How Smart Products can Transform Health Care

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How Smart Products can Transform Health Care

Smart health systems have the potential to transform healtchare and weight-loss in a similar manner to the way electronic spreadsheets transformed corporate analysis and boosted the bottom line

One of the largest shifts in technology which has silently grown in importance in the world of electronics and technology is that of the product ecosystem - the group of smart products which interact with one another to provide a collective solution much more powerful, adaptable and flexible than any particular component of the ecosystem.

If you haven't kept up with the Smart Product Ecosystem or SPEC site on TMCnet, please do as this is the best place I know of to keep up with the market and its evolution. There are some fascinating stories I just received in this week's SPEC enewsletter (subscribe) and I will focus on the first one as you are free to check out the others at your leisure.

The first story from Professor Mary Cronin discusses MetaLogics, a company that developed a sensor to determine accurate caloric expenditure. Indirect measures of this value such as treadmills and casual gym gadgets which typically use your weight and rate of activity alone can be inaccurate to the tune of 50%. Skyrocketing healthcare costs in the US are directly linked to the obesity rate of the population making the weight of the nation a massive financial burden. Apparently politicians don't like to tell us the truth about our weight but I feel honesty is the best policy - we are gaining weight (myself included) and we are living longer. These two trends are a very large part of why the US is seeing its healthcare costs grow so quickly. And as processed and "fast" foods are exported to every point on the globe, expect us to export weight-gain along with it.

To get back to MetaLogics, their sensor determines increases in body heat in the form of the first mobile, connected Personal Calorie Monitor which utilizes patented direct calorimetry method called DirectCAL sensing technology. In the article on the matter, Professor Cronin goes into interesting detail regarding the wireless specifications and ecosystem decision the company made when choosing the ANT protocol over ZigBee and bluetooth.

Currently, the MetaLogics Personal Calorie Monitor is at the stage of broad field trials in preparation for commercial launch in early 2011 - I can't wait to see it in action and moreover eventually connected to a person's exercise equipment of choice ensuring the user has a more accurate way to preset calorie expenditure.

I have always believed - technology, when applied correctly can help solve many of the world's problems and as products evolve to intelligently interact with other devices and systems, smart ecosystems are born.

We are familiar with Moore's Law which states that computers will become twice as powerful every two years for the same money. In addition, Metcalfe's Law explains the value of a network increases proportionally to the square of the number of nodes on the network - basically this means having one fax machine on a network has a value of one while having 10 machines has the value of 100 and 1,000 machines has a value of 1,000,000.

It is important to understand that the above two laws may not have held true without the other. In other words, as more computers connected to the Internet, the value of being on the Net increased exponentially and as such the desire to purchase a connected device increased exponentially as well. This in turn led to increased product purchases which allowed investment in innovation which allowed Moore's Law to continue being a reality. Metcalfe's Law too is influenced heavily by Moore's Law and the best example of this phenomenon is the evolution of the fax machine.

TMC's first fax machine cost $4,000 and over time we were popping in $49 fax cards into computers. As the cost per fax device decreased, inexpensive fax servers emerged to allow fax broadcasting which approximated the usefulness of sending mass emails back in the day. Moore's Law enabled the fax server to come into existence and in my opinion this invention amplified the usefulness of all the fax machines on the network.

Lately I have written more than one post (Steve Job Scares Me, For Apple, It's the Simplicity Stupid) regarding Apple's closed ecosystem and the danger this may present. Having said that, from the perspective of the investor, Apple's closed model which allows it to share in the distribution and monetization of applications has developed an ecosystem of applications nearing 200,000.

This ecosystem in-turn has made the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad much more useful than they would be on their own. This in turn should make you wonder if your company should be exploring smart ecosystems - either creating one or leveraging another one from companies like Apple, Cisco, HP and/or Avaya. Evaluating such an endeavor becomes more important as enterprise technology is rapidly merging with personal technology and devices are migrating seamlessly from home to work networks. Moreover companies like Google want to provide seamless solutions which play in all camps.

The question you should be considering is what opportunities lie ahead for companies able to leverage ecosystems properly?

I asked the Professor for her thoughts and if she has a law which applies to ecosystems. It turns out in her Smart Products, Smarter Services book there are some ideas which can be formulated into "Cronin's Smart Product Ecosystem Laws." Each comes from a different perspective but all are worth sharing:

  • The strategic value of a smart product ecosystem increases in proportion to the number of ecosystem partners providing value through content and services designed for the product platform
  • Consumer perceptions of smart product value and loyalty to smart products and services increase in proportion to the amount of visible value that the product delivers to its owner.
  • Smart products will succeed to the extent that they make the value of smart services enabled by a smart product platform highly visible and accessible to the consumer.

Yesterday a friend showed me a Weight Watchers application on her phone which she credits with making it much easier for her to lose weight as she is able to keep track of the point value associated with her food intake without using a pad and paper. This got me wondering when this program would become obsolete - eventually we will likely see a sensor which can detect the calories of the food we consume in real-time and if we are also armed with the ability to know how many calories we expend, we can know in real-time what our weight will be if we decide to have that last cookie. Moreover, you will potentially know exactly how much longer you will need to spend in the gym the next day to burn the cookie off.

The electronic spreadsheet revolutionized accounting and business by allowing a corporation to set up what-if scenarios to see how various scenarios would affect the fortunes of an enterprise. Will smart product ecosystems in the field of health and weight-loss make it as easy to understand the influences on our health and weight the way Microsoft Excel helps a company understand how much more profitable they will be if they invest in a newer machine to manufacture their widgets?

I look forward to seeing how various smart ecosystems develop and more importantly how they will provide opportunities for companies to add value and make the lives of consumers better. Some of the areas where we expect intelligent ecosystems to flourish are mobile, auto, health, home and energy. And as each evolves we look forward to keeping you up to date on the innovations worth knowing about as well as the opportunities which I expect to be abundant.



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