Zayn Jaffer talked about connected business during an expert panel on Wednesday but it was his feet that really spoke volumes.

Jaffer, director of emerging businesses at Best Buy Canada, told an audience at the Connected+ conference in Toronto that consumer wearables are beating enterprise solutions in the race to mass adoption for Internet of Things (IoT) products and services.

During the panel, Jaffer revealed he was wearing smart insoles inside his shoes. In cold weather, he uses them to heat up his feet to a desired temperature via a Bluetooth smartphone app.

Zayn Jaffer wore smart insoles inside these shoes at Wednesday’s Connected+ conference. He said it’s easy for consumers to use such wearables and also understand their value proposition.

It proved Jaffer’s point that consumer wearables have reached mass adoption because most only require a smartphone – which many consumers already own and know how to use – for connectivity and data tracking.

“Because consumers grew up with the smartphone in their hand, they understand what it’s able to do,” said Jaffer.

Another strong selling point for consumer wearables, he said, is that people can immediately grasp (and enjoy) the benefits of using such devices for simple things like measuring their own heart rates or, in Jaffer’s case, keeping his feet warm.

“Those consumers understand that value proposition quite quickly,” Jaffer said.

Larger enterprise

In larger enterprise parts of the IoT market, however, the value proposition often remains murky, said panelist Hashmat Rohian, senior director of architecture, IT strategy and applied innovation at insurance giant The Cooperators.

“It’s good that consumers are using (connected technology),” Rohian said. “The question for enterprise is what am I going to do with that? How am I going to generate value for my customers and myself? How am I going to engage my customers better?”

Hashmat Rohian of The Cooperators.

Put another way, the question might be: how come consumers can buy smart heated insoles directly online but they still can’t get lower car insurance rates based on mobile IoT data that actually tracks how safely they drive?

Hard(ware) questions

Hardware could be one reason. While a FitBit might be valuable to assess life insurance premiums, for example, what sort of mobile device provides data appropriate for home or car insurance coverage?

“How can I use the devices you already have, like your Fitbit or your smartwatch? Because I don’t want to put a dongle in your smartphone,” Rohian said.

Although industries like insurance see a lot of potential in IoT technology, Rohian said they still haven’t figured out the best ways to harness it for things like personalized insurance policies or rates.

“They haven’t been able to deliver that digital ecosystem that can actually translate into value,” Rohian said.

Jaffer blamed part of the problem on the fact there are thousands of IoT products but relatively few sustainable IoT companies or businesses. Rohian agreed, saying various connected products and services don’t add up to cohesive value or clear ROI.

“What gets lost in all this is a holistic end-to-end value proposition. There’s not a holistic (insurance) offering that goes from end to end. There’s a lot of creative genius going into it but we’re lacking a lot of really good role models that have shown the value proposition of IoT based on a good business model. How do you make it mutually beneficial to both businesses and consumers?”

Compliance conundrum

Regulatory constraints can also hogtie some sectors from applying IoT to certain parts of their business.

Although Canadian auto insurers would like to offer lower premiums to customers who can show mobile data demonstrating safe driving behaviour, Rohian said insurance pricing is heavily regulated and tough to change. That means Canadian car insurance rates continue to be based mainly on a driver’s age, gender, postal code and record of past accidents, he explained.

Security concerns (and the absence of standardized IoT security protocols) are also stunting the growth of connected enterprise, said Almis Ledas, COO of EnStream. The Canadian company provides authentication and verification services to companies in mobile payments and other industries.

A similar lack of standardized protocols for IoT communication makes it tough to build – and integrate – cohesive enterprise grade IoT solutions.

“There’s fragmentation in the space. But everything’s got to be networkable and interoperable with the vast majority of (existing) devices out there. It’s very difficult for a company or developer to go down one path and not get stranded” if their chosen operating protocol falls out of favour, said Ledas.

A screenshot of Mark Rittman’s Twitter account detailing attempts to get his new Wi-Fi kettle to work.

Connected kettle caper

Coincidentally, IoT integration headaches enthralled Brits across the pond on Wednesday as the saga of a man and his Wi-Fi kettle played out live on Twitter.

Although Mark Rittman of Hove, England (near Brighton) is a data specialist, it took him 11 hours to connect the kettle to his Wi-Fi network and integrate it into his existing smart home system with a clever DIY hack.

By the time Rittman got the kettle to boil water for his morning cup of tea, it was nighttime. But a story on the tweeted kettle caper proved irresistible to readers of the Guardian newspaper’s website, where it became the sixth most popular news item and garnered over 1,400 comments.

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