Designing with Data in Mind: Exploring the Next Generation of IoT and Uncovering Winning Strategies

In our recent webinar, The Next Generation of IoT: Designing with Data in Mind, we spoke with senior team members from AARP, UnitedHealth Group, and Accenture about the challenges and needs of using big data to create powerful, impactful solutions to human problems. Our panelists explored how big data is influencing the designs of today. Hailing from a variety of backgrounds and industries, our panelists helped to provide a holistic view of what it means to design with big data in mind.

Pearls of Wisdom

Central to our conversation was this tenant from Paul Barasmian, Principle Director at Accenture’s Innovation and Thought Leadership team,

Data influences losing strategies. Insights influences winning strategies.

That pearl of wisdom, really hit home with our panelists. In the age of when we can collect all the data, the real question is should we collect all the data and then, what should we do with all that data? Theodora Lau, Director of Market Innovation at AARP noted that data for data sake is meaningless. It needs to not only lead to insights, but also be clean. Clean data is rich data, and rich data provides more timely insights.

Shane Picciotto, Senior Product Strategy Consultant in Human Centered Design at Fusion/United Health Group agreed that indeed, clean data and rich data were central to the IoT design process. He noted that it was important to have “a bias towards action with the data,” and that “focusing on technology for technology sake is a losing game.”

The takeaway? Don’t lose the game with bad data. Collect data with purpose and translate it into insights…and then winning strategies.

Customer First (Seriously. The Customer is Always First)

Sometimes we can feel like a broken record, but it’s simply amazing how many companies continue to ignore their customers. Customer experience and usability must continue to be at the forefront of IoT design and big data collection.

A great example of this?


If you’re a parent (and perhaps a fan of all things connected), you likely have an Alexa sitting in your living room. And if you’re like any modern parent, you’ve put Alexa to work.

Theo talked about how Alexa’s endless patience and cheeriness makes it a powerful tool for busy parents and curious kids. From answering an endless number of questions with accuracy, patience, and cheer, to ordering blueberries, Alexa is fast becoming the co-parent, every modern parent needs.

While the ease of use makes Alexa the perfect “co-parent” for kids, it’s cumbersome out of box experience and security challenges can be frustrating for parents. That challenging set up experience is ultimately something that designers can improve upon more, especially as they continue to put the consumer first.

In our last month’s hangout “How to Design with New Technologies in Mind”, panelist shared that “…when designing for new technologies you do need to understand the landscape and where technology is going but most importantly understand what part of the technology the customers will use, what they own now, what they’re interested in owning and using so you can know what is realistic to think you can ‘nudge’ the customer towards. In the end, you still need to be solving for a customer’s need to get them to use the technology though…Knowing your customer’s journey and the highs and lows will help you address the lows so more value is perceived by the customer.”

An example of this that Michael from Accenture shared was when rail conductors (or engineers) inspect and record incidents, like if a signal is broken. The engineers had recorded these incidents manually then sent them to the main office to input. The railway company tried to be more efficient by having locomotive engineers enter their incidents directly by using iPads. Ironically, the incident rates dropped significantly when they introduced iPads because the engineers were not well trained on using iPads and decided to forego reporting many incidents as it took too long. So, the next move the railway company took was to introduce chatbots so the engineers could then press a button and verbally report the incident. This worked because the technology took into consideration what the engineers were comfortable using.

The takeaway? The customer is always first and design for the end-to-end customer experience so your customer feels that your product was designed with them in mind.

Smarter products getting smarter

Our hangout webinar took place right on the heels of CES 2018. Our panelists were pumped to talk about some of the new technologies coming out of the show. Paul talked about how the recent show represented the “consolidating of great technologies.” With apps working together with devices, and devices getting smarter, there are more ways in which consumers can benefit.

A great example of this?

Meet the Amazon Key.

Launched this past October, the Key includes a security camera, the Cloud Cam, and a compatible smart lock. When you order something from Amazon for delivery, you’re given the option of clicking the “in-home delivery,” enabling the key system. Once your package is out for delivery, you’re given a timeframe of when the driver is expected, and the driver is given access to your home.

Another great example? The Emotionlite.

