How Embedded Tech Can Change IT's Role - InformationWeek

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How Embedded Tech Can Change IT's Role

Consider some 75 examples of companies embedding technologies in products, from shoes to showers, in new ways. Embedded tech is finally allowing enterprise IT to generate revenue and growth.

Many CIOs cringe when they hear the term "consumerization." It's bad enough to have to deal with rogue business units and their non-standard applications. Now snot-faced new recruits ask why Facebook isn't the corporate directory, colleagues snipe about how the home HD TV picture quality is better than the office videoconferencing, and there's endless clamoring for a "bring your own device" policy.

Flip that coin over and celebrate. The same employee who's a pain-in-the-rear user is also your company's new consumer, looking for more tech in everything from cars to a hotel stay. And that fact creates incredible new opportunity for IT teams to be more valuable to their companies.

When I started research for my new book, The New Technology Elite, I went in with the assumption that 8 to 10 industries--including autos and medical devices--plus a few outlier companies like Nike with sensors in shoes were leading the way embedding technology in their products and services aimed at a tech savvy consumer. In the end, the book catalogs "smart" products and services in over 75 industries.

Some of the examples in the book:

-- A smart shirt from Under Armour with a removable sensor pack with a triaxial accelerometer, a processor, and two gigabytes of storage to measure athlete performance.

-- The smart version of bifocal or progressive eyeglasses from PixelOptics which alters the focal power of the lens when you tilt your head or tap the frame.

-- The smart hotel room at The Plaza in New York. The iPad in each room allows you to order room service, make restaurant reservations, book wake-up calls, print boarding passes, and control the room's lighting and air conditioning.

-- The smart restaurant--Do (as in Dough) in Atlanta. Not only are paper menus replaced by iPads, the tablets can also be used to tell the valet to pull up your car. The bathrooms boast sinks with iPad "mirrors" positioned on the walls.

-- Moen is making the shower smarter. The IOdigital wall-mounted control panel, with a handheld remote, lets you set and maintain water temperatures and bath levels.

-- Rain Bird's ESP-SMT irrigation controller makes lawn maintenance smarter. It utilizes historical and real-time weather data (you input data like your zip code, allowed watering days, and the plant/soil type for each zone) to determine optimum watering needs of the landscape based on the on-site current weather conditions.

-- USAA Bank pioneered mobile deposits using the iPhone's camera to deposit a check, and it's now partnering with PayPal to let customers pay almost anyone with an email address or mobile phone number.

-- Progressive Insurance offers Snapshot, a small telematics device that connects to the insured car's electronic diagnostic port. It lets Progressive analyze data from the device on your driving patterns and uses that to set your premium, promising savings up to 30% if you're a safe driver.

-- The Hamilton County, Indiana, sheriff's office has a smarter 911 call center. Each agent in the office can view five large screens that simultaneously show call status, caller information, police radio activity and other data--all of which can be shared over radio, phone, Internet, dispatch, and cellular systems.

-- There's a SmartMeter from utilities such as PG&E that lets consumers monitor their hourly energy usage and better manage their electric bills.

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