The Allure of Fire & Forget

Time and again I see people making quick negative noise about products with newly introduced digital features. Whether it’s a connected farm tractor, car tyre or a Bluetooth tooth brush with an app, the easiest scoop is to scold the vendor for collecting data for mischievous purposes or somehow forcing the customer to pay more.

Privacy! Ownership! I don’t want anyone messing with My toothbrush! The easiest and most dangerous business decision is to do nothing and just hope that the world doesn’t change. However, as a toothbrush or tractor manufacturer, it’s either you who evolves, or the competition.

Take the toothbrush, a consumable used by billions of people. Manufactured mostly from fossil oil -based plastics, it has a limited lifetime and even the dentists suggest it to be replaced often. Afterwards it becomes if not hazardous, but at least problematic waste. Yes, billions of toothbrushes. That’s a lot of plastic, which still mostly goes to landfills or ends up in the sea as microgranules.

Instead of ultra-optimizing the plastic production supply chain and logistics, the toothbrush manufacturer should concentrate on the (not so well managed) relationship it has with billions of returning customers. How can I provide the customer with better tooth care, while making my business more sustainable?

The digital toothbrush (or tractor, or tyre) is not about fancy gadgets, mobile apps or marketing campaigns. It’s about completely rethinking the customer relationship, making it mass-customized and personal, which is possible with today’s digital technologies.

To start the digital relationship with the customer, the product does not have to send data every second, nor even every week. It doesn’t need the most expensive nanosensors or lithium batteries. The first step is to create the Digital Twin, spime, of the product used by the customer. The intial ‘data’ link between the physical and digital twins can be phone pictures, manual grading, color indication – whatever starts to inform the manufacturer of the product efficacy. And this times the number of customers. Think of billions of toothbrush twins.

This is very doable, but requires a sustained and committed effort. Above all it needs vision and leadership.


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