There has been a long-term trend of turning services into self-service and allowing the user to drive the process in many parts of the economy.

Automation of the processes has been accompanied by an externalisation of many parts of the underlying infrastructure. Many services are much easier and quicker as long as they work, but when they don’t the user experience can be very frustrating.

I like to travel by train, but one station I know now only has payment by mobile. The problem is that the car park is a not spot for my mobile carrier. Instead of a minute to put in coins it took me 10 minutes to pay by mobile. When I eventually found someone to contact to explain the issue, they just shrugged and appear not to have done anything.

Another example was an automated ticket machine that was running slow. I had 10 minutes to buy a ticket. It had been raining, and despite being undercover, the machine had water on the screen. It took six minutes to get to payment, only for the payment to be not working. I got the train by one minute without ticket, to be lectured about buying a ticket first.

Last year I spent six months disputing an underpayment in a hospital car park. I dropped a relative at the hospital and came to collect later. In all, I was on the grounds for two lots of 10 minutes. I received notification of a fine for not paying for a three hour stop. Six months later it was dropped when I got the photographic evidence. They had three ANR photos, two of me arriving and one leaving. I spent longer complaining than the time I supposedly parked. I have received no apology for them wasting my time.

Looking forward, in a world of the internet of things, who in organisational terms is responsible for the user experience when there is no end to end ownership of the infrastructure delivering that service?

On a recent concall with two former colleagues working in IoT projects, the governance of the IT service has proven to be the major stumbling block in building the business case and assessing the benefits of the proposed solutions. In the words of the old adage, if everyone is responsible, nobody is responsible.

For me, the concern is that if my recent examples above are replicated in many services, user frustration and poor experience may delay and hamper the uptake of potentially valuable services.

Is there an opportunity here, to simplify people’s lives and take away the pain when things go wrong?

Try this example. It’s Wednesday evening and there is a power cut, which lasts for two hours. The following morning, the internet appears to be down. On looking, there are no lights lit on the hub. Change the fuse and it’s clear that the hub is dead. Call the service centre, it’s busy but allows ring back. 30 minutes later the phone rings, but picking up the phone near the hub, the call cuts off on lifting the phone. There is no number to call, it’s been blocked. Call the centre again, it’s busy. 20 minutes later, the phone rings. Pick up a different phone and the call is OK. New hub to be sent out by close of play Monday.

Later another call on the phone has the same dropped line problem. Later it dawns what the problem is. There are phones on different circuits in the house. The one in my study has a problem, but not the one in the kitchen. Fortunately, there is an electrician coming on Monday, who identifies a wiring problem and fixes it.

With deadlines to meet, the above is not helpful. I’ve had five years here with occasional glitches, but five days trying to resolve the problems and many hours of calls is a pain to a freelancer. It worked very well till it didn’t.

Imagine a home of the future with 100 or more connected appliances. I accept that no system can be fail safe, but at least can we think about how to safe fail? In the ‘everything connected’ world we are heading for, the ability to initiate the ‘restart my home’ routine without crazy overheads will determine the user acceptability.

Looking back at 60 years of ‘the future of the home’, the same ideas have been in the pipeline all this time. Domestic robots are now arriving, having been predicted in the 60s. Life’s too short to waste on fragmented, poorly integrated systems and services.

Now, imagine a hotel, hospital or office with 1,000s or 10,000s of connected devices. What could possibly go wrong?

If the home of the future is going to come any time soon, may I suggest ‘Support, Support, Support’ as the three priorities.

About the author

Chris Yapp is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.