The benefits and pitfalls of engaging in IoT research
While there are already many connected products in the marketplace, there remain many opportunities for developing new IoT products and technologies. The greatest challenge for companies looking to develop an IoT product is how to apply a R&D process that will result in viable commercial and consumer-facing IoT products.
Today, most implementations of full stack IoT solutions involve the integration of existing technologies that are well-known. Some of these technologies have been heavily commercialized for years, and are at a cost point attractive enough for commercial and consumer applications. Other technologies are developed and available, but have not dropped down the cost/performance curve to the point where they are suitable for consumer-facing IoT solutions. With these gaps in the available technology, research into these new domains of IoT is warranted and has the potential to uncover new viable IoT solutions.
First, I will give an in-depth look into R&D.
By definition, research projects are much more fundamental. The outcomes might prove a product idea to be either achievable or unachievable. Cost risks are higher as the plan for realization can be unpredictable or without a known goal. Schedules for project completion are also usually fuzzy. Hence, research projects are high risk.
These are projects where achievement of the objective is possible using known technologies or simple technology extensions. This is not to minimize the cost of execution, which can be substantial. However, the risks of satisfying the project goals, costs and schedules are manageable.
Though creating a high quality, reliable IoT solutions is a significant investment and takes time to realize, these are typically development projects. When significantly different technology is required to realize the product, the project is generally in the research category.
IoT research pitfalls
IoT research projects have many risks, and our experience has shown that they can fail for a variety of reasons. I have outlined a few below:
- The physics of the achieving the technological goal might be impossible.
- Achieving the technology goal might be possible but at an ingredient cost point that precludes a commercially- acceptable product price point.
- The time to achieve an outcome can be highly unpredictable. This might mean it not only takes longer to develop a technology, but also the clock might not be in the favor of the team investing in the technology. A competing technology from another source might arise. If the time window slips, the business opportunity might vanish or be significantly reduced.
- The technology might be available, but the industrial capacity is being fully absorbed by a few major companies. This means the technology is available, but might not be available to anyone other than the largest players willing to commit to huge volumes of component parts. As an example, do you want the newest and latest display used by Apple in the newest — or soon to be released — iPhone? Great. Realize Apple might have absorbed the capacity of the supply chain for those displays. Expect shortages of supply, which translates into both cost and unpredictable delivery schedules. It happens.
When considering investment in IoT research, it’s important to narrow the focus of the research area. It is certainly possible to do fundamental research at the academic level, but the more relevant and important research needed to define which products — if ultimately successful — will fulfill a current or anticipated marketplace need.
IoT research elements for success
For a successful IoT-oriented research program, organizations must ensure that certain elements are in place. I have outlined a few below:
- Inclusion of discovery around technology that lends itself to commercial scale manufacture, and at an attractive price point.
- Organization of research projects with frequent and clearly defined checkpoints where the goals are reviewed, progress is assessed and the go-forward cost and schedule are assessed along with spending to date.
- Frequent reviews of the known and anticipated competitive landscape. For example, to avoid day late and a dollar short syndrome.
- Willingness to accept risk and to be clear sighted and open to the possibility of failure. While teams need to be tenacious and motivated for success, one has to understand that — at some point — it might be necessary to admit defeat.
- The value proposition for success must be sufficient to warrant the significant cost, unpredictable schedule and risk of outright failure. If this cannot be clearly assessed, it might not make sense to make the investment.
Nowhere more than in the domain of research does an IoT oriented company need to keep its eyes wide open. It must not only accept risk, it also has to support and celebrate the failures for the knowledge they provide to inform future efforts. However, those successful in managing research are able to overtake competition and get a sustainable edge in being first to market.
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