Business Analysis for Internet of Things (IoT) Projects

Business Analysts need to figure out how to provide a seamless fit between customer experience, burgeoning IoT technologies and the continuous drive for business operational efficiency.

Picture of Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, computers lived in large ventilated rooms.

Then they moved to your desktop.

Then they moved into mobile phones, and smart traffic lights and ‘black boxes’ for automotive insurers.

Once Upon Another Time, Business Analysis was only performed in large companies, with large mainframes and even larger teams that spanned IT, marketing and finance.

Then, with the advent of cloud-based business intelligence and web analytics tools, it became possible for everyone to customise market demand estimations, explore KPIs and to see click-through metrics. Anytime, anywhere and for free.

What, Another Dashboard?

We are now so used to seeing dashboards, that we forget Business Analysis, Business Analytics and Business Intelligence are simply different facets of the same underlying ‘movement’. To visualise. To explore. To discover.

And as the Internet of Things (IoT) brings more intelligence to more devices which pervade invisibly into every aspect of our lives, Business Analysts will need to factor their existence into the Use Cases that drive business today:-

  • Smart shelves in supermarkets that reduce understocking by comparing the measured popularity of items to the sales figures for that item.
  • Smart boarding passes that check up on lost passengers who according to the FAA cost airlines USD 28 billion in 2018 alone.
  • Smart windows with embedded IoT sensors to measure light incident on building facades and to change the glass transparency, reducing the incoming heat that balloons the air conditioning costs in commercial buildings.

As you can guess, all this technology is going to have a major impact on people’s lives wherever we are; at home, at work or at play.

The work of the Business Analyst will be to figure out how to provide a seamless fit between the customer experience, the burgeoning IoT technologies and the continuous drive for business operational efficiency.

In the Beginning, There Was Darkness

The companies that are really driving IoT are Startups, of course.

And by Startup I mean the hungry, bootstrapped, seat-of-the-pants type companies, founded by 15-year-olds in their parent’s garage.

In fact, this has been the case since the days of Microsoft and Apple. Nothing has changed.

Recent IoT startup success stories include:-

  • Nest (bought by Google for USD 3.2 Billion, in cash)
  • Fleetmatics (bought by Verizon for USD 2.4 Billion)
  • Ring (bought by Amazon for USD 1 Billion)

The startups listed here have all shown the potential to deploy cloud-based IoT technologies that can change lives. The really interesting thing is how such tech can change the way Business Analysts view the user persona.

My User Story

Business analysis involves principally two things:-

  • Understanding the business issues of most importance (problems and opportunities).
  • Proposing changes to improve the business.

The first step remains the same, irrespective of the technologies available and involves interviewing stakeholders to understand strategic goals, business processes, use cases and a conceptual data model, culminating in a detailed statement of requirements.

It is during the second step that BAs need to map those requirements to a set of features which can be implemented within the project budget and project timescale. All this needs to be driven by the User Story.

So, when your supermarket client complains that customers cannot find nappies on the shelves because they are understocked, BAs must work with technologists to find solutions, which could include IoT-based smart shelves.

  • But how will a ‘smart shelf’ affect the customer buying experience?
  • If personalised discounts are also shown alongside the merchandise, will customers realise that certain behaviours can trigger a larger discount?
  • Will the technology drive people away because it is deemed ‘too salesy’?

Let’s take another example:

What if your airline client complains about missing passengers who delay flights and cause excessive costs and even regulatory fines?

BAs would need to bring together IT and Operations that may need to explore the benefits of smart boarding cards.

But will such devices constitute an invasion of privacy?

Should they be available on existing smartphone platforms or on a dedicated piece of hardware so you can track passengers’ location within an airport?

What will the delay be in recovering the physical hardware during boarding?

You get the picture.

It Only Gets Better

The good news for Business Analysts is that your job just got more difficult.

This protects your hard-earned degree from being superseded by AI-based software (at least for the time being).

Bringing together complex technologies is hard enough when the systems in play are primarily large-scale software apps. But when the tech involves hardware and software and changes to the customer experience, then BAs had better get their act together and up-skill.

You will need to understand what IoT is of course, but you will also need to dig into case studies on the legal ramifications of how IoT can affect everyday business scenarios.

You will also need to consider the costs, the benefits, the risks and the compliance issues in typical business scenarios, for example, a beleaguered mom dragging a screaming 4-year old round a ‘smart’ supermarket, while trying to find washing-up liquid and getting distracted by a 10% discount on shampoo which just popped up on her smartphone.

Because this stuff is already here. And it is being deployed right now.

Summing Up

Business Analysts who develop the knowledge and experience in how IoT affects customer buying journeys, customer experience and business models can stand out from the crowd and propel their careers into the future.

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