The connected world did not exactly appear out of nowhere, but it has certainly managed to move to center stage in a fairly quick pace.
When Alexa quietly made its debut on the market in 2014, smart homes were not unheard of exactly, but for average consumers, a “smart digital personal assistant” was more a piece of science fiction from a Marvel comic book movie than a piece of standard consumer technology. David Hasselhoff and KITT made the self-driving car cool in the early 80s with “Knight Rider,” but as of 2010, no one was really seriously clamoring to own a KITT all their own.
And this — any number of Consumer Electronics Show (CES) keynote speeches told us — is all just the beginning, as the connected world will be about cars, houses, hairbrushes, speakers, etc.. In 1990, New York Telephone Company (today better known as the company it became — Verizon) released the “We’re all connected” ad campaign; by 2020, if the buzz is to be believed, all our stuff will be connected, too.
So, what’s driving this, what really matters and where is it all going?
Those were the questions that Karen Webster had for Intel’s Michelle Tinsley, director of the Mobility and Secure Payment team in the Retail Solutions Division, who agreed that much of what is coming out now at top speed really just represents the tip of the connected commerce iceberg. But what comes next, she noted, isn’t just about changing technological capacity; it’s more about business and consumers dramatically rethinking their assumptions, standard operating procedures and relationship to data.
Innovation On Two Fronts
The big changes as advertised are really coming from two directions. One is how consumers are relating to machines, and the other is how machines are communicating and interacting directly with each other, in both B2B and B2C contexts.
The benefits are obvious. Tinsley noted that, for business owners, the advantage of smart cars that can move a dozen extra cars through a drive-through per hour is just “a cash money difference.”
“The consumer who can interact directly with AI through the course of normal activity to finish off complex commerce transactions is a happier customer. The complex back-end transactions between businesses to give customers those seamless experiences up and down the supply chain work much better when data streams are boosted by automation.”
“Things are not quite bug-proof yet,” Tinsley said. “There is a ‘Hi, Alexa’ commercial that sometimes triggers people’s at-home Alexas to start ordering pizza — so there are clearly kinks to work out along the way.”
But the direction is moving — and moving forward quickly. This movement is visible in projects that are now coming online this June, as opposed to “a few years from now,” in smart cities popping up around the globe and even in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think we are in for a whole bunch of innovations around use cases and business models,” Tinsley said.
And, she noted, we are likely also in for some changes.
The Changing Car Culture
Cars, for example, are evolving, and the entire ownership model may well be changing with them. Cars may get much more expensive as they increasingly become autonomous mobile data command centers responsible for not just driving but also driving themselves and keeping track of a series of data streams.
But instead of using cars, driving to work for 15–45 minutes per day, parking for eight hours and then driving home, consumers might instead start ridesharing.
“I think first it will be households going from two cars to one and then maybe even down to none, particularly for people living in urban environments. This will be much more about getting very different and very efficient use of the capital asset we really don’t have today,” said Tinsley.
Those changes will mean a lot of new opportunities, like reducing the massive amount of urban real estate providing parking in a car-based society.
But they will also mean a lot of new challenges — particularly around data security.
“Data Is The New Oil”
A few billion connected devices, all sharing data from billions of consumers worldwide, is an almost incomprehensible amount of data. All of which needs to be secured, no matter where it is.
“The data that is being transmitted needs to be protected with encryption or a token, and I mean data in transit and data at rest, whether that is in the retail POS, a local copier, in the cloud or in a server database,” Tinsley said. “No matter where that data is, it needs to be protected.”
And that data security, according to Intel, needs to be both baked in on the ground-design level of the connected devices, and consumers need to be aware and fully educated about their data privacy and the value of that data.
“We want people to not assume that every random website out there that you use twice a year will be safe,” Tinsley noted. “Data is the new oil, and that’s true for both merchants and consumers.”
Protecting that data and utilizing it safely is the core competency in the age of the Internet of Things. Those methods of protection will vary — Tinsley noted that multifactor authentication, biometrics and transaction-specific risk calculus are all elements on the horizon offering possibilities.
Though big dramatic change is exciting, the reality, Tinsley said, is often much slower and subtler.
“If you want to change behaviors, your muscles are trained.”
And that is assuming that people want to change behaviors (most don’t).
But consumers like to be convinced. They like jumping the line at Starbucks, walking right in and grabbing their drink. They like just getting out of the car at the end of the Uber ride.
“It is possible to change behavior with a little nudge; it just has to be the right nudge,” said Tinsley.
But the nudges are coming more frequently, and consumers are quickly evolving along with them.
Intel is hoping to make sure that the evolution is carried out in a relatively orderly manner.