Chamberlain: Opening the doors to connected devices
Chamberlain: Opening the doors to connected products

Chamberlain: Opening the doors to connected devices

Internet of Business speaks with Chamberlain CTO Mark Karasek about the processes and technologies that the company has used to build the ecosystem for its connected products.

Mark Karasek is executive vice president of engineering and chief technology officer at The Chamberlain Group (‘Chamberlain’), a maker of access and security devices for smarter homes, most notably garage door openers.

With such products getting smarter all the time – and increasingly, linked to users’ smartphones, too – Internet of Business wanted to hear more from Karasek about his own experiences of building an ecosystem that supports connected products and services.

Internet of Business (IoB): Mark, how would you characterize the impact that the IoT and connected devices have had on Chamberlain in particular and your industry in general?

Mark Karasek, CTO at Chamberlain
Mark Karasek, CTO at Chamberlain

Mark Karasek (MK): Connectivity is driving consumer awareness of products that were once taken for granted and the role that they play in their daily activities. For example, the majority of Americans use their garage door as the primary entrance to their home. Previously, these customers didn’t think about their garage door opener, even though they used it several times a day. As products like the garage door opener become part of a connected ecosystem, new value is created for end users and they engage emotionally with that value.

So connectivity is shifting value creation from the product alone, to the product as it exists within an ecosystem. That is bringing new direct and tangential players into the marketplace; for example, Apple, Google, Amazon and many start-ups.  

This, in turn, makes partnerships more important within our industry. Traditionally, the industry thought almost exclusively about channel partners when referring to partners. In a connected ecosystem, enabling partners can be companies from outside the industry who have use cases that are meaningful to our customers. We have had to learn how to work with ecosystem partners to deliver meaningful value to our end users.

Read more: Make devices useful for the connected home to become a consumer reality

IoB: With the IoT so closely connected to the broader topic of digital transformation, we’d be interested to know where you feel that Chamberlain is on its own digital transformation journey – and what challenges you’ve encountered along the way?

MK: After five or six years of hard work and experimentation, I think we are about midpoint in our digital transformation. We are a lot smarter ‘digitally’ than we were a few years ago, but we have still only scratched the surface of the opportunities in some parts of our business, particularly where data analytics and artificial intelligence are concerned. The top three challenges we have experienced have been developing new business processes, learning how to manage a more intimate and frequent relationship with end users and adjusting to a much higher rate of change in the technologies we use to enable agile and lean start-up toolsets. Today, our business looks more like a consumer electronics business than a traditional consumer durables business from a technology-change perspective.

Read more: Business leaders find IoT economics “increasingly compelling”, says Verizon

IoB: It’s interesting that you mention technology change there… Given the vast range of IoT platform choices you must have faced in order to build smarter products and back them up with digitally enabled services, how did you proceed?

MK: There are a number of evolving platforms that will make IoT a lot more ‘turnkey’ in the future. The biggest challenge for us has been to understand which technical specifications of the platform are critical to end-user needs. We started out with one service provider that was able to meet our needs in the early days of our platform. As we began to scale more rapidly, we had to build our own platform, using off-the-shelf technologies, pieced together in a way that met key performance criteria like response time and latency for a large user base. But as we look towards the future, we foresee a time in the next few years when we will be able to source the platform as a service that meets our criteria for cost and performance, freeing up more of our internal resources to focus on valued-added feature creation for end users.

IoB: And what can you tell us about how are you managing and analysing the data produced by sensors in connected devices?

MK: We are very early-stage on using the data in aggregate to drive better decision making. That said, we clearly recognize value in the data we are mining. For example, we found a component in one of our products that was below design spec, due to a mistake in our master data. Our calculations suggested that there would be a high failure rate in the field based on longstanding assumptions about frequency and intensity of operation. We were preparing to launch a large, costly effort to send service technicians out into the field to replace this component, in order to protect our customers and our brand. At the last minute, we realized we had actual data on frequency and intensity of operation on a statistically significant sample of the product in question, due to our IoT connectivity platform. After recalculating the expected failure rate of the component in question, using this new information, we discovered that the failure rate would be quite low and could be managed through less costly and disruptive action. Having this body of real time/real life data saved us millions of dollars in service costs and saved our customers from the hassles of unnecessary service calls.

IoB: It’s very clear that digital transformation also calls for cultural transformation. What’s your thinking on that, Mark, based on your experiences to date?

Senior leaders to understand ecosystem strategy and how it differs from our traditional physical product thinking. We need to learn to use new toolsets based on managing uncertainty rather than risk. The shift to value being created by an ecosystem creates a lot more context switching for senior and middle managers. We need to use the right process and toolset for the right opportunity.

Mark Karasek will be speaking at our IoT Build event, to be held in San Francisco on March 27 & 28, 2018. This event will be a great opportunity for attendees to learn more about the IoT platforms, architectures, applications and connectivity needed to build robust IoT ecosystems.