Unlocking IoT Data with Journey Science

As we march boldly into an IoT-enabled world, I’m as excited as anyone about what “things” can do for us. There are smart, simple products like Google Nest that learn our schedules and our temperature preferences to keep our homes comfortable. Ahh, cozy. Then there are on-demand smarts like Amazon Echo that let us talk to our home and tell it what we want—turn on the lights, record the ballgame, order dog food. That’s convenient.

I’ll also admit to finding it all a bit...unsatisfying. I shouldn’t have to ask for things; “Hey Alexa...why don’t you already know?” Life isn’t a series of snapshots; it’s a continuum. In fact, like our home lives, most things in the real world—the progress of a package, the management of a patient, the lifecycle of my car—cannot be fully described or best served by only considering individual data points about them in isolation.

The common ground in all these areas is that they all undergo journeys of one form or another, a sequence of events. As consumers and companies, we risk missing real opportunity to benefit and create change when things (or people) are reduced to their data points rather than having the full experience analyzed and considered as a broader narrative.

IoT Without Journeys, What Gets Lost

Can you analyze IoT data without thinking about journeys? Absolutely. However, I’d argue that such an approach requires acceptance that something will be lost in that process. Data is manipulated and forced to conform. When we use only traditional data science methods, there is tendency to force all the data to tell a particular tale. We tweak the data to fit the representation, thus putting it on rails that lead to finite outcomes. Along the way a certain amount of accuracy and reliability of analysis are being lost.

We don’t need to start over to do better. We just need to recognize that averages and counts are not a complete story. Boolean logic is not reality. Many IoT systems are very good at optimizing things at a micro level. To achieve the next level of macro-level systemic change requires broadening the thinking about how IoT data is used. The goal isn’t to change one outcome during one interaction, but rather to impact every customer (or patient, package, or vehicle) on an ongoing basis through system level changes that impact them all.

Journey Science is the added layer that allows the data to be analyzed in a way that tells its full story. Using journeys, IoT analyses can achieve increased accuracy and greater reliability by speaking to all dimensions rather than to narrow subsets of data. Knowing to turn on the lights at a certain time of day is a simple data task. Knowing when to turn on your TV automatically, for example, is much more complex. The TV could turn itself on every time you walk into the room. Or did you want to read a book? Have a conversation with your significant other? It’s not a simple yes-or-no formula.

Considering IoT data within the context of a journey allows us to describe that data with the addition of two specific elements, sequence and time. Sequence tells us the order of occurrences. Timing tells us when things happened. Together they make it possible to see how a series of IoT-measured personal activities—coming home, starting to cook dinner, and the start of a favorite news program—indicate a desired outcome for one household. In another, kids with variable bedtimes might add complexity to the TV on/off schedule. Journey Science by considering time and sequence allows analysis of variations to make the system adaptable and flexible.

That contextual analysis of data through Journey Science can be applied to anything that experiences a journey. IoT data from a car about mileage, speed, location, number of occupants, time spent on the phone and performance factors looked at in sequence and over time could paint a picture of journey that could be used to, for example, reduce accidents.

Individual data points allow us to do certain useful things, but they are not predictive enough on their own to achieve the smart outcomes we are after. It’s combining the data with timing and sequence that enables revelations to take place. Journey Science lends flexibility to the possible responses and adds that missing layer of personalization to the outcomes that yields significant impacts. IoT represents important new data that we can fold into journeys to do more than just measure and react.

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Written by Robert Bagley

Robert Bagley is the Chief Analytics Officer. He oversees the innovative application of Data Science practices for client engagements and product features, charting future analytic and technology strategies. Prior to his current role, he held various leadership positions at ClickFox focused on building and managing top-notch delivery teams in engineering services and customer support. Before ClickFox, he developed applications focused on improving key processes and reducing operating costs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Southern Company. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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