Episode #006: Rob Martens, President of Allegion Ventures and Futurist at Allegion
Each year, there seems to be a number of major technological advancements that quickly become buzzwords in the industry. With all of this constant evolution, how do you decide what technologies and trends are really going to impact your business and which ones will soon fade out? That’s why it’s so important to not only stay up-to-date with new technologies, but most importantly understand what trends are really driving technology so you can better determine which ones to integrate into your business. In our sixth episode of Mobile Matters, we talk with Rob Martens, president of Allegion Ventures and global futurist for Allegion, about the three trends impacting how brands engage with consumers on mobile, how Pokemon Go made augmented reality (AR) feel possible, and why mobile is so much more than just your smartphone.
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Stephanie Cox (VP of Marketing at Lumavate): I'm Stephanie Cox and this is Mobile Matters. Today I'm joined by Rob Martens at Allegion. Rob is the President of Allegion Ventures, Head of External Partnerships and Collaboration, and the Global Futurist for Allegion. Recently, he was named by Ink Magazine one of the 20 influencers who will lead the internet of things, and recognized by Accenture and Forbes as one of the 40 IoT leaders you've got to follow on social media. In this episode Rob and I talk a lot about the 3 mega trends impacting how brands are going to engage with consumers on mobile, how a simple game like Pokemon Go really made augmented reality feel possible for so many brands, and why mobile is so much more than just your smartphone. And make sure you stick around till the end where I’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently, but implement it effectively. Welcome to the show Rob.
So you've been at Allegion for almost five years now and spent most of your career in technology. Can you take me back to how you first got started in the tech space?
Rob Martens (IoT Futurist at Schlage, Allegion): Sure, well that's a long way back, but my father is a research scientist and a teacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an oceanographer and a marine geochemist. So my first deep exposures to technology were in oceanography labs. So both chemical and physical oceanography. And physical oceanography, you're mapping the sea currents and sometimes the sea floor amongst other things. And there's a lot of heavy math involved, so my first exposure to technology or actually UNIX Operating Systems in that environment. So, an exciting place to get started and for those of you who know UNIX, at times a painful way to get started.
Stephanie Cox: If you think about your career, how have you seen business change from a technology perspective since you started?
Rob Martens: Well, access changes everything. And I think what's fascinating is the level of accessibility that the internet, followed by the cloud, and accessibility and all the other elements have contributed to people who may know absolutely nothing about the technology that they're using. But the interfaces are so intuitive that now anyone can contribute in a significant way, regardless of the level of detail of their technical skill set.
Stephanie Cox: I think that's a really great point that a lot of people don't think about is, we've really made technology easier for people to consume over the last, especially 10 years, and I think that's even going to get more digestible over the next 5 to 10 years in the future. So when you think about looking at trends, and I know it's one of the things that you do as a futurist for Allegion, what are the biggest tech trends you see today that are influencing how brands engage with consumers on a mobile device?
Rob Martens: Well gosh, Stephanie there are so many different megatrends so maybe I'll give a couple specific ones, then we can break out from there. When you're talking, for example, about mobility. It's that. It's everything mobile. When you look at, for example, companies like Flipkart in India, the actual application itself isn't even available in a desktop form. It was built from the ground up for a mobile user. When you look at trends that are impacting technology going forward, many of them are based on connecting things that historically haven't been connected, such as the IoT. And there are some serious megatrends at work there. Sensors are more available and less expensive than they've ever been and you can see that trending down, in terms of their cost. All of the data that those sensors generate is less expensive to transition through the pipes, if you will, than it has ever been before and that trend is continuing down. And then, the actual tools that are used historically to make dirty data into usable, clean, viable information for people to use, those tools are more accessible and less expensive than they've ever been. So those three megatrends alone, along with mobility, are driving a whole new generation of IoT solutions, even past what we started with just a couple of years ago.
Stephanie Cox: So, when you mention some of the new techs like IoT, how do you think about evaluating what new technology companies should pay attention to? Like what's here to stay? What's going to change? How do we know mobility and mobile everything is really the way the world is going to go and there's not something after that?
