The Path from Concept to Connected Product

If you’re new to IoT (or even if you’re not), the path to success can be a rocky one.  The IoT introduces a variety of new challenges and requirements that are not typically essential for an unconnected product, including connectivity, user apps, data management and remote support to name a few.  While no one project is ever the same, we have seen a consistent timeline begin to emerge.   The interesting thing about this timeline is that it does not seem to discriminate by industry, product type, or geographies.   Again, every case is different, but it’s always good to know what to expect.  So, what does the path from concept to getting a connected product in market look like? And how long does it typically take?

Let’s start with time invested.  We’ve identified a pretty consistent pattern that ranges from 4 to 6 months to get a product concept into market.  It should be noted that this timeline does not necessarily include a finished product but more of a “beta’ if you will that will help test and validate the market fit.  The best part of the IoT is that you can consistently learn from your customers and regularly improve your product so time in market is just as important as time to market.    So let’s examine how these 4-6 months usually play out.  We see it normally break out into 5 key sections:

  • Conceptualization
  • PoC Delivery
  • App Development
  • Business Processes
  • System Hardening

The time it takes to get through each section varies based on the complexity of the product, the business processes associated with that product and the environment/geographies that the product is being deployed into.

Conceptualization (1-3 Months)

The first step in any IoT journey is to conceptualize what you want your connected product to be – as well as defining the business value, use case and metrics that need to be validated through your initial product. This phase is critical, as it will define success for the rest of the project. Too often companies are simply focused on the technical aspects of getting a connected product to market and not the importance of business and customer value, use cases and the like.    Kicking off a project with the main focus being connecting hardware can lead to business and market fit challenges down the road.

Proof of Concept (POC) Delivery (1-3 Months)

Once you do have a clearly defined business case it is important to quickly start moving towards proof of concept hardware and developing the business processes that will make the IoT product data actionable.   The purpose of a PoC is to validate that the product can be connected securely the data can be managed via an IoT solution, and that the business model will work to support the concept.  This is also the time where device and data security need to be addressed.  When we talk about the importance of getting a “beta” or a minimally viable product to market for testing knowing you can address issues later, that does NOT pertain to security.  Security needs to be addressed at this stage and completed to the best of the company’s ability.  Built-in rather than bolted on has always been the best policy when it comes to security and the IoT is no different.

App Development (3-4 Months – done concurrently with other steps)

Once a business model and PoC has been shaped it is now time to start working on how to create new value from the IoT product data. One of the most common use case for connecting a product is to create a user app that allows someone to interact or control a product in a new way.  For example, controlling the temperature in your home without being anywhere near a thermostat.  The complexity of a user app can vary wildly, but here is an area where you don’t need to over deliver for a first product to market. The goal, instead, should be to have enough capability to deliver on the business model and use cases set, but not spend time over developing on features that will may or may not be used.

Business Process (3-4 Months – done concurrently with other steps)

Now it’s time to make the IoT data actionable – after all what good is all that data if it doesn’t teach us anything about the product, the customers, etc.   IoT solutions can generate a lot of data so first and foremost it is important to define the data you want to collect.  Then determine how best to manage that data so it is actionable and adds value to the business.  One key way to do that it to ensure that it works with other key business systems, like a CRM, ERP or Customer Support platforms. Believe it or not, this is something I often see delaying time to market – as it often was not initially defined at the kickoff of the project. But it is critical as it adds significant value.  It can feel like an overwhelming task, but connected product management platforms, like Xively, help make that process significantly easier.

System Hardening (1-2 Months)

The final step is hardening the architecture, business workflows and customer support. This hardening process will vary quite dramatically based on the number of devices being shipped, the number of integrated business systems, and the complexity of the product. The goal of this step is to make sure that the products will work as expected, the data will trigger actions as needed, and the product can be supported if anything goes wrong (which it almost always will).  This hardening time is also a good point to do any security checks, start training support teams, and assure that the product provision process is working as expected.

One of the biggest challenges with the IoT is the fear of the unknown.  Not knowing what needs to be done or how much time it should take.  Every project is different and will have its own unique hurdles.  This timeline is not absolute, by any stretch, but has regularly proven to be an accurate estimate for a number of our customers.  My hope is that knowing what’s ahead of you – at least in a small way – may help turn the fear of the unknown into excitement of what’s to come.

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