Considerations When Rolling Out an Internet of Things Project

The role of a product manager contemplating an Internet of Things (IoT) solution can be daunting depending on the particular domain and organizational objectives. As a result the technical, team leadership, and organizational skills of even the best product managers will be tested. With 20 percent of all companies investing in IoT-capable devices in the last year, Product managers need a solid understanding of how IoT implementation works with the overall product development lifecycle and with organizational strategy.

connected productIoT is not necessarily new but it might be new to your organization. Product managers need to become students of the game and stretch their creativity to grasp both technical, organizational, and ecosystem challenges singularly and as a whole.   Deep and wide capabilities are critical in creating IoT product strategies and guiding the organization on its IoT journey.

Sweat the Small Things

Connected products often require more attention to detail for a successful rollout. When working with new technology, even the best product managers don’t think of everything, so it’s important to ask the right questions of the right people.

  • Determine the differences between the non-connected and connected products: What’s the price difference in manufacturing? Where is the value in the more expensive, connected product? Will the target customer pay extra for that connection?
  • Consider the ease of onboarding connected products for the user:  Is the connected product easy-to-use and does it collect data from the user? The experience should be frictionless and the user should never feel inconvenienced.
  • Check out the competition: Are similar connected products already on the market? How are they performing, and how is yours different?
  • Address security concerns: When dealing with a product that transmits potentially sensitive data, security will be more complex.

A Business & Technical Conversation

A product manager’s best ally is a highly competent technical team. As a product manager it’s important to continue to develop technical skills and be relevant in technical discussions and have a core understanding across device form factors, embedded OS/application software, RF communications technologies, cloud platform capabilities, and mobile / web applications. Having a competent technical team, potentially augmented by professional services firms, is critically important. However, a product manager leading an IoT program must be able to engage in architectural discussions and facilitate technical decision processes.

There is no shortage of technology. However, there is a shortage of critical organizational thinking that will either positively or negatively affect a product manager’s success. Organizationally, IoT requires cross-departmental alignment and clear leadership for success.

Product managers will need to understand competing connected products or connected systems and how they relate to their current initiatives. Understanding if connectivity is being added to a product as a feature, or knowing if the product fundamentally changes the organization’s business toward product-as-a-service, provides a tremendous range of outcomes. Getting the organization focused on realistic time-frames of near term deliverables within the context of an overall product or product family road-map is advised.

Use case developments that include current and proposed ecosystem linkages are also key because they help define value and price points. Ecosystem linkages to existing business systems, marketing objectives such as affinity groups and advertisers, impacts and/or extensions to existing distribution channels, support organizations, cost accounting, pricing strategies, etc. all need to be understood and communicated to the organization.  Product managers who develop these materials are better positioned to lead discussions across different business functions and units, identify blockers, and request leadership assistance when cross-functional roadblocks are experienced.

Much like any other product release, an IoT rollout requires meticulous attention to value propositions. Product managers beginning an IoT project rollout should keep the following important considerations in mind:

  • Business and technical efforts are of equal importance and it is the business objectives that drive many important technical choices.
  • Substantive IoT initiatives are about organizational transformation and change. Having executive sponsorship, raising the organization’s collective IoT IQ, and phased implementations are critical to success.
  • Defining and refining success metrics are critically important. Simply counting connected units – or those that are sold –  is not enough. Make sure you’re focused on defining near term success metrics along your organization’s IoT journey.

Consider How Product Connectivity and Data Streams Impact ROI

A product manager is familiar with a more traditional ROI analysis, and should be able to apply that thought process to new IoT products and consider how connectivity affects the bottom line.  Connected products are unique in the need for a deeper focus on value chain and ecosystem. Most often, and by design, connected products provide many new layers of data that add value and clarity to ROI assessments. Additionally, external organizations in the value chain are often willing to pay for this new data in the form of subscription access. IoT consulting can help make the most of a new product’s data and maximize its impact on ROI.

Understand How to Implement CRM Integration

Even the most basic connected product requires CRM integration to fully realize its potential and every product manager should consider how the characteristics of the IoT-enabled product integrate into CRM business systems. All data coming into the supply chain from the device should be tracked across the supply chain, into the back-end of your CRM solution, and into analytics and reporting for use in brand protection and customer experience support.

Enlist Help If You Need It

The Internet of Things involves organizational transformation with an amalgamation of devices, software, data, and business systems. While product managers may have expertise in some of these areas, successful IoT initiatives requires a highly competent team in all disciplines. The right partnership will make sure that product managers are able to align expectations and help pave the way for a successful project.

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Steven Loving

ThingLogix VP of Sales specializing in Internet connected products and systems (IoT), enterprise software, cloud computing, and data analytics.

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