Rob Martens: Well I think just like in a traditional business, and in the business that I work for at Allegion, we manufacture, largely, door hardware. And it's difficult as a creator brand, at times, to avoid innovator's dilemma. And part of that is looking at something and saying well, that's not what it should be, it's actually this. Well, it's the same challenge with technology. We need to focus not on the product itself or the technology, for technology's sake. It's about what's the job to be done, what is the actual implementation of the technology and when you take that frame of more, what's the job we're trying to get done? Whether it's with a physical object or code or a particular technology. That's when you identify real opportunities for growth and change. And so, when we are evaluating technologies as a team here at Allegion, and myself personally, I try to take a firm look at how intuitive is it? What's the user experience and user interface? And how accessible is that to a broader community or the demographic that I believe has that job that they want to get done?
Stephanie Cox: So when you're thinking about that, are you thinking about that from, how usable that tech is from your internal like IT organization? How usable is it from a business? Or is it the end consumer? Or a combination of all three?
Rob Martens: I think it's a combination of all three. I think at the end of the day, a smart company focuses on their customers. But there are also the elements of productivity over time. And, obviously, the less onerous technology is, we already mentioned Unix earlier, the easier it is for people to build on, rather than focusing on maintaining their platform. And so I think that's another concept that's important for people, and people that are serving customers with technologies to understand the cost of their platforms, the manageability of their platforms, and how those platforms ultimately manifest themselves and the UI and UX for their for their end users. Great platforms are highly transparent and they're things that the consumer doesn't really notice.
Stephanie Cox: We've already talked about how IoT is a big area of interest for you. Can you talk to me a little bit about what impact you think IoT is going to have on business?
Rob Martens: Well, I think that IoT is going to have a massive impact on business. If you look at it from a total number, I don't care whether you can get a variety of numbers from a variety of different sources, some people will say it's in the tens of billions, some will say it's more. But I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of devices that we look at today, that are dumb devices or not connected devices, are likely going to be connected. And the rationale for that is, one it's really inexpensive to do and becoming less expensive by the day. And two, most importantly, there's really important data that those things are setting off. So, for example, in my business, one of our product sets that we make are door locks. And so, it's really interesting and part of the reason why my job is so fulfilling when it comes to the technology piece is, typically when you're going to launch a recipe or a routine or what those of us who are more dated in age would call a workflow. A lot of those workflows, recipes, routines, robots, what have you, actually start at the door. So in other words, some people are familiar with IFTTT or YouKnowMe or a number of other platforms that do home automation. That same type of automation is working its way from a single family home focus, in our case, into multifamily. And then into non-residential applications such as healthcare, or K through 12 schools, or higher education. And those routines or recipes aren't just because they're the cool factor, Rob walks in and the door recognizes it's him so Sonos plays the music he wants and turns on lights. That's all well and good, but it can also generate large amounts of productivity for smart buildings, for smart processes, that save people time and money and contribute to, in our case, more seamless access and a little bit more peace of mind for people. In some cases, that's in the form of simple notifications letting you know that, for example, a loved one in an elder care facility has gotten up and had their coffee that morning. So you're not invading with phone calls or double checking and so they maintain some privacy. But at the same time, you still have that piece of mind. Or again, it can be something as simple as productivity. This device is not behaving as designed. Prior to it breaking, let's send somebody out there to check it out and make sure that it's going to be working 100 percent of the time.
Stephanie Cox: So one of the things that you mentioned was home automation and I think in the last decade we've really seen this idea of a smart home, to some extent an idea that you saw in movies. And now it’s really come to fruition. What do you think has really driven that change?
Rob Martens: Well, I think it's all about accessibility of the technology. And so, those megatrends that we talked about before, affordability was a big deal. There are so many ways for people to get started in a smart home. I get the question all the time from people who are a little bit intimidated at introducing technology into their home. They're worried about privacy, security, and all things that they should be worried about. But a really simple way to get started is even a connected plug. So you can plug in a lamp, you could plug in any number of things. In most cases, these could be voice controlled or remotely controlled from a mobile device, any number of things. So, it's all about accessibility and so cost is one factor. The other is, not everybody likes to use a smartphone, as many of us are from a generation where we're very familiar with that and that's our most comfortable piece, there are other people who, for example, prefer to control things by voice command. That is their preferred method of control. And all of those technologies are starting to converge now. So, your ability to interact with technology, even in a biometric sense is far different than it was five years ago.
