Because I have a passion for the IoT, I try to pay very close attention to the movement of the industry. Every day my Google newsfeed is filled with stories about companies launching new connected products – which is really exciting. I do, however, worry that with this big rush to get a connected product to market, companies are setting themselves up for long term risks and obligations that they may not be prepared for.
When it comes to an IoT infrastructure, if you decide to embark on the project yourself, many of the real problems begin after the product launches. So often, much of the time and resource become dedicated to the technical part of the IoT and the organizations long term impacts become an afterthought. So let’s walk through what those obligations are:
In today’s 24/7, always on economy, customers have come to expect constant connectivity. This is especially true when replacing traditionally non-connected products. If the backend isn’t working, your smart connected product at best is no better than the dumb product your customer was trying to replace and totally nonfunctional at worst. Are you (both technically and organizationally) ready for 24/7 monitoring and consistent uptime? If not the consequences can be steep – customer churn and reputation damage will certainly be an issue.
Frequent Product Updates
We’ve said it time and time again – the days of shipping a product and forgetting it are over. Connected products need to be consistently updated to meet the requirements of today’s rapidly changing software landscape. Sure adding new features to the product is a great way to provide customers with added value, but even if there are no new features on the roadmap, staying on top of security updates alone is a full time job. It is estimated that the recent Heartbleed bug in OpenSSL which affected almost all web services, collectively cost more than $500 million. Keeping up with disclosures and patching them requires employing at least a couple developers on staff for that purpose alone. This can easily add hundreds of thousands dollars to the long term costs of keeping your platform running, but the costs of ignoring these updates is even higher.
Maintaining Legacy Systems
As companies grow their connected product portfolio, new requirements or scalability issues may require them to build or transition to new platforms – leaving the burden of a legacy system behind. It’s never easy to EOL a product, but even harder with a connected product. They are notoriously difficult to sunset. You can’t just hit the “kill switch” otherwise that product your customers invested in literally becomes a brick. Google’s recent shutdown of the Revolv hub is a classic example of this. They took a lot of heat for making, what they believed, was a good strategic business decision. But customers of Revolv felt left out in the cold. When you abandon one platform for another – which will inevitably happen with a DIY platform — you have to create a migration path to help customers either update their devices or move to a new platform.
We are really just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the obligations of a connected product. Whether you build your own platform or work with partners, these obligations don’t change. The difference with a DIY strategy is how you are able to deal with them. By working with a platform partner you can offload a lot of the technology obligations and risks (uptime, monitoring, updates, security, etc.) to them, freeing you up to focus on strategic business decisions that will help grow your connected product company.