No outlet next to your bed? Stumbling over slippers and dirty laundry on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night? The Emotionlite has a solution to that problem. Their LED and sensor strip attaches to the bottom of your bed and illuminates as it senses you getting off the bed. The result? Simple, ambient light that illuminates your path.

Theo talked a bit more about The Emotionlite and the possible further use cases for the light. For instance, as the light gains popularity, would it be possible to become a health aid tool for those who are bed ridden? Could it begin to take in vital physical assessments and communicate those to health professionals or family members?

Sounds a bit like our own Firefly concept that helps people age at home with dignity, but Theo is right. With the greying of America on the inevitable rise, we’ll need more solutions like Firefly and The Emotionlite to help baby boomers age in their home.

Shane then raised the use of smart connected design in healthcare with Medicare diabetic patients who get admitted to the hospital. He shared that they have a 14% chance of getting readmitted again. Big data scientists look at all this relevant data through the patient’s diabetic process to see how they can reduce the chance of readmission. For example, he said that UnitedHealth Group uses primary care, vital statistics, hospital discharge information, and other related data to gather a complete picture of the patient’s wellbeing. In fact, Shane added that UnitedHealth Group even uses data to analyze how people swipe their phones to try and predict wellbeing or any mental health changes. If anything indicates your wellbeing is in jeopardy, they may push helpful resources to you or have a specialist reach out.

Where Data is Influencing Design TODAY?

Our panelists had a lot of enthusiasm discussing about the ways mainstream IoT products can improve upon their services. Who is getting it right, who is getting it wrong?

Who is getting it right? The Waze app is a great example of how the data is used to help route people to the fastest route to their destination. The user interface is easy to use and the app has flexibility to continue to reroute you as traffic patterns change in real time. It learns your driving habits and knows where you are as it helps to make your driving experience more enjoyable with a more predictable, shorter route.

Who’s getting it wrong? Well…not completely wrong but Theo from AARP talked about Alexa, and how its voice interface truly only works with those who do not have an accent. It sounds crazy, but if you have anything other than a perfect American accent, Siri/Alexa and Google Assistant simply do not understand you. You need to repeat commands over (and over) again, hoping that the interface will “learn” what you’re trying to say.

It’s clear that if Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to continue to proliferate, it has to accommodate a multitude of nuances in language and accents. The challenge is, that AI only understands that which it’s trained to recognize, meaning that those creating AI learning machines must work that much harder.

Since this hangout was about how design can take advantage of the data, we would be remiss if we had not talked about iterating in design. The panel chatted about how data is used in design today to improve the results of iterating. They commented that historical data is important as well as the real-time data to help make decisions. And all agreed that it is critical to successful design to look at the end-to-end customer experience to gain the right insights to design what will make a meaningful difference in the customer’s experience.

The takeaway? Big Data is out there, but it’s not perfect but when the insights from the data are derived and used in design, your design should give your customer a better experience.

Who’s Got the Skills?

Our panelists closed their conversation with a discussion of the skills needed in organizations so they (and their employees) can be IoT ready. For the folks at UnitedHealth Group, they created a career track called “distinguished engineers,” which allows engineers to stay focused on machine learning natural language processing or other technologies they need to invest in. This trains and rewards engineers who may not have the desire to be on a management track yet still are and can continue to be strong contributors.

Next, companies are looking for Data Scientists. That’s right, math geeks and analytical fiends can get excited because their skills are going to be even more in demand. Companies are looking for data scientists who can understand all the needs of data collection and building.

Paul from Accenture commented, “Understanding data and how to turn it into something useful is what differentiates great talent.” Paul is passionate about drones and shared that drones make it easier for people to do things in a semi automated fashion. Large corporations are using drones for industrial purposes among other needs. And this means with the scale of some drones it can mean investing in the management of these drones. Investing in the infrastructure and capabilities needed for new technologies to thrive is critical.

Paul added that deriving insights from the data is critical to success so having a strong platform to aggregate the data beyond just storing the data is key. Skill sets to help with running analytics and correlating data against lots of analytic sources inside and outside the organization is important.