Stephanie Cox: Well, that's why I think you're going to start to see this come to fruition of like a multi-experience platform. We're going to talk about mobile and voice and chat bots and AR and VR. It's all going to be different ways that we communicate with someone.
Rob Martens: When we talk about augmented reality or virtual reality, I think a lot of people were skeptical about adoption. And what was interesting was that it comes down to a simple game that was put out into the common space and that was Pokemon Go. And this is a simple, and some people would say not-so-simple, augmented reality tool that was given to a group of people, primarily focused on kids. But I don't know about you, but what I noticed was you would see grandparents and their grandkids walking through parking lots, doing other things out on this adventure together. And it broke a lot of paradigms in terms of how technologists thought about who would adopt this next generation technology and how. And when you think about augmented reality, the ability to hold a camera, a real time portal, up to discern digital information off of existing objects in your view is a really intuitive way to do it. I want to know, for example, is there power running to that socket that I'm about to touch? To be able to hold your phone up and point it at that and have that socket say I'm on, I'm live, is a lot better than taking the shock. It's also really interesting, so when you're visiting let's say you are going for a job interview, or dropping off a package, or something else to arrive at the facility that you've never been to before, and, via an augmented reality experience, be shepherded to the right location without having to ask a bunch of questions or interrupt people or feel out of place is of great benefit to many people.
Stephanie Cox: So when you're talking to other companies and thinking about IoT strategy, what do you recommend people do to start really taking advantage of IoT?
Rob Martens: Don't be smitten with technology for technology's sake. That would be number one. It is just a tool. And what's important is how you implement the tool. Now that being said, there are some very specific things associated with IoT that can’t be taken for granted. I think that security, the joke over time, which isn't very funny really, but it’s there is no s in IoT. There is no security in IoT. So one of the things you have to be aware of is, who you integrate with and how you integrate with matters. So I think that picking your and selecting your partners, and if you're a consumer your brands, carefully is important. I think you want to look for a couple of things. If you have a connected device, you have to ask yourself this question: if this device was a phone or a laptop or a tablet would I ever buy one that would not allow for me to take an over-the-air update? Probably not. So, security is paramount. And when you buy a device, for example, from one of our brands like a Schlage or something like that, that device is as dumb as it's ever going to be on the first day they plug it in. And so, in addition to adding security, and making changes as things go, not unlike you would with virus protection software. We also like to add value. So we want to add incremental value to the consumer's experience, that could be new integrations, that could be new features and functions. And so, that's another thing that both end users and manufacturers and service providers should keep in mind. You should always give yourself enough space to grow within that footprint. And so, long gone are the days where you put in the minimum amount of memory, a minimum amount of processing power, minimum amount of other things because you're going to want that flexibility. As long as you can. And, of course, depending on whether you have a modular design or not, the technology, the infrastructure within the device may only last for some period of time but you want to stretch that as far as you possibly can.
Stephanie Cox: So, if you think about the brands that you've seen and that you've explored, who is doing IoT well from a consumer perspective?
Rob Martens: Well, I'm biased, of course. I like to think that Schlage is doing IoT very well, but I would say that there's a number of people that are doing IoT extremely well. I think if you look at companies like Chamberlain and Residio and Lutron and Whirlpool, and like I said at Schlage, these are companies that are truly experienced manufacturers. So the core elements of the product are strong and highly capable, but they're also building with security in mind. And extensibility in mind. So, I think you want to have that balance. I think the other thing to keep in mind if you're a consumer is some of these or have subscription elements to them and how beneficial are those subscriptions to or not. And in our case, at Schlage, we don't actually charge subscriptions for our product. Part of that is because we have a strong legacy mechanical base that allows us to supplement some of our other offerings. Whereas a startup that may not have as much to draw upon doesn't have that luxury. So we can add more features and capabilities than some other people might. But I think at the end of the day, I think it's about dependability and I think it's about the ability to have something that's more than a gadget. These IoT devices and the manufacturers I just named, these are people that are making products that you need to trust. You want to have a thermostat that works all the time, you want to have a lock that works all the time, you want to have a garage door opener that works all the time, you know, lighting. I could go on and on and on. And so, we've moved from more of a what I would call gadget mentality. Which is, hey, let's look to see what we can connect to the internet and remotely control, to more of a mentality of how you manage and implement the technology is far more important than necessarily its ability to simply connect.
Stephanie Cox: So I'm glad you brought up subscriptions because I think that's an interesting thing that we're going to see over the next couple of years. As more companies get in the IoT space and are trying to figure out how to monetize the investment for it. Do you think if you look in your crystal ball that consumers are going to expect to have a subscription offering for a lot of their connected products or is our expectation as consumers going to be just included?
Rob Martens:I think it's going to be a combination. I think consumers are going to have a series of opportunities to choose whether they want to have things as a service or whether they want to own the asset itself. And so, I think the cost is the cost, and it's more of a question of how you want to pay for it. So for people that are less familiar, they might not understand that every time that a message is sent, in our case, back and forth from a lock. There is a very small sub-penny cost for those. But when you add them up, over the millions of messages those do add up. And depending on the type of company and your business model, you're going to try and recover those costs in some way shape or form. So all these things do have a price. But I think, for example, everyone's mentality is changing about transportation, for example, do I want to own a car or do I want to move more into that sharing economy mode of it? And again, depending on what the object is and kind of how much of a capital outlay is I think we're going to see a variety of models come forward. But it's going to be great because it's going to be based on choice. You're going to have the option as to whether you want, for example, access as a service in your commercial building or no, I look at that as a capital expenditure. And I would much rather pay one time for that and then manage those messaging costs myself.
Stephanie Cox: No, I think it's a great point. I think consumers will love the ability to be able to really choose what works best for them at that point in time with whatever brand they're looking at. So I know we talked a little bit ago about augmented reality and seemed very excited about what's possible with it and the brands that are already using it. So, can you tell me a little bit about what you think the future holds for how brands will use AR to really develop relationships with consumers but also help, at the end of the day, sell products or services?
Rob Martens: Well, I do think AR is an incredibly powerful technology to actually be able to put a digital lens over the lens that we already have is extremely powerful. So, obviously, there's the promotion capabilities which people have a tendency to focus on quite a bit. In other words, hey I'm looking for the nearest Starbucks, let me hold up my phone and do a 360 here and it will point out where the closest one is. That's a convenience factor, but that's promotional. I think AR also has the possibility to do other things for you. So again, to give you certain warnings, whether those are health warnings, whether those are product warnings. Hey, you know, it could be hey, my refrigerator is getting ready to have some type of challenge. My car has got some kind of leak or some other element. But first and foremost, the interesting thing about augmented reality is that most of us are carrying that lens in our pocket today. It's in the form of that smartphone that has that camera and it's easily accessible. It doesn't mean you have to be highly technical in order to use it and the capabilities that it provides are almost unlimited. There is a limitation in terms of, obviously, those who don't carry a mobile device with them that's connected to the internet. But more and more, those circumstances are changing, the mobile devices are coming in many new form factors, whether it's your watch or something else. So I think AR will continue to climb. And I think as people become more familiar with it and more comfortable with it, it will be a significant form in UI, UX for search and all kinds of other interesting parameters.
Stephanie Cox: Yes, it will be interesting to see what we do with AR, as you mentioned once 5G gets here, and we really start thinking about how we can use it in completely really creative ways that are different than just how will this piece of furniture look in my home or something like that.
Rob Martens: I love that example that you gave. I think that we're only scratching the surface. I mean right now we use AR more for a wow factor. But the practical implications of a technology like that are absolutely huge. Reading well within things, being able to point your lens at something and get an immediate status, or in our case, being able to see who has recently accessed a door. Like within the last 3 or 4 minutes, who was most recently in here? Is there someone in here now, etc etc? So all kinds of very practical applications.
Stephanie Cox: So as the Futurist at Allegion, I'm really excited to ask you where do you think the future of mobile is headed?
Rob Martens: I think it's all about, I'm going to use this word again, accessibility. I think that the future of all these pieces has to do with ease of use and accessibility. When you start talking about these divergent populations of us. Some of whom are comfortable with mobile phones, some of us are not. Some of us love voice assistants, some don't. When you have children like mine who walk up to any television set and immediately stick their fingers on the screen and if it's not a touch sensitive device, think it's broken.
