By Joe Barkai
Rapid Growth in Times of Uncertainty
The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling and accelerating the convergence of three key technology and business model shifts that are fueling the digital transformation of every industrial enterprise:
- Connectivity. The number of connected devices and mobile devices is growing at an increasingly faster pace, emanating massive amounts of real-time information that enables deep insight about themselves and the environment around them.
- Cloud Computing. After years of hesitation, cloud technology is finally becoming a mainstream business platform and a growth engine. New information systems and business operation constructs can be deployed and scale quickly and cost effectively, as connected assets and mobile devices deliver decision-making power to all ranks in the organization.
- New Business Models. Cloud-connected assets and customers, coupled with real-time information and decision-making capabilities form the foundation for new ways to engage the business and its customers. Businesses can deploy innovative customer-centric outcome-based engagement models and respond to changing market conditions with greater agility and flexibility.
Industry is making strides in developing Internet of Things technologies and articulating the potential business value of industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 solutions. The upcoming years of the IoT evolution will be characterized by rapid technology acceleration, as the vision of an always-connected world, in which everything and everybody is connected, is becoming an everyday reality.
And company leadership is under pressure to seize the opportunity. Eager technology vendors, enthusiastic investors and analysts, and deluge of breathless headlines, all entice corporate management to jump on the IoT bandwagon before it’s too late.
However, as technology forecaster Paul Saffo aptly observed, one should not mistake a clear view for a short distance.
Early rosy projections about growth in the number of connected devices and the economic impact of the industrial Internet of Things are proving overly optimistic, particularly about the ability of industrial companies to pursue the vision effectively. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that while US companies consider digital technologies critical, many lack a holistic adoption strategy and a sense of urgency. A report by KPMG reaches a similar conclusion, highlighting a growing gap between executive ambitions and the corresponding transformative action plans.
To a great extent, the excitement and promise of growth are tempered by lingering concerns about IoT network security and data privacy. Others are still uncertain how to go about articulating comprehensive business models and return on investment.
What Does the Industrial IoT Mean for Product Designers?
What does the industrial Internet of Things mean for the designers of connected products that enable new customer engagement models? Are IoT “things” just like any other industrial equipment, only connected to the Internet? or are there certain design and technical elements business planners and design engineers should consider?
To understand the relationships between the Internet of Things and product design, we need to consider three layers of responses:
Design for IoT
At its most fundamental level, designing products for IoT concentrates on incorporating basic telemetry features such as sensor electronics and Internet connectivity, and, rather obviously, the necessary mechanisms to secure these devices from rogue access and malicious hacking.
Design for the Business of IoT
A less obvious observation, often missed by IoT enthusiasts, is that the product architecture and features must be aligned with business operations. Designers should adopt a business-centric point of view and optimize features and capabilities specifically to achieve the intended business outcome.
For instance, a design to maximize system uptime requires not only remote monitoring capabilities, but could also include optimizing replaceable unit (FRU) granularity to streamline field service operations, spare parts inventory, and workforce availability and training.
Design by IoT
But there is much more to the question about the relationship between the Internet and the “things.”
Most engineering organizations lose sight of their products once they are sold or installed in the field. Always-connected products and customers provide a nonstop stream of structured and unstructured information about products, services, and user interactions. This rich feedback from diverse connected ecosystems, including social media, enable faster and precise design iterations and effective continuous improvement. In essence, the IoT is driving product design!