Paul said with the “V’s of data: Variety, Velocity, Value and Volume” that the data must get managed. “Digital data distribution” to help sort all this data and “Digital insight distribution” to analyze this data and make sense of it, become critical capabilities. Companies must have a plan for moving data around and for analyzing to gain insights from the data. In design, this needs to be considered so data can be gathered, but then also be used to influence design.

And capabilities with new technologies are needed like with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Edge Analytics. Designers should understand the value the new technologies offer. New technologies like these can “make devices smarter and push intelligence further to advance the understanding and learning from the data”.

Remember those pearls of wisdom from Paul? Well, it comes back to that.

It does not matter how talented you are, if you cannot understand data and churn it into meaningful insights, the data is meaningless.

Another key skill needed is to address data security. Have You Been “Equifaxed”?

Data security is a big responsibility of a company. Paul, who is well versed in data security,  noted that he often uses “equifaxed” as a verb as this was such a memorable  breech of security and something all companies should have steps in place to avoid. In a recent Equifax judgment, “the judge noted that Equifax had a duty to safeguard information, failed to heed warnings from the Department of Homeland Security, and ‘willfully’ violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act and state regulations.”

Then last month Equifax introduced a free consumer service to allow people to lock access to their credit files from a mobile phone. It didn’t work. Clearly Equifax needs more skill sets than they have today.

A lot of behavior analysis is done for security reasons. Skills are needed and gotten internally and externally because companies have to accelerate IoT and IoT-related skill competencies. There is a spectrum of skills needed so training and hands on experience is a focus.

The takeaway? There is a growth in demand for those who are digitally adept and are critical thinkers. We need these skills to help forge the way further in the world of IoT and IoT design.

Data Quality Has Changed with IoT

“The size and speed of the data today is really enabling a richer set of insights. It’s making cases harder to understand and contextualize, personalize and navigate when you go into this use case design concept as you’re building out a product. But the insights are harder to understand which opens up new opportunities because you can build and spin up whole differentiators in your product around clean and fast data visualization capabilities.” Paul explained.

He added that an example is a patent he holds for “precision agricultural service” which came about because farmers are swimming in data (weather data, soil samples, sun impact on each field, etc.) so he built this iPad app to help them manage their data electronically versus on the notepads of the past. They even now use Artificial Intelligence (AR) to show what the sensors are telling them in the fields or other places. Now having the ability to get insights and recommendations versus just a bunch of data, enables them to better make predictions to make changes in real-time so they can run a more profitable farming business.

In order to know the meaningful questions to ask to lead to meaningful data, Paul said to start by having a problem statement and an understanding of the value of that problem statement. Really look at the opportunity you are trying to solve for. For example, he said, “…in farming if you are trying to increase yields then look for the things that impact yields. Ask why this is important and what are you trying to get out of it. This can be a rabbit hole and the questions snowball so you do need to prioritize.”

For more on this informative topic, check out the complete hangout with AARP, UnitedHealth Group and Accenture, “The Next Generation of IoT: Designing with Data in Mind”.


Theodora Lau is Director of Market Innovation at AARP. She is an innovator, technologist, and connector, whose work seeks to spark innovation to improve consumer financial well-being and health. She focuses on developing and growing an ecosystem of corporates, entrepreneurs, and VCs to better address the unmet needs of consumers. Most recently named LinkedIn Top Voice for Finance and Economy in 2017. You can find her on Twitter @psb_dc.

Shane Picciotto is a detective and engineer at heart. He works as Senior Product Strategy Consultant in Human Centered Design at Fusion which is part of the UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune 6 company. Fusion believes in putting the customer first by leveraging design thinking methodologies to drive business, experience and development strategies as an internal innovation & consulting team.

Paul Barsamian is a Principle Director in Accenture’s Innovation and Thought Leadership team. He has 15 years of design, development and commercial operations experience in unmanned systems. Paul heads up Accenture’s Global UAV Services and serves as Accenture’s North America Digital Security lead. He holds patents in both security and UAV/Drone technologies and is a thought leader in robotics and unmanned systems in commercial applications. Paul can be found on twitter @pbarsamian.

Gretchen Hoffman

8 thoughts on “Designing with Data in Mind: Exploring the Next Generation of IoT and Uncovering Winning Strategies

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing