Beyond the Hype - How the Internet of Things (IoT) Enables Mass Customization

February 22, 2017 Marciej Kranz

ideas.jpgA decade ago, visionaries talked about mass customization—the ability to customize mass-produced products to each individual buyer’s specifications.

A few tried, but it proved very difficult to implement efficiently. The process had too much latency (delay), which added cost and slowed the results.

However, Internet of Things (IoT) makes strategies like mass customization far more practical and cost efficient. Latency isn’t a problem. Information can be shared in real time between every element in the supply chain. Buyers can click on the components they want. Suppliers and logistics providers can see what components are being ordered, and with rapid systems retooling adjust their schedules appropriately—on the fly, if necessary.

With the information flowing, the various players can ensure the desired components are at the production line when that customer’s order is being assembled, whether it’s a car or a three-piece suit. Customers order a car or a suit or anything else, specify the desired components, and have it built or assembled as ordered.

Daihatsu Motor Company is already using 3D printers to offer its car buyers 10 colors and 15 base patterns to create their own “effect skins” for the car exterior. Each order rolls off the assembly line customized to that individual buyer. And it’s no big deal. With IoT, mass customization is starting to happen.

Now imagine what’s possible when you can connect anything with anything—production lines with parts and components, production lines with suppliers, products with service providers, logistics operations with transportation companies—and you can do it in near–real time. Designers could create products people really want and use, marketers could sell those products the way people want them, and service and support teams would know where potential problems are and address them before things break. Costs could be contained, and customer satisfaction would soar.

Or imagine if products you put out in the field could link back to you, signaling when a part starts to fail or a configuration isn’t working correctly. You could effectively eliminate unplanned downtime. What could product managers do when they learned that customers were using the company’s product in new ways the marketing teams didn’t even imagine? The possibilities and opportunities are endless. Admittedly, not all of these concepts and value propositions are available at scale today, but there are plenty of mature, fast paybacks you can implement now.

At the same time, there is no magic here. That’s right; no magic is at play, none, nada. We’re talking about the same digitally connected world we know now, just more so. Essentially, we’re using the cloud as we know it, plus an intelligent infrastructure within which every device is digitized and addressable over a common IP network. Yes, there are a few new innovations—such as fog computing, a form of cloud computing at the edge of the network for real-time data processing; blockchain technology, essentially a secure distributed log; and machine learning, the technology behind real-time predictive analytics—but none of these is magic either. These are concepts that industry is focusing on and implementing; nothing exotic, nothing magical.

Learn more about connecting your business to the Internet of Things with Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, Transform Your Industry.

Image Credit: Rawpixel/Shutterstock


About the Author

Vice President, Cisco Systems //

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