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Amazon Echo: no laughing matter for IIoT

Jan. 10, 2017

The IIoT ecosystem has no equivalent to the Amazon Echo; it’s all pieces and parts and architectures.

There are plentiful opportunities to mock the consumer IoT market—internet-connected refrigerators and hairbrushes…really? But take a moment to consider, and get to know, the Amazon Echo, a voice-activated consumer IoT device. You speak to an Echo, or its little
brother the Amazon Dot, and it does things: answers questions, plays songs, tells you the weather, orders things on Amazon. According to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report in November, customers have acquired more than 5 million Echo units since its introduction 24 months ago, which was before this holiday season, when the Echo (Amazon’s best-selling product) was out of stock just before Christmas.

As for the users? The Amazon Echo is adored based on its online ratings (4.4 stars and 50,000 reviews), and there are now more than 7,000 Echo applications (“skills”) in the Echo app store for personalized tasks such as banking, ordering a Domino’s pizza and requesting an Uber. Although Siri was there first, universal access to this “voice application” is redefining software accessibility by the minute, making mobility seem passé.

From an IIoT (or Industry 4.0 or digital transformation) perspective, what is impressive about the Echo is how it defies every source of friction in the industrial market. 

  • The Echo is a proprietary offering; a skill for the Echo works on Echo and only Echo. You can buy or license the technology, but it’s Amazon’s platform, period.
  • The Echo lacks security issues (so far). Or course, your child can order something they shouldn’t and leave you with the bill. But Amazon makes headlines regarding security only because it so rarely fails on security issues.
  • The Echo is fully formed as an appliance and user experience: there are no architectures, patterns or committee meetings required.
  • The Echo is fully compatible with the shelf or table where it is placed. 

And the Echo is just part of the Amazon ecosystem of offerings and initiatives. Amazon has begun testing drone delivery of orders, it has 30,000 robots helping pick and pack orders in its warehouses, and it offers Amazon Dash buttons that enable consumers to reorder 150 different consumer items, from Huggies diapers to Tide detergent.

These are all impressive efforts: drones, IoT devices, robots, voice recognition, direct customer-interface appliances. But these successes are not the most important thing for Amazon: think of the learning. Every day Amazon collects millions and millions of data points from across its customer base, its devices and services. This data can be used to analyze and improve its offerings, and to cross-sell new products. 

The IIoT ecosystem has no equivalent to the Amazon Echo; it’s all pieces and parts and architectures. This is true even though there is a greater need in the IIoT for tens of thousands of “skills” providing targeted insights for each industry, asset and process.  Vendors are not standing still, certainly, as the Aspentech/Mtell, GE/Wise.io, and PTC/Coldhammer acquisitions of machine-learning technologies demonstrate. 

There may be another way though: Ayla Networks announced at CES last week that it’s building an Echo skill to tie its online platform to consumer end-points. Expect to see Echo technology in cars, building, homes and hardware going forward.

If the idea of Amazon Echos playing an important role in IIoT sounds funny, don’t laugh too hard. Or if you do, try not to sound like the Microsoft, Oracle and IBM executives who laughed at the silly notion that Amazon’s cloud offerings would ever impact IT budgets.

There are some silly things in the consumer IoT world, but Amazon’s efforts are not one of them.

Michael Risse is vice president / chief marketing officer with Seeq Corporation.