In a 2017 article, I offered seven tips to ensure a successful IoT product development partnership. Nearly two years have transpired, and while the old tips are still relevant, here are four more insights on the topic gained from our years of experience designing IoT products.
Security concerns are crucial
IoT products are often deployed at the network edge. Because these are often purpose-driven devices, some product companies pay little heed to security-related concerns. In the hands of end customers, these devices can become points of entry for hackers and other unauthorized users. There are many strategies to address these security concerns — or to at least set up reasonable barriers to entry. For companies that are working with a product development service provider, it is crucial that they include security in their statement of work. Also ensure that the service provider is fully conversant in the issues and has the expertise to implement remedial actions in order to mitigate security-related risks. If uncertain of the security strategies to apply, companies should engage with their development partner in the first phase of the project to help define an effective, tactical implementation plan.
Wireless standards are in a state of rapid flux
Not everyone is aware of all the wireless communications technologies and strategies available both now and on the horizon. Likewise, there are important tradeoffs to be made in selection of the right strategy for the IoT product. The most common ones in recent years have been Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular modems. However, there are now many spinoffs muddying the waters. Among the more recent or evolving technologies are Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy, LoRa, Cat-M and Wi-Fi 6. An IoT product firm needs to find a supplier apprised of current and emerging technologies that has deep knowledge of the tradeoffs between risk, data and connectivity costs, power consumption and bandwidth. Selecting the wrong platform can result in excessive costs, quick charge depletion or inappropriate bandwidth, as well as obsolescence issues.
Identify a clear end-customer value proposition
There are so many opportunities to convert passive devices to become smart and connected IoT products. Before engaging a product development partner, make sure there is a solid business case. The IoT product company needs to ensure when the product is created that is serves a need or satisfies a desire for the end customer at a price he is willing to pay. This is the essence of value. Sometimes IoT product companies fall so in love with the product concept that they have an unrealistic sense of its market value. As with any new product, there has to be a known or unmet need for the consumer.
Be realistic about schedules
Too often, an IoT development client does not realize how long it will take to create a finished product. There are lots of developer kits out there along with single-board computers. On occasion, a “quick and dirty” proof of concept can be created. It may work — or possibly even look convincing. However, there can be a big difference between an engineer-created demo that is built in quantities of one or two, and a full product that has been designed to be reliable, tested and ready for scalable production. Also, it is typical that IoT devices have to go through one or more regulatory approval processes. Depending on the hardware and communications strategy, that could invoke processes such as CE, UL and those with the FCC.
If cellular is involved, carrier certification will be needed. Using a pre-certified cellular modem cuts down but does not eliminate the process. If the IoT product is highly size-constrained and requires design around a cellular chipset, the carrier certification process can take months. In working with a product development partner, creating a production-ready product or even a minimum viable product that can be deployed without concern for field failures or warranty issues takes time.
It is fundamental to ensure that the expectations of an IoT development client and their product development services partner are clear and explicit. When there are disconnects between the two parties, problems invariably arise at the end of a project when the partner believes it has satisfied expressed customer needs when the client’s understanding is that the deliverables do not align with their expectations. Putting these best practices to work will go a long way to establishing clarity around client satisfaction and the creation of an IoT product that provides clear and worthwhile value to the end-purchasing customer.
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