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Companies looking to innovate on the IoT often look to industry peers and competitors for inspiration. However, there may be another source for new ideas and implementation: higher education institutions. With Google recently announcing its plans to turn Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University into a testing ground for IoT solutions, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison advancing student, faculty, and partner involvement with wearables through its Internet of Things Lab, “smart campuses” are gaining traction as feasible sandboxes for rapidly prototyping sensor-laden devices for both individual use and mass consumption.

Strategists are smart to take a page from these institutions, and others, when planning their forays into the quickly moving world of connected products and services.

1. Test, test, and test some more.
At Carnegie Mellon, Google plans to outfit thousands of everyday items – from coffee pots to bus stops – with inexpensive sensors to, “collect data and provide reactionary features.” By collecting data on multiple devices, and allowing the larger research community to develop and share IoT scripts, actions, multiple-sensor feeds, and applications in its IoT App Store, they can quickly assess interoperability issues and rapidly iterate.

UW Madison IoT lab
IoT Lab students at UW-Madison. [Credit: On Wisconsin Magazine]
UW-Madison’s IoT Lab follows a similar approach to efficient innovation, with 40 students executing 15 in-depth projects each semester. Follow at test-and-learn approach within your organization to quickly establish what’s working, what’s not, and why. The more data you have behind your experimentation and recommendations, the easier it will be to garner internal support and address naysayers.

2. Plan now for growth later.
Testing hundreds, if not thousands, of theories on as many devices is bound to output a significant amount of data. Broaden your horizons while analyzing the data, beyond your current project scope. Could a similar idea work in a different department, with a different product? UW-Madison involves faculty from various disciplines throughout IoT initiative development to aid in extension of applicable programs and add academic insight. Carnegie Mellon University also plans to eventually use its IoT campus learnings and successes in a citywide application for Pittsburgh.

3. Run with simple, yet specific, ideas to garner proof-of-concept wins.
At College of the Holy Cross, biology lab freezers send email alerts when their temperatures vary too far from acceptable. This is a simple, yet effective, use of IoT sensors to prove their value to the university and beyond. Carnegie Mellon’s connected apps also peaked Google’s interest.

Snap2It app
Carnegie Mellon’s Snap2It app allows for quick connection to printers and projectors via smartphone photo. [Credit: Carnegie Mellon University]
From Snap2It, an app that connects users to printers and projectors simply by taking a smartphone photo, to Impromptu, a system that access shared apps only when needed (ie. waiting for a bus), Carnegie Mellon had proven its commitment to using the IoT to better student life – prior to Google’s involvement. Within your organization, spend time assessing the market and weighing opportunities before moving forward with an IoT initiative. Through the process, you’ll uncover quick wins that provide utility to customers, use fewer resources, and prove the value of wearables to your company.

4. Involve outside partners to further advance and support your efforts.
IoT program planning, strategizing, testing, and implementation isn’t cheap. It requires many internal and external resources to get off the ground – resources that often don’t have a budget-line from the CFO. Follow the lead of UW-Madison. By involving the startup community, small businesses, and larger corporations in its IoT Lab, they’re able to fund projects and deliver results to those outside the university who are interested in the outcome and its application to business growth. Consider partnerships with other organizations who can also benefit from IoT innovation. Also look to city and municipal officials, nonprofits and educational institutions, and those outside your industry for partnership opportunities. It’s not just high-tech companies that want to innovate on the IoT; a connected network of devices offers promise to nearly every industry, including healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and more.

5. Allow for continuous improvement, even after launch.
A “living laboratory,” as Carnegie Mellon refers to its Google-funded IoT campus, allows for continuous innovation and idea validation over time. Although not every company may have an endless pool of funding and resources for IoT endeavors, it’s important to ensure you have a process established for how to assess successes, and failures, of wearable initiatives over time. When operating on top of the IoT, change is imminent if not constant, and technology leaders must plan accordingly to maintain relevance with consumers.

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