Stephanie Cox: Yes, I know what you mean!
Rob Martens: I think the other trend that's going to hit us very hard, very quickly is how do I, as an individual, have control over my own private information? Understanding that mobility is typically the way that information is being shared, whether it's where I am at any given point in time, how I'm transacting with other people and other things. All of those elements are coming together and crashing together very quickly. So there's a lot at work. Some are legislation-based and could be if we have negative experiences, and others could be heightened acceleration, as people become more and more excited about things like AR, VR, remote piloting, autonomy in various forms, all kinds of vehicles, etc.
Stephanie Cox: Well, I think to your point around data privacy, one of the things that we're going to need do as business leaders is not all of this is going to be figured out, and there's not the legislature that exists for a lot of these things. So, how do we start to do what's right for consumers? And putting those efforts forward, so that we don't have to have privileges or legislation that helps restrict it.
Rob Martens: Yes, it's absolutely true and I think you're starting to see evidence of it already. We jokingly kind of refer to it as having the adults in the room.
Stephanie Cox: I love that!
Rob Martens: Yeah, the pure IoT space it's the adults in the room are people who've manufactured for years. And you understand, for example, I'll give you a tangible example, is in a routine or a recipe associated with a garage door if you have an alarm that indicates that there is smoke and perhaps a fire in the home the absolute last thing that you want to happen is to have that garage door open. And the reason why is you don't want a rush of oxygen in and by virtue of that, a fireball. Well, what's interesting is a lot of tech companies who don't necessarily have any footing within a life safety device, whether it's a lock or a garage door or something like that. They might not even think of those things as being life safety devices, could inadvertently put somebody at risk. And I think, historically, our fear has been that someone will come in and make a big mistake. A mistake so large that people say wow, I don't ever want to even consider connecting that. And so, I think when the adults enter the room, companies like the Allegion, the ones I mentioned Residio, formerly Honeywell, Lutrano, Chamberlain, all these kind of guys, you can have some more comfort that these are people that have been working in this space for quite some time and they understand, not only the technology, but most importantly how to implement the technology responsibly. And I think that's where we've gotten into trouble with companies like Facebook and other folks, where there are some real questions as to are we rushing to market? Do we understand the implications of distributing this technology? And you know, sadly in certain cases, we have not. And to your point, hopefully, we won't see the type of regulatory pressures that diminish innovation in the space. But the onus is upon experienced companies to implement responsibly.
Stephanie Cox: I think that's a great point. With great technology comes great promise but also great really ownership of doing the right thing right from the beginning.
Rob Martens: Yup. Wasn’t that Spiderman's dad that told him that with great abilities come great responsibilities?
Stephanie Cox: Exactly. That's exactly what I was thinking when you were talking about it. So I'm glad you got the reference.
Stephanie Cox: As his title indicates Rob is definitely a futurist. He's well-versed in what's happening in the industry today, but he also can see a vision of where we're headed, and what we need to do from a business perspective to actually get there. A great example was the discussion we had and how we need to rethink data privacy with all these advancements in technology that have ultimately led Rob and I to a Spider-Man reference of all things. And he's right! We've got to start thinking differently today about how we're going to use the data that we collect from consumers and their devices, especially they're connected ones, how we're going to store that data, how we're going to use it and so forth. We need to make the right decision the first time to ensure we're keeping their trust. Now, let's get to my favorite part of the show where we'll take the education and apply it to your business.
