Interview Series: The Future of IoT

Interview Series: The Future of IoT
Interview with Jason Tienor,  President and CEO of Telkonet, Inc.

Jason, Telkonet prides itself on innovation in the Internet of Things space. What advances are you watching?

Technology and the Internet of Things changes at lightning speed. Keeping up with cutting edge technology is a daily task and I make it my job to keep up with the latest IoT trends. Right now you can buy connected shoes, eyeglasses, watches, wristlets, rings, chains; you can buy connected shirts and shorts that track your heart rate and muscle tone when you are moving. This isn’t top-secret technology that you’ll only find used in the military. This is what people can go out and buy today. IoT technology is happening in front of us and unless you keep up with developments on a daily basis, you don’t realize it’s out there. Biometric shirts, the contactless jackets…every day new products come out.

I have to keep up with the latest technology, new devices, and interesting ideas. If we aren’t familiar with what is coming out next, then we as a company begin to fall behind. While I never plan to build a biometric jacket or a contactless biometric shirt, I want Telkonet’s technology to have the ability to easily interact with those devices when guests and occupants bring them into our environment. So we become an extension of what IoT of tomorrow is going to be. We have to be thinking about that now as we build our products.

What is going to drive these advances?

Telkonet’s core markets are hospitality, higher education, military, senior care, and MDU’s. My belief is that you are going to see these commercial markets evolve in tandem with how you see yourself using IoT technologies in your home. I’ve had the benefit of talking to a lot of hoteliers over the years largely because this is where the bulk of our business has been. They’ll tell you there are two main justifications for spending money. The first is if there’s a return on that investment. They spend a dollar, they know they’re going to get two or three dollars back from that investment.

We started in this business with the promise of savings in HVAC control and energy management. Our customers spend money on our energy management technology, but they get that money back and can then reinvest it elsewhere. But as the market has evolved with automation, and especially with IOT, people have begun to understand there is more than simply savings, whether it be energy or money.

In addition to monetary savings, there is the ability to save operationally: better performance from their machinery, longer life to the machinery, lower maintenance costs, fewer repair and replacement costs to the machinery. There is also more efficient use of employee time because they don’t have to deploy someone to assess the equipment. They are already aware of the problems.

The second justification for spending money is in response to customers’ expectations: “I have X at home, and the only way I’m going to stay in this hotel is if they also have X”.

Guests are looking for the kind of comfort they get at home. They’ll have a more welcoming, comforting feeling when they walk into a hotel room and the curtains open for them, the television displays “Hello, Jason”, and the thermostat is at the same temperature that was set at during their last stay. If that experience is something they just don’t get elsewhere, that’s really what will keep them coming back.

In contrast, if that guest walks into another hotel room, carrying their bags, fumbling in the dark to find the light switch, which hotel do you think they’re going to return to over and over and over again?

But beyond the savings, beyond the additional productivity and even that exceptional experience you provide to your guests, beyond all those things is analytics. All the information that flows to us, shows us how to design better buildings, improve operations, treat the people more like they want to be treated, at a lower cost.

The IoT market is already exploding. How will we deal with the glut of smart devices at home?

If you look at the consumer market, everybody right now is buying smart products for their home,. Amazon Echo, iPhone, tablet, connected thermostat: all smart products.

But here’s the problem that I personally face: I’ve got this folder on my phone. It’s got 3 screens worth of apps to go with all the smart products in my home. The problem is that when I go to bed, instead of saying, “goodnight, house” and the front door locking, the garage door shutting, the lights turning off and the thermostat dropping down, I have to open up a different app to do each one of those things. That’s not the promise of IoT.

The promise of IoT is saying, “Good night, house” and all of those things happening, and I simply walk up to my bed. As we get closer and closer to that experience in the home, as you start to use Amazon Echo, Google Home, more of those one-app-to-accomplish-many-things, you are going to expect that same type of experience in the hospitality environment, or in your dormitory or in the hospital, the military barrack, you name it, because that becomes the norm. You’ll always expect the norm. There is no reason a hotel room needs a flat screen television; the CRT gives the same picture, shows you the same show, but the reason that hotel has moved to a flat screen TV is that’s what everybody is watching at home. The reason that hotels started to provide mobile apps to guests is because you are using your mobile phone. That’s all driven by  guest preference. So if you become accustomed to something, you are going to begin to demand that something moving forward.

Now, intelligent commercial entities, they understand that this is coming so they are trying to get there first. The earlier you can gain the loyalty of your customers, the longer you are going to have those customers. They know they’re going to have to provide that at some point, they’re better off being first than last at providing those customers’ demands.

You seem to mention the hospitality market more than Telkonet’s other markets.

All of our environments are in the ‘hospitality’ business. They’re all about forming a living environment for the end-user. Whether you overnight stay in the hospital, whether you’re renting an apartment, whether you’re living in dormitory or a military barrack, it’s all similar to staying in a hotel room in that it’s transient and occupancy-based. The demand for the “experience” is highest in hotels. So if you can reach the bar set by hotel guests, you can ultimately reach the needs of all of those other environments.  

Can you give us a glimpse into your vision of the future of technology in general?

In 20 years, I predict we will be carrying our IOT devices, not on our wrists but in our bodies. I have no doubt about, it we will absolutely have chips or cylinders.

Yes, it seems invasive. But we already experience invasive technology today even though people don’t recognize it. You’re on the camera pretty much every minute of every day. You’re driving down the street getting picked up by street cameras, or you’re in the lens of security cameras, maybe even in the camera in the office.

The invasiveness is already here. Why not embrace the technology? Let it open doors as you walk up to them. Have the computer recognize it’s you so you don’t have to type in a password. Let it open your mail automatically for you. The fact is, when the device or room or “thing” can recognize who you are, it can create an experience that you can’t imagine today. IoT will absolutely be there.

One of your markets is senior care. How do you see that market evolving?

There is a company right now here in Milwaukee that manufactures a product similar to our gateway. It basically connects to other smart health devices for use in elderly care. I have the smart pill box for my parents as their memory starts to wane. The device itself issues me an alert if they forget to take their pills or if they forget to replenish it when it’s empty. It has a blood pressure cuff that plugs into it, so that when my parents check their blood pressure and it is off by some norm, I’m alerted. It will connect to pacemakers and defibrillators. This box is basically the in-home brain to provide care to the elderly and disabled.

We’re in discussions right now with a company that wants to build a smart environment based on occupancy. Our sensors can track people moving through a home, an indication that the occupants are active. If they’re not moving you can get alerted. This is literally using our technology just to ensure that that elderly person is safe.

Will ZigBee mesh continue to be the standard communication protocol?

Not all of these devices will be ZigBee enabled. A lot of what we do today is ZigBee, but wireless technology is transitioning so quickly that five years from now, ZigBee-or as ZigBee is today-won’t even be utilized. We as a company are trying to build products that have value today but will fit into the ecosystem of tomorrow. Read more about the future of ZigBee here.

The Apple watch was developed four or five years ago, but within five years’ time, they’ve already come out with the third generation. Some products race from development to release within 12 months. And within the next 12 months they’re realizing a new iteration of that device. That’s an incredible turnaround time. Products used to take 4-5 years to come to market from conceptualization, now we’re talking about less than 12 months.

Speaking in terms of Telkonet, keeping pace with the technological developments of IoT is a mainstay of our business, the promise of our future. The possibilities are astonishing. IoT is incredible.

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