The Use Case Chasm

By Randy Field

At the recent IoT Evolution Expo and CTIA conferences, there were many references to “use cases”. The term is widely credited to Ivar Jacobson who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, proposed use cases as an approach to collecting functional requirements. From Wiki, “a use case is a list of action or event steps, typically defining the interactions between a role … and a system, to achieve a goal.” For IoT, the “role” is collecting data for the user – and, the “system” is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to collect and exchange data (a.k.a. the “stack”). The “goal” is putting the application into action.

A complete use case requires many steps to be actionable. At the highest level, a use case includes a scope and goal. Published documents, brochures and charts have labeled the following as use cases: UBI (usage-based insurance), vending machines, fleet management and emergency services. Are these use cases or market segments? Delivering an IoT solution requires a minimum of two components: the IoT stack and the user (i.e. a vending machine service company and the stack provider). So, IoT Stack Company walks into Vending Machine Company and says, “We provide full stack IoT solutions. We are your one-stop shop.” The Vending Machine Company replies, “We have been watching the technology and huge market projections. What are the use cases that can help us?” The IoT Stack Company says, “Vending Machines!” BOOM, a new technology chasm is born. The customer is required to intuitively determine the actual use cases and their requirements. From Geoffrey Moore, “To accelerate the adoption of platforms, then, vendors must clothe them in applications clothing.” [1]

Vending Machines are not a use case – they are an IoT market segment. Vending machines as a use case do not have a scope or goal. There are no steps for action. A connected device in the vending machine reporting sales to Vending Machine Company is a use case. The goal is enabling “transformation” from fixed route restocking to dynamic route restocking. There is a scope (real-time sales reporting) – and, a goal (dynamic routing). Further, dynamic routing can improve vehicle utilization, reduce fleet size, lower vehicle maintenance costs, prevent out-of-stock items, enable restock kitting at the warehouse and report mechanical failures (each of these could be broken down into “sub” use cases).

Achieving IoT’s predicted hockey stick growth requires real applications, requirements and complete stacks. The clock is ticking. 2020 is less than 5 years away.

[1] Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing the Chasm, Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customer (revised edition), HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1999