There's so many great insights from my conversation with Rob that could really help transform how you think about mobile marketing. Let's dive into my top three takeaways. First The Internet of Things is going to have a massive impact on business. I know it's been a buzzword for a long time, but as Rob mentioned there are brands successfully out there using IoT today, and it's only going to grow due to accessibility. Think about that for a second. The cost of technology has come down so much over the years that it's now possible to include sensors in any number of applicable products, and the cost to transfer the data from the sensor to the cloud is extremely low. It's no longer cost-prohibitive. And accessibilities a driving reason why more companies and consumers are being able to engage in IoT experiences. So, what does that mean for all of us? Well, if you're going to embark on the world of IoT and connected products, and it seems like everyone is trying to these days, you've got to start thinking about what job you're trying to accomplish with it. Sometimes we tend to latch onto technology, especially all the ones that are tied to buzzwords, and we don't truly think through what we want to accomplish with that technology. And I think this is really a smart point that Rob made, what job are we trying to get done? How easy is it going to be to get that job done using the interface we’ve built for consumers. A number of connected products today use the mobile device, specifically the smartphone, as their front end to engage with the product. Such as, unlocking my front door when I'm not home and my mom arrived 20 minutes early, putting the dryer on wrinkle release because I’ve forgotten to take the clothes out again, and you know that never ever ever happens to me. That's why it's crucial that we are clearly identifying the task we are trying to accomplish, and thinking through how to present that visually to consumers, and the most intuitive way possible. And that means it cannot require a tutorial to understand it everyone. I can't stress that enough. The importance of bringing the user experience is so vital to how you think about bringing your connective product to life on mobile. This means you need to constantly engage with their users for feedback, both during the initial design and afterwards. So it shouldn't be that I engaged in the beginning and then I never talk to them again. You need to be continually looking at user analytics or how they're actually using their experience. How they're controlling their connective product. How you're conducting focus groups to watch them use it in person and asking for feedback. As well as testing out changes to determine the effectiveness before you roll it out to everyone. And then you need to make sure you're constantly including incremental value to the consumer experience and giving yourself enough space to allow it to grow. That's why I love to say don't wait to watch a mobile experience until it's perfect and has everything in it. First of all, that'll never happen. But launch it once it has enough functionality to be valuable, and they continually add to it. This is why people keep coming back to your mobile experience.
Next, it’s time to stop thinking about AR only as a wow factor. Most of the uses for AR today tend to be really flashy and promotional driven. A great example is 19 crimes, they’re a wine brand if you're not familiar with them. They have a branded AR experience that’s really designed to drive more people to purchase their wine, and don't get me wrong you guys it is absolutely brilliant. The AR is possible of so much more! We need to start thinking about AR as our new digital lens, and using that to make our lives easier. I really related to Rob's examples earlier where he talks about using AR and your digital lens to determine whether or not there's power to a light socket before you ever try to work on it, or being able to use AR to experience what it's like inside a building you're going to go interview for a new job. AR is easily accessible now, and most AR experiences don't require any technical capabilities to really use them from a consumer perspective. Which means it's really accessible to anyone with a smartphone and we have the opportunity as marketers to take AR to the next level by creating experiences that are outside the norm for what brands are doing with AR today. As I mentioned, 19 crimes and what they did with AR and wine bottles was brilliant when it first came out. Now, it's become the norm in the beverage industry. What can you now do from an AR perspective that no one else is doing and how can you use that to drive value for your company?
Finally, we need, need, need everyone to stop thinking about mobile as only the smartphone. It's really any device that you can take with you. That's a smartphone, a tablet, watch, a fitbit the list goes on and on. And with each new form factor is going to come challenges that make us think about what content is accessible on that device? How are we going to adopt to that device from a form factor stand point? Because let me tell you consumers are going to try to use them to access your content, whether or not you've thought about it. So you need to start thinking about mobile as any device that can move around, and the future is going to be full of them including ones we haven't even imagined yet.
Now, here's my mobile marketing challenge for the week. Most of us have given a ton of thoughts to our data privacy policies this year due to GDPR. And hopefully some of you have started to consider what the implications for the California Consumer Privacy Act will have on your business. But how much time are you spending thinking about new technologies that are going to impact the data you start to collect, how you handle that data and what you’re going to do with it. Why are we waiting for regulations from lawmakers to tell us what to do? Why aren’t we making good choices on our own, especially when it comes to new technology. Let's set the bar higher this time. I encourage all of you to meet with your legal teams and start proactively discussing how you're going to start thinking about new data from some of these new technologies we've been discussing today. Obviously that needs to line up with any existing regulations, but most of the time you're going to find that regulations don't exist for some of the stuff. It takes a long time to put regulations in place. So you have the opportunity to set the right standard from the beginning. I know as a consumer I would love to see companies taking a more consumer-focused approach to data privacy policies, and be super upfront about it. Almost make it a point of pride and differentiation. So start those conversations today.
I'm Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to mobile matters. If you haven't yet be sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast until then be sure to visit Lumavate.com and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices and all things mobile.