Effect of using plug-and-play trial kits on the subsequent adoption of an IoT platform in manufacturing SMEs

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Introduction

Trial kits provide an alternative, and an improvement, on providing a demonstration. Trial kits allow customers to try the product in their own facility, on their own processes, and therefore gain a strong understanding of the products benefits and flaws, allowing them to make an informed decision as to whether to proceed with the investment in an IoT solution.

The purpose of this project was to evaluate whether providing a limited-time trial of a simple IoT technology system to manufacturers, results in the subsequent adoption of the technology. Elements Technology led the project, providing a trial kit of their Elements Docket software, which included the required hardware, and worked with the participating manufacturers to get started with the software. The University of Sheffield provided the initial contact with the participating manufacturers as well as providing technical support where required. The project was completed by three participating manufacturers which spread the range of SMEs (one was micro, with 2 staff; one was small, 20-40 staff; and another was large, with ~250 staff). Over six weeks they used the technology and then informed Elements Technology as to whether they would become a paid user.

Project aims

The primary goal was to assess whether the provision of a trial kit results in an increased adoption a technology system, by SME manufacturers. The hope is that a success in this project would provide a route to de-risking IoT adoption amongst SME manufacturers, by increasing trust and removing uncertainty about whether said technology could benefit their business, as well as providing them with information to perform a more informed cost-benefit analysis.

The number one aim therefore was to get participant manufacturers to adopt the system in a paid capacity following the project.

What was done?

Potential participating manufacturers were identified by staff members at the University of Sheffield AMRC, and contact was established, inviting them to take part in the project.

Prior to the project each of the manufacturers that agreed to take part were visited by staff from Elements Technology explaining the project structure and giving examples of how the technology could be implemented.

To start the project, an Elements Starter Kit, containing the required hardware was delivered to each participating manufacturer by staff from Elements Technology. The staff spent the day with the manufacturer helping them to get set up and training them on how to use the software. The manufacturer was then left with the Starter Kit and asked to use it for 6 weeks. Every week two members of staff from Elements Technology contacted the principal contact at the manufacturer for feedback. A member of Elements Technology also visited the site every two weeks to provide on site support. Two members of technical staff were available at all times between the working hours of 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday to fix any issues, and provided usage stats to ensure adherence to the project.

Following the project each manufacturer was visited and asked if they would like to continue using the software.

Results

Of the three manufacturers that took part in the project, none of them went on to purchase the system. The micro manufacturer realised that they could manage without technology due to their size, the small manufacturer was only interested in open source software and had only wanted to assess the underlying contactless technology used as part of the Elements software; and the medium sized manufacturer was unable to get approval of the board despite a desire to continue using it.

The project was affected by several key mitigating factors; first of all the product was new to the market, and the first version, with people willing to try it for free but unwilling to pay until further features were added. Secondly, providing free trials attracted manufacturers that are more speculative about technology, rather than manufacturers that were actively looking for a similar solution. To support this theory, in the six months following the project, when the same Starter Kit was sold for £250, we observed a 66% success rate in converting trial users to paid customers, this number being much higher when the manufacturer committed to the trial with a staff member taking ownership of the trial.

Deliverables and other tangible outputs

Following the project, we have modified our trial offering, moving away from a Starter Kit and month-long trial, to a completely free trial for 14 days. We learnt that the longer the trial period is, the more likely a user is to put off trying it out; so therefore we have reduced the timeframe to incentivise potential customers to try it out as soon as they’ve signed up.

We also learnt that the man power required to support customers was unscalable, and that we needed to improve our training material as well as improve the software itself to make it more intuitive and easy to use, and a range of videos (explainers and walkthroughs).

Impact

As a result of the project we have modified our business model, pivoting towards being an out-and-out Software as a Service provider, and away from being a full-stack solutions provider of hardware as well.

Part of this is providing a truly free trial, rather than using the Starter Kit; which we learnt felt to customers like a first purchase, rather than a trial as was intended.

We also realised that any subsequent projects that we may decide to undertake, will be designed to better replicate the market (eg. we would’ve used customers of the trial kit, rather than unpaid users).

Next steps

We continue to assess our newly modified trial offering, moving away from a Starter Kit and month-long trial, to a completely free trial for 14 days.

Lessons learned

We provided adequate support to the participating manufacturers, giving every chance of them to convert to being a fully paid user.

We would have asked the manufacturers to pay for the Starter Kit, bringing them in line with the true route to a full purchase of Elements Software.

Ensure that any participants of a project best replicate your target audience (maybe a more focused demographic for an initial proof of concept style project.)

A portal where the project participants could answer a weekly questionnaire, or provide any other feedback would be useful.

What has Pitch-In done for you?

Pitch-In enabled us to test a business process, and subsequently modify it; talking learnings and using them to provide a better offering to customers and potential customers.

Project Lead

Professor John Clark – University of Sheffield

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