Embarking on an IoT Oriented Technology Roadmap
In recent years the confluence of cloud computing, faster networking, mobile, edge device processing, and sensor technologies have converged to enable formerly inanimate objects to start talking. We all know this as the Internet of Things (IoT). Companies across the globe have leaped into the fray to ride the wave of this new way of delivering innovative services, optimizing performance, zeroing in on targeted sales opportunities, and at the core, collecting data to drive better and faster decision-making. This article takes the perspective of a nearly 100 year old manufacturing company producing mechanical padlocks and it’s decision to purposefully enter the IOT doing what it does best, that is, produce portable locking devices, but newly improved with intelligence added. This journey will cover the insights used to inform the strategy, and a few of the more common challenges across the industry including go to market, customer support, and sales.
In 2011 The Master Lock Company began creating the next chapter in its storied history transforming from a pure mechanical product company to electro-mechanical products embracing electronics, software and firmware. The obvious solution would have been to create electronic padlocks but the technology components were not quite available at the time nor was it economically feasible. Although there was a desire to become digital, unbeknownst to us, there would be a lot of work ahead to figure out what direction that would eventually take.
In the ensuing years, the new venture grew from a handful of individuals to twenty plus comprising software, electrical, firmware, and of course, mechanical. Those not of the mechanical discipline were the new kids on the block, forging with their mechanical brethren a new digitized future. Those early years ultimately became focused on developing a highly industrial electronic access control system that was deployed nationwide. Many technical innovations were developed, which became the foundational building blocks setting the stage for the future.
By 2014, the Internet of Things, or IoT, was starting to become, well, a thing in a big way. Though first mentioned in 1999, it took more than a decade for the stars to align to enable the IoT to come to life. The IoT sits at the confluence of mobile, radio technologies, networks, and sensor technology. Many companies wasted no time getting into the fray that some boldly predicted would connect billions of devices by 2020 and beyond. Being “first” to interconnect, communicate and be interoperable with other players was a seemingly critical aspect toward winning in this space. This is the point where Master Lock took a step back to consider our place in this developing area. Instead of rushing headlong into the world of IoT interconnectivity and interoperability, we considered what our brand means to the masses (Peace of Mind and Security) and thought about end to end security. Subsequently, we initially spent the vast majority of our time carefully designing an end to end security system that became the core of our platform. Because of what our brand means to people, it was incumbent upon us to build a system that was just as tough in the digital world, as it was in the physical world.
Our strategy was driven by our brand, and more notably the two most common reasons customers call our support center, pleas for help with lost keys and forgotten combinations. Coincidentally by this time, we had developed enough expertise to utilize the now available technologies, and Low energy Bluetooth became the catalyst to create a viable, secure, and affordable portable electronic access control system neatly packaged into a standard-sized lock body, paving the way for larger form factors in the lineup. The maturation of cloud technology including microservices, the rise of APIs and message broker services provided the building blocks for a system that can scale globally delivering unique digital keys, temporary codes and many other feature benefits that support both business and personal needs. Today that system, now 3rd generation, is delivering on its promise of managing organized access control for companies who are enjoying the benefits of setting up unique groups of locks and users and analyzing the audit trails. Knowing and managing who has access to what and when has been of tremendous value to our customers. Interestingly, some customers have discovered ways of disrupting their own business models with our system, enabling them to develop greater customer service options and innovative revenue models.
To be in the IoT and not transform your organization to take advantage of it, is a complete miss in strategy
The promise of the IoT, or one of them at least, is the collection of data that can be used to analyze, learn from, and subsequently make decisions on. To be in the IoT and not transform your organization to take advantage of it, is a complete miss in strategy. As an example, with the launching of the Master Lock Vault system, we now know how locks are used for the first time in our history. Using obfuscated data, we know how often locks are accessed, and the average number of users that have access to a lock. The number of accesses over a period of time is compelling data to inform us on the engineering design and quality testing of the device. This is important. This data gives us critical insights into how we design new mechanical and electro-mechanical products moving forward including considering both usage profiles and industry types. Enabling the data to become useful to us required investment in both experts and data tools to provide important glimpses into what the data is telling us. This is an important development in the transformation of our company as we needed to embrace the data we are collecting and harness it using skillsets we did not formerly have in-house. As the system grows, there will be more data that will become meaningful that can be used to guide customers of the system.
Although we knew we’d have to navigate some different waters to make this new venture successful, our actual transformation toward supporting this business has been gradual over time. For instance, introducing more technically oriented security solutions required the company to think about sales and customer service, as two examples, differently than before. Whereas customer service was perfectly trained to handle calls about missing keys and forgotten combinations, they were not prepared to handle calls about downloading apps, connecting mobile phones to locks, and handling location settings on Android. Creating a Tech Service group within the Customer Service Organization enabled us to hire the right backgrounds and skillsets to handle technical questions from customers and enable successful troubleshooting to take place. In a similar vein, thinking through our traditional sales strategies and leveraging them to build the base of this business while adding in specific technical sales expertise to sell the solution has been a key transformation in how we generate sales of this system solution versus the traditional mechanical security solutions.
Embarking on an IoT oriented technology roadmap for any enterprise is challenging from engineering, go to market, and sales perspective. Imagine starting that journey in a ninety year old company and in the span of eight years, positively transforming the trajectory of the company on many levels. Businesses starting down this path must consider their brand message, the customer problems to be solved with the solution, the proper application of technology, and the skillsets needed while possessing the strength and fortitude to persevere through the eventual ups and downs of the journey. As a company, we have unequivocally charted a new course by enduring the many ups and downs along Transformation Way. Today we sit in a strong position to drive our digital future built on strong and secure Master Lock Tough foundations.