Challenges of product innovation in a connected world

12 Jan, 2017
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“Deciding what not to do is just as important as deciding what to do.”
– Steve Jobs

If you look at the technology and business landscape over the past decade, you will notice that most of the businesses that survived and thrived were those that succeeded in transforming themselves to handle the challenges of Social, Mobility, and Cloud.

Now, they are once again staring at a similar disruption bought on by emerging technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), machine learning, and AI (Artificial Intelligence). The proliferation of ‘smart’, and ‘connected’ devices is posing unprecedented challenges, for both technology companies as well as traditional manufacturers that produce ‘physical’ products. The capabilities and knowledge that companies need to have for dealing with this connected landscape are so daunting, that many are struggling to figureout where to start.

This ‘connected’ landscape also offers tremendous opportunities for businesses to deliver new, and innovative services built around ‘smart’ products. In this blog, I will outline how we can overcome the challenges, and seize the opportunities.

Focus on your strengths

In a fast-changing technology landscape, it is virtually impossible for a business to master all the technologies, or acquire the competencies to handle every aspect of product innovation to deliver a ‘WOW’ customer experience. The key to success in such a demanding environment is the ability to identify your strengths or core competencies, and have the rigor, focus, and discipline to stick to them. This will not only enable companies to focus on their niche, but also help leverage the core competencies of partners who excel in their respective spheres, to deliver a world-class user experience. Best example to illustrate this approach is that of Uber. While their core application is a primary differentiator, Uber relies on partners such as Google maps, and Twilio to deliver the complete Uber experience. You will be well served to follow Steve Jobs advice: “Deciding what not to do is just as important as deciding what to do”.

Think in terms of ‘Product eco system’

Businesses must realize that they are no longer building a simple, standalone product, and that they must co-exist in a ‘product eco system’. You must start thinking in terms of “how does my product co-exist in a connected eco system”? Once you acquire this mindset, you will naturally start to focus on aspects such as Integration, Interoperability and supporting interfaces and standards.

Design your software for the average consumer

The hyper connected landscape is enabling a never-before possible opportunity for many businesses to have a direct customer facing experience for their products and services. The scope for mass adoption of connected products and services is exponentially increased, which in turn places an entirely different set of demands that must be addressed as part of product innovation: scalability, UX, customization for mass market, security, privacy, localization, and multi-device support. And most importantly, businesses must design their products and services for the average consumer who might be using their products or services through a connectecd device.

Create infrastructure to support ‘Always on’ environment

The ‘always on’ nature of the connected products and services demands a supporting infrastructure to ensure continuous availability. Every process must be equipped to run 24×7, and distributed processes will be the new norm. For businesses that are prepared for this seismic shift, the scope for enhanced utilization of their products and services is vast. Agility in all aspects of the business will become a key differentiator, and companies must transform their decision-making systems, and work flow processes to support the new organizational needs.

Leverage product usage data

The proliferation of ‘smart’ sensors and other IoT devices and their integration into connected products has led to generation of huge amounts of usage data. Factors such as data capture in real-time, storage, security, and access are now an integral part of product and service delivery, and businesses must create supporting infrastructure for this vital function. In addition, businesses must either develop or acquire competencies to analyze the data, which can be leveraged to create new business models based on decision support systems.

Architect for a connected eco system

It will no longer suffice if the product design and architecture is merely focused on features and functionality. To successfully coexist in a connected eco system, product design and architecture must be influenced by systems thinking to ensure integrations and interoperability. Non-functional aspects such as performance, scalability, and security should be critical design considerations along with service orientation, and multi-tenancy.

Transform or Perish

The challenges of handling technology disruption could be daunting for many businesses, which must undergo a technology as well as organizational transformation to survive this tectonic shift. Businesses must focus on their strengths and deliver only what they are good at, and more importantly, not do anything on their own outside of their core competencies.

For businesses that are keenly aware of the forces of technology disruption and adapt, the potential rewards are enormous, where as for the unprepared or complacent, failure is inevitable.

Steven ten Napel, CEO
Steven is a co-founder and CEO of coMakeIT. He has extensive experience in setting up and managing large scale, distributed development centers for global technology companies across Europe, North America, and India

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