New business models for the installation industry
In recent years, I have regularly attended technology fairs. I still remember a booth, where visitors with VR glasses gazed at large gears: products that, as far as I could judge, were no longer distinctive decades ago. I missed the link with the VR application, which seemed to have originated more from a marketing standpoint than from product management scope. Innovations can contribute to brand experience, but the road to adding business value is often very long. The reason for writing this article is that I have in recent years seen a shift that I would like to share with you.
At Luminis, we are passionate about digital products that matter: products that are valuable to users and that enable companies to make great strides. We are currently working for a number of customers in the installation industry that are seeing their business grow through digitisation because their innovations meet the real challenges their customers face.
The biggest challenge for the installation industry is knowledge. Attracting well-trained technical personnel is not easy to say the least. As a result, installers need more guidance to properly perform their work at customer locations. Dutch language proficiency is sometimes another factor that increases this challenge. Suppliers often offer support in the form of third-line employees and notice that this increases the pressure on specialist knowledge. In addition, this is not a scalable solution, and there is usually no business model for third-line support, which increases costs. Furthermore, the lower level of available knowledge increases the amount of mistakes that are made, for example when a new installation is taken into use, and reduces the appreciation of end customers. Scenarios like this result in multiple service visits by the installer, which increases costs for the installation company, and makes them less inclined to recommend such an installation in the future.
Ease of operation
Suppliers are responding to challenges by making the operation of devices simpler and less prone to errors. Often devices are provided with a user interface and software. Although this certainly increases the ease of use, the costs of devices also increase significantly, and it is a challenge to keep software up to date.
Lack of data
A second challenge in the installation industry is that device suppliers usually do not have the required information about the use of their devices: who use them, where, when and most importantly: how? The installations of devices are often carried out by independent companies and the devices in fact disappear out of reach for the supplier. This is particularly problematic for R&D departments of suppliers, as this data would be invaluable for determining the product roadmap for these devices.
Luminis works with various companies in the installation industry, such as BDR Thermea, Flamco and Bronkorst High-Teach. These companies all recognise the challenges described above. Through our collaboration we have been able to find fitting solutions for these challenges. As is often the case, the implementation of solutions differ for each company. For example, for Bronkhorst we started an online Design Sprint to arrive at a validated prototype for their specific problem. Yet the solutions also have some similarities.
In all projects for clients in the installation industry, we have developed an app that communicates with the device via Bluetooth or WIFI. The screen of a smartphone or tablet opens up completely new possibilities for user support compared to hardware operation on the device. In addition, the smartphone is of course connected to the internet. This may not be the case when the installer is working, but even in that case the smartphone or tablet can download information at another time to help during installation. This information can be tailor-made. After all, the app communicates with the device and therefore only information is shown that relates to the specific device and the exact situation indicated by the device. By means of language settings, the instruction can be offered in the correct language and provided with images or videos to reduce the risk of errors.
As is becoming clear, it is not just about an app that needs to be developed. A central content server is also necessary, and of course the content (instructions) for the installer must be up to date and structured in a way that allows it to be offered in accordance with the situation. We often see that the introduction of a solution like is the trigger that ensures that content is improved. The content thus grows and is enriched by the experiences gained through usage. This content does not only consist of instructions. We see that this is also used for the distribution of software on the various devices. An app is the perfect means to download and install this software on the device in a safe way.
One or two directions?
The data flow does not only have to go from a central cloud to the mobile device. If the user consents to this, the device can also send usage data to the cloud. In this way, insight is gained into where devices are located and which malfunctions occurred. This information helps suppliers to further improve devices and help the installer help customers faster and more focused, thereby reducing downtime.
Another Luminis customer who has taken these types of solutions one step further is Jifeline. Dealer and garage companies see that vehicles are increasingly equipped with complex software. Reading and installing this requires specialist knowledge. Consider resetting a reversing sensor after installing a towbar. Jifeline supports garages by performing these activities remotely. This means that garages no longer have to invest in acquiring this type of specialist knowledge, while still being able to offer solutions for customers. At Jifeline, this support service is not a service that is added to the delivery of a device, but the service is a business model in itself. A good example of how technological innovation creates value for our customers’ customers.
Introducing digital products that really matter starts with user experience design. Only when the end customer immediately recognises the added value will the use of an app or web application increase explosively. The combination of cloud, data and connected devices make these types of solutions possible for many companies. Fortunately, nowadays it is no longer necessary to develop these solutions from scratch yourself. There are more and more semi-finished products that enable companies to experiment with this in an accessible and economically attractive way.