It’s easy to see why so many organisations are diving head first into the world of connected product design. There are great profits to be made, new revenue lines to be opened up and even innovation awards to be won.
But, particularly if this is your business’s first foray into the IoT landscape, there are also plenty of hurdles to be overcome. We’ve blogged in the past about top tips to help you get the design process right from the start – today, we’re honing in more closely on the question of which product development model you should follow.
For many companies, shifting into the world of connected products means shifting their entire business model. Questions like ‘what kind of business am I?’ or even ‘what industry am I in?’ start to get much fuzzier when organisations are producing smart, connected devices. Do they become software companies? Digital companies? And what about their relationships with suppliers and partners? How do they change?
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to these questions but it is important to remember from the outset that the moment your business begins embedding IT into the hardware it designs and manufactures, it has opened itself up to a whole new web of supply chains, sales and marketing strategies and dependencies. Your industry boundaries will likely expand from being based around individual products, to being based around systems of closely related products.
This can deliver great opportunities – but also great challenges. Being open from the outset to the idea that developing connected products is likely to be a transformative process for your business will help you to be far more flexible and adaptable. This isn’t just about developing a connected product side line – it’s about fundamentally altering your business strategy.
It can be tempting to follow a very general product design model, where you’re open to any and all connected features, but this is rarely a good idea. More commonly, selecting the right model for developing a connected product begins by choosing which connected capabilities to focus on – and which to put to one side. What are the ‘killer features’ that smart products in your industry typically display? Which will offer tangible value to your customers, and which are likely to be seen as ‘gimmicky’? Are you better off embedding a comprehensive range of smart features in your product, or focusing on one or two basics done to a very high level? Getting the answers to these questions right depends on really thorough market research before you begin your connected product development.
Next, consider the ‘technology stack’ that sits behind any connected product. Your new connected product will consist not just of hardware but also integrated software, connectivity technology, a cloud-based platform involving remote services and security tools and technologies to protect against data loss – as well as integration with the existing systems your customers have in place. Your product design and production processes should therefore be organised around these layers. This may well be a substantial departure from a more linear model you have followed in the past.
One of the most dramatic changes to your product development model when entering the connected devices market is likely to involve your test cycle. Part of this is about being proactive enough to make your life easier further down the line – for example, ensuring that any Product Circuit Boards (PCBs) contain conductive testing areas on their surfaces for easy testing later on, or understanding early on exactly which electronics certifications, like FCC regulations, you will need to achieve. And part of it is about understanding the brand new testing challenges of operating in digital product development, such as testing your product’s capabilities in the face of malicious cyber criminals.
Choosing to develop connected products could easily be one of the best business decisions you have ever made – but it can also be very risky. Thinking carefully about your product development model before you begin, and understanding that you are likely going to have to transform your existing processes in areas like testing and certification can help minimise the risks and enable you to develop a connected product that is truly market leading.
In their second Harvard Business Review article, How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Companies, co-authors Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School and Jim Heppelmann, President and CEO of PTC, examine the impact of the Internet of Things on companies' operations and organisational structure.