Smart products and systems face increasing interest from across the spectrum of companies. With connectivity playing such a large part in consumer’s lives and transforming how industries conduct business, everyone wants to get in on the Internet of Things (IoT). But how do you make that leap from traditional product to connected, smart products and smart systems? If you plan to ‘do it yourself’, i.e. fully in-house, there are complexities you might not be taking into consideration, including multidisciplinary expertise necessary for the development of a new product or system.

If you plan on transitioning to IoT for the first time in-house, here are 7 challenges you should be prepared to face:

IoT Ideation: what’s happening in the market

At its most basic, going smart involves implementing at least one sensor or electrical component to a physical object, and adding connectivity. But how do you decide which features you want? Maybe you’ve approached IoT with a single selling point. But how can you be certain which feature you want, unless you know what options are out there? You’ll need to heavily research different components and sensors, smart products in your industry that are on the market, and review the pain points you want to solve, to understand which features will interest your target market.

It’s not just about your own industry – You should research similar industries and think about how innovative products there can be applicable to your market.

IoT building blocks: Choosing components and pricing

Once you decide on a single or multiple smart feature, how do you choose the hardware? How will you know which sensors are on the market, and how they compare vis a vis cost, performance, and power? Do you know how much consumers or retailers are willing to pay for extra features?  And moreover, what if you choose the hardware, and at a later iteration realize you need to go back to the drawing board and implement a different smart feature?  

Choosing your components is only the first step – Understanding the hardware itself is integral to good feature placement. For example, if a component with RFID is located too closely to a magnet, two audio devices located too closely together (such as a microphone and radio) can interfere with the functioning of both components. Companies must include a team member with experience in IoT design, or bring in a person or tool that can help.

IoT Services and sourcing: Who to choose

Costing and sourcing materials, partners and factories add their own difficulties. Companies should develop plans to source the best matching components. However, you’ll need to research costs and the characteristics of each component, to judge whether the quotes for that component or for the project are reasonable.

Hardware prices can change from month to month, so you will need a system of keeping the prices for your desired hardware up to date.

Adding teams is another issue. Only the largest companies have existing R&D teams that can absorb the project by adding only a few new team members. You’ll need hardware, firmware, and software teams – and if you don’t have them already, sourcing can be time-consuming.  It’s also important to find a way to measure potential vendors’ pros and cons. You need to either source before beginning the project or take the time involved into consideration, or work directly with an IoT Marketplace.

Trust is another issue. Quite often, companies which source hardware are related to the hardware producers or factories, leading to subjective information. You won’t always get the big pictures or guarantee yourself good component pricing without some objective method of sourcing. If you need to turn to outside service providers (and you probably will), it’s essential to find a reliable IoT Marketplace that understands your needs and can supply exactly the skills you’re missing.

Don’t forget the need to source factories early. Instead of one factory manufacturing the physical product, you’ll need 2 or 3 – including a factory producing the hardware, and possibly a third one which will handle the integration between the first two. How will the factories communicate? How will you perform QA and manage the production process in real time?

These are all challenges you’ll need to think about before you begin development of your smart product.

Hack inter-team communication and integration

Once you’ve sorted out your different teams, there’s the question of how they will communicate – literally and figuratively. Literally, if your company has several offices globally or if you hire team members from other companies, there may be a language barrier. But in terms of technology, teams with different skill-sets will need to communicate on the same project from different angles.

Also, app and firmware developers need to interacted because their codes interact. Find a way to align the language of the code.

Take it a step further – find a way for all relevant teams to communicate on the same project in real-time, even prior to development. This includes room for design reiteration during costing and sourcing. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself having to fix something later, delaying time-to-market.

IoT Pre-production: Plan for testing

It’s pretty basic – decide what you are testing before you make the product you are testing. If you create a prototype and later want to test it, but the developer hasn’t built it in a way that’s suitable for testing, you can’t test it.

Furthermore, your app developer needs to test his app with the hardware, which may not be ready. The same goes for firmware. Simulators and testing tools can provide one solution, but developing your own simulator in-house is expensive and not cost-efficient.

Keep in mind that you’ll have to test the integration of the whole IoT system: The rules and the components they comprise, and how all the different parts of the system interact. With a physical product, you test to meet regulations. With apps and hardware, there are more steps. Make sure you know what you’ll need to test for, and leave time for testing in your timeline.

Finding an IoT Platform

Most companies use an existing IoT platform to connect their smart system to the cloud. However, you can also develop your own cloud for data storage. Whether you use on-premises or external cloud-based storage solutions, your solution must provide a bi-directional flow of data, from the cloud database to the product and vice versa. Any data should be available to view in real-time, and be accessible for analytics.

Prepare for data analysis and IoT business intelligence

Once the product hits the shelf, manufacturers still can’t breathe a sigh of relief. User data is one of the chief ROIs of smart products – yet most companies don’t utilize their collected IoT data to its full capacity, according to McKinsey. Knowledge of how your smart product or system is being used can help you save money by cutting out redundant features or Increase ROI by optimizing highly-used ones. If users aren’t using one of the product or system’s features, there’s no point developing it further. On the other hand, if a feature is heavily used, there’s room to optimize it to increase user satisfaction and grow sales of your smart product. But you’ll need analytics that can track your features usage, gathering data on the ROI and usability of your smart features.

Make smart product design and development easier

The move to IoT is full of challenges, but the rewards outweigh the difficulties. While it’s possible to create an IoT system in-house, many companies are consolidating their IoT projects through platforms is growing rapidly. Consider using an IoT Platform and IoT Service Marketplace to complete you teams and simplify your smart product design and development.

 

Lee Winfield
Lee’s hardware integration expertise and experience in product development, industrial design and prototyping enable Seebo’s customers to make strategic, cost-effective decisions around components, design and production.