Ronak Patel

Ronak Patel is the Co-founder & CEO at Sunflower Lab. He’s an entrepreneur, thought leader, and a problem solver. With more than 17 years of experience in the IT industry, he’s made it to a point where he can be called as a generalist who can contribute and lead in any technical discipline. For years he has led the Sunflower team to thrive on the challenging – the seemingly impossible tasks.

Propane tanks were invented over 100 years ago. July 12, 1912 to be exact. Propane at the time was used to power homes for up to 3 weeks, which was a truly innovative solution.

Fast forward 100 years and we’re still using propane, but not to power our homes. They are still used by many to power their grills and other items where electric just doesn’t fit the bill. 

So, when we created a digital companion app for blue sky propane, it was a wonderful exercise in how we can transform century old innovations and turn them into modern digital experiences.

Now, you the propane tank can detect when it’s running low and auto-order a replacement for you.  In addition to viewing your propane level data, you’re also able to view historical reports and analytics about your usage. You can view fuel consumption records, average and total gas deliveries, total gallons of gas consumed and billing amounts for the entire year or within a specific period using filtering options.

The creator of propane tanks definitely didn’t think it would be able to be used like this. When we work with companies similar to BlueSky propane, we ask ourselves 3 questions about how we can maximize our opportunities with “dumb” hardware.

1. What valuable insight can we gather from this device?

Prior to smart propane tanks and their digital companions, the only way you can tell if you needed more propane was by the little gauge (which is sometimes not accurate), or by pouring hot water down the side of the propane tank to see if it changes temperature.

valuable insight

That’s why I love digital and smart devices so much. We’re able to extract information to make faster decisions.

So, when we were going through our possibilities of making a propane tank smarter, we asked what data would be the most useful.

    1. Propane level – This one is a no-brainer

    2. Analytics on usage  — How often is it used? What days are it used the most? How much is propane

    3. Customer information — How can we use customer information such as bank account information to make the experience better?

The information you can collect with drive how you design and build the customer experience.

2. How can digital technology improve the customer’s experience of a “dumb device”?

Propane tanks are essentially dumb. Technology makes an existing device smarter. So the question is, how can digital make this device not only smarter but improve the customer’s experience of working with a propane tank.

For smart propane tanks, the answer is easy: Let me never think about ordering a propane tank ever again.

There are multiple steps in making this a phenomenal digital experience:

    1. Propane tank detects when it is low

    2. It connects to the internet to reorder a propane tank

    3. The account already has a credit card and account number on file, so it bills automatically

    4. The company receives the order and the next day delivers the propane tank.

Now, that’s a convenient experience!

It works for other things than propane tanks as well.

Think about all the other dumb devices you have in your home:

    1. Stove/Oven/Microwaves

    2. Lights

    3. Locks.

    4. Thermostat.

Now, you guessed it. Someone has created a product that uses digital technology to create better customer experiences.

Lights: Why use a switch to turn off the lights, when all of the lights can turn off by themselves with a click of a button. Saves energy and time. You can also personalize how dim or bright you want them to be depending on your mood. Way better than a normal lightbulb.

Locks: Ever forget if you locked your door? Well, with smart locks, that’s never an issue. Not at home? Press a button and let someone in even if you’re across the country.

These are all experiences that focus on making customers’ lives easier and more efficient.

3. What potential opportunities does this technology create?

For smart doorbells, the original use case was for you to get alerted when someone rings the doorbell or when someone opens the door.

But now, this opens up a world of opportunities:

    1. Enhanced convenience:

        a. Get packages delivered inside your home

        b. Speak to anyone who is at your front door even if you’re not home.

    2. Security

        a. Get alerted and receive a live video feed anytime someone rings your doorbell or is near your front door

        b. Get alerted anytime someone tries to open your door

Now instead of being a doorbell company or a door handle company, you’re a security company. See how that opens up the possibilities? Instead of charging for hardware, you’re now charging for software services such as access to video feeds and access to neighborhood social networks where they can share videos of suspicious activity to the local communities.

I personally love working on “dumb devices” and figuring out ways to make it smarter. The opportunities are endless.

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