Developing a brand-new product can be enormously exciting. Whether you get a buzz out of the creative process, the commercial implications of expanding your product range, or simply the joy of the new, for many business leaders, product development is one of their biggest highlights.
This excitement can be heightened even further when developing in the Internet of Things (IoT) space. After all, much of the IoT is about unlocking value propositions in existing products, understanding how connectivity can enhance them either further.
However, product development in the IoT landscape comes with some specific challenges attached, not least how to deal with the sector’s enormous dynamism, agility and complexity. As connectivity is embedded in more and more devices, and IoT ecosystems grow in both scale and complexity, product developers need to work hard to keep up.
This isn’t just about working faster, and bringing IoT products to market quicker. It’s about harnessing the data generated by those products to inform future development.
Here’s how the product development process should work when bringing IoT-ready products to market.
Any product development cycle, whether in the IoT space or otherwise, should revolve around a problem to solve. That might be a limitation in an existing product, or it might be a problem for which there is currently no product. Of course, in the IoT space, many of these problems relate to capturing data that previously went ignored – and then transforming that data into operational improvements. Regardless, however, once the problem is identified, potential solutions need to be identified – and, crucially, tested.
Once a viable solution has been identified (and the unviable ones discarded), it’s time for a proof of concept, scaling that solution into a product that can realistically be brought to market. When it comes to IoT products, one of the key factors to consider at this stage is scalability. How will the product work in a commercial, connected environment? How will it be produced at scale? The IoT landscape is enormously dynamic, so it is crucial for connected products to be able to adapt to rapidly flexing demands.
All too often, securing connected products is an afterthought, tacked on at the end of the product development process. But securing the IoT is an increasingly high-profile challenge, and any new product that is going to collect, transmit or store digital data needs to have appropriate cybersecurity mechanisms and processes ‘baked in’ from the outset.
Above all, developers in the IoT space need to move away from linear thinking, and instead approach product development as a loop.
Once unconnected devices are purchased and put to work, they lose any link with their developers and manufacturers. Information on how they are being used and how they are performing has to be sought second-hand, perhaps through customer feedback.
By contrast, each time a new IoT product is brought to market, it begins generating and collecting valuable data to be used for the next cycle of development.
As such, the savviest product developers in the IoT space should look for ways to incorporate a feedback loop into their processes, learning from how the first iteration of a product is being used and how it is performing under different conditions – and then using that information to drive the next development cycle.
After all, the IoT in action is all about the generation of new intelligence, applying new analytics, and driving new insights. That should be extended out of individual IoT ecosystems, right out to the product development space.
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 organizational structure.