What Can Product Managers Learn From Smart Elevators?

How can an elevator be designed to meet customer needs?
How can an elevator be designed to meet customer needs?
Image Credit: Melissa Maples

I’d be willing to bet that most of us really don’t spend that much time thinking about elevators. I mean, we walk into a building thinking about where we want to go, we press a button, an elevator door opens, we step in and ride to our destination. Done. However, it turns out that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we may realize. In fact, how an elevator behaves may impact how long we wait and how long it takes to get to where we are going. These are things that we really do care about. What can elevator product managers do to make our elevator experience better?

Building A Better Elevator

The product managers at Otis Elevator create and manage products that carry two billion people daily, and their technology is driving sales and servicing of equipment. As buildings keep growing taller, more connected and more efficient, there is increasing pressure on Otis to update their product development definition in order to reduce wait times for rides and to personalize customer experiences – for instance, by allowing riders to call elevators from their smartphones. The Otis products managed by their product managers are integrated with buildings’ security systems and provide building owners with rich information. The next challenge for these product managers includes speeding up package deliveries, incorporating biometrics, driving traffic to stores and even coordinating with air-taxi services on rooftop landing pads.

The product managers realize that Otis is the largest elevator company today; however, its growth is lagging behind that of Schindler and Kone, which have advantages on new equipment sales in China, where high-rise construction is on the upswing. The total global elevator market has annual revenue of about $70 billion and is expected to grow at a 3% to 5% rate in coming years which would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. The Otis product managers realize that modernization and maintenance can account for 60% of this market, and equipment sales will account for the rest. When the product managers look into the future, they see the need for much taller buildings. In the future, customers will be able to simply walk up to the building, it will recognize who they are from biometrics, it knows that they work on the 10th floor, and it points then to the specific elevator car that will take them there.

The customers for elevators, building owners, want to manage all of their building systems. One of the most common requests that product managers get from building owners is them saying “I want one pane of glass to manage all the different systems inside my building, whether it’s HVAC, fire and security, lighting, elevator.” In order to meet this need, the product managers have created a system called Otis ONE. This product is a customer portal that provides specific insights into the elevator’s operation. If you’re a property management company, it can give you a pictorial representation of all your buildings, all your elevators, what state they’re in, are they operational, which floor they’re on. The system can tell you specific data on how many times the elevator door’s been open and what floor it’s been stopping on.

The Future Of Elevators

So what’s next for elevators? Not surprising, your mobile phone will be playing a role. The Otis product managers have a smartphone app. Customers can call up the elevator, or they can preschedule the elevator to be on a specific floor, a specific time of day, to take them to a specific destination. A customer could be on the 57th floor, they want to go to the 35th floor at 11:30 to get some coffee. They would use the Otis eCall app to schedule that elevator to show up when they needed it. The Otis products now have some algorithms built into them to tell them more about their customers. The elevators have weight sensors on the elevators. They have different ways of getting a good sense of the number of passengers and their destination. The Otis product managers have an OptiSense solution that is being deployed now, where there are cameras in the lobby. With the cameras, the product managers can now sense that there’s a group of travelers together, one pushed the button for the sixth floor, but there are seven passengers. What this means is that instead of allowing this elevator to stop at other floors for other passengers, it’s going to send this elevator directly to the sixth floor with the seven passengers.

The product managers realize that their future success is not all about selling new elevators. A large part of their income will come from making changes to existing elevators. They have started retrofitting or modifying the elevators in the older buildings. They’ve gone through this modification process of not only taking out the cabs, the control system, but adding sensors, adding different capabilities inside and outside of the elevator so they can see what’s happening from a passenger’s perspective. As we all know, elevators don’t always run smoothly. Often when there’s an elevator problem or a shutdown, it is door-related. In some customer locations, hospitals and schools are common, the doors are often abused. Customers constantly put out a hand or a foot and prevent the door from closing. The product managers have known factors – like how often a door can open before it starts to deteriorate. The product managers know that if it’s taking too long, that’s an early-warning indicator of a future problem.

As they move into the future, the Otis product managers are adding different types of sensors to their elevators. What they are doing is connecting them to gateways that will then send information on a very frequent basis to databases. There are also have other parameters that being monitoring that help them to determine when an issue will become a problem that could potentially lead to a failure. Their motivation for doing this is because servicing elevators is a big part of their business. They are deploying sensors that will help them to get better insights on the conditions in the elevator shaft. This includes such metrics as humidity and barometric pressure. They’re installing sensors that can detect vibration, detect noise, sensors to better guesstimate the number of passengers based on the weight of the elevator. They are also using the sensors to drive predictive analytics. Using this data they can then proactively send their mechanics to address issues versus waiting until there’s a problem.

What All Of This Means For You

Although we may not spend a lot of time thinking about elevators, we do appreciate what they do for us and we miss them when they are not working. It turns out that product managers are responsible for managing the creation and service of elevators. There are a number of new technologies that are being incorporated into elevators and this is going to require them to revisit their product manager job description and prepare for their market to change dramatically going forward.

At the Otis elevator company, their product managers are starting to work their elevator control systems into the other systems that are being used to manage a building. The Otis product managers are in competition with other companies that create and install elevators. Customers are starting to ask the product managers for the ability to have a single program manage all of the systems in their building – including the elevators. Going forward it is anticipated that customer mobile phones will start to be used to summon an elevator before the customer arrives. In order to be successful, elevator product managers need to expand their business to include making changes to installed elevators. In the future elevators will contain additional sensors in order to determine how many people they are carrying and where the people are located in the elevator.

Elevators are a unique product that once selected will be part of a building for a very long time. Elevator product managers need to be able to create a product that will allow a property owner to offer a more valuable product to their end customers. There is a great deal of competition in the elevator market and this means that innovation is critical to an elevator product manager’s future success. In order to continue to successfully sell and install elevators, elevator product managers are going have to find ways to continue to incorporate new technologies into their product.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can elevator product managers let their customers know that their wait times are less?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So if you were a product manager and you wanted to both advertise your product to your customers and make it easy for them to buy it from you, how would you go about doing that? If you are like most of us, you would probably use your product development definition to make sure that it got included in Amazon’s inventory. After all, they are one of the largest firms out there and when people go to buy something, they almost always go to Amazon first. However, what if there was an alternative? What if there was a better way to go about advertising and shipping your product? Would you be interested?