Connected products are the new normal. From highly specialised, purpose-built Internet of Things (IoT) tools to established, pre-existing devices that have had connectivity layered on, the power and potential of linking up products with each other has spread across multiple industries. By now, we’ve all heard of smart fridges.
InVMA works across multiple sectors, from healthcare to agriculture, manufacturing to energy, so we’re well-versed in just how diverse and innovative IoT ecosystems can be. Connected products are driving process efficiencies, reducing hardware wear and tear, freeing up staff members for more creative and strategic tasks, monitoring patients’ vital signs…the list is long, and growing.
The question is, does this mean that unconnected products are on the way out? Are we heading towards a future where absolutely every physical ‘thing’ – from the enormously complicated car you drive to work to the chair you sit on when you get there – is connected to others?
The most appropriate answer might be ‘partly’. It’s difficult, at this stage, to imagine a scenario in which some of the more basic or benign things we come into contact with each day are connected – but then, just a few short years ago, that smart fridge was a figment of the imagination too. And it seems certain, regardless, that we are heading into an era where all electrical and digital products have internet capability built into them as a matter of course, as well as any device that already collects information such as temperature.
This is because, fundamentally, the IoT enables organisations to work smarter. Connected devices aren’t just gimmicks – they are a means for organisations to capture, consolidate and analyse data that would have previously gone unrecorded or simply been lost into the ether. Keeping track of the temperature of a corner of a warehouse day after day might seem innocuous in itself, but if you can use that data to better control the overall environment, extend the shelf life of products and reduce energy bills, then the value of a small, simple connected product – a thermometer – becomes much clearer.
Essentially, if you are in the business of designing, manufacturing or selling unconnected products, then you need to have a clear roadmap in mind for integrating them into a connected future. Already, a huge proportion of products are part of the Internet of Things, with more being added all the time – which means that new products brought to market without an understanding of this connected future risk becoming obsolete.
Some of the most important things to bear in mind when designing products to be future-proofed in the IoT era are security and compliance, and visibility and management. Your products may have connectivity layered on or built in in the future, it is vital that they can adequately protect the data they gather, store and transmit, and that they meet the regulatory requirements of relevant industries. For many product designers, this means bringing in additional cyber security expertise. Then, it’s all very well designing connected products that can collect data, but how can users view and analyse that data? This is where IoT management systems come in, and it is vital that today’s unconnected products are designed with a view to one day being integrated into cost-effective, user-friendly management platforms.
We’re not yet at a point where unconnected products have died out completely, but we are certainly moving to a point where connectivity is the norm, rather than a novelty. Is your organisation ready?
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.