant ideation and experimentation, they were able to quickly make this idea a reality and deliver an MVP within a week of starting. Due to their willingness to experiment and rapidly iterate, they were able to validate their idea quickly and continue to evolve how they use the incoming data, which has resulted in new uses and forms of business value.

For example, the firm found that the data from these sensors could also be used to help clients understand how many people enter the venue to optimize how much food and beverages to provide the following night and can ensure security by scanning for credentials to ensure that all event staff are legitimate.

The entertainment firm can now help clients optimize, secure and enhance the experience of their events.

Bottom Line: When developing new IoT applications, it is important to get these ideas out there quickly in order to validate or invalidate them. Don’t get stuck in the “it must be perfect” mindset. Instead, build and deploy a MVP and continue to iterate with feedback from customers, employees and partners to create the right new experiences.

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