User-Centric Design and the Internet of Things

“No man is an island, entire of itself.”

John Donne - Meditation XVII

The Harvard Business Review recently published a blog regarding the often-overlooked human element in discussion of the Internet of Things (IoT). The blog closed with the potent statement that the goal for the IoT is not to make things smarter but to make people smarter. To be successful we must create devices that move beyond process automation and create predictive intelligence that enhances intuition and decision making. H. James Wilson dove into the cognitive science behind good design, citing that one of the greatest hurdles facing the IoT is deciding whether to develop with an interaction-dominant focus or to follow a more component-driven approach.

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Softly Assembled Systems

The “Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality Psychology” states,

“The key property of softly assembled systems is that they exhibit interaction-dominant dynamics, as opposed to component-dominant dynamics. For component-dominant dynamical systems, system behavior is the product of a rigidly delineated architecture of system modules, component elements, or agents, each with predetermined functions (i.e., the pendulum clock or a factory assembly line). As noted earlier, however, for softly assembled interaction-dominant dynamical systems, system behavior is the result of interactions between system components, agents, and situational factors, with these intercomponent and interagent interactions altering the dynamics of the component elements, situational factors, and agents themselves…”

A softly assembled system represents a collection of components synergistically existing and interacting; Wilson brought up the example of cooking in the kitchen. When preparing a meal, we don’t think about the devices we use to accomplish the task – all the tools are used as an extension of self. The motion is both fluid and intuitive. But when one of those tools malfunctions, it disrupts connectivity and removes us from the softly assembled system.

All Eyes on Ireland

This year, we embarked on a journey with the Dublin City Council to make Dublin the most connected city in the world. 200 Quark-based Gateway platforms scattered across the city will collect environmental sensor data in hopes of improving quality of life and fostering greater sustainability. This ecosystem of sensors will blend into the current infrastructure with zero impact on the current population, and allows inhabitants to communicate needs to the city’s administration in real time without interrupting daily routine. A smarter Dublin will represent a softly assembled system that allows its citizens to connect with its government simply by their physical existence within city lines.

IT leaders have a lot to learn from Dublin’s approach. When strategizing for the more connected enterprise, IT leaders need to remember the science behind interaction-dominant dynamics. Analyzing natural human-device interaction will allow us to build those softly assembled systems. The less obtrusive the technology, the more a user will be able to exist in a comfortable, natural — productive — state. It’s time for IT leaders to focus on solutions designed for existing connectivity. No man is an island. Even in your enterprise.

If you’re currently working on your IoT strategy, don’t forget to read about the key tenets for developing and deploying IoT solutions. And to continue this conversation, please follow us at @IntelITCenter or use #ITCenter.