In many ways, the Internet of Things is the natural ‘next phase’ of computing; of networked services, sensing technology, apps, data and cloud services. Yet, this convergence introduces new, and often unprecedented complexity. It calls for shift in mindset.
For product companies, effective connected product deployment often means de-emphasizing the importance of the latest form and iteration of the product, and re-emphasizing product strategy around the data generated from connected products. De-emphasizing the role of the product in the product’s business model is, understandably, a significant philosophical, cultural, and operational mindshift for manufacturers to make. But when it comes to challenges, this is only the beginning.
In these early days, many companies are still struggling to understand where the challenges and roadblocks lie in the first place. Research conducted by Harbor Research in collaboration with Xively surveyed some 600 product manufacturers to understand the critical challenges faced throughout their IoT journeys. What follows are an overview and analysis of the five most commonly reported challenges and how companies can prepare.
Challenge #1: Security
Security is the single greatest challenge reported by manufacturers well underway with connected product deployment. This is hardly a surprise given the immense new threats the Internet of Things introduces to IT environments; when objects are digitally connected and placed onto networks, the objects themselves become windows of data transmission and collectors of potential insight and utility, but also potential vulnerabilities. Device security introduces new complexity, as connected products ‘at the edge’ may be constrained in memory and compute resources and thus unable to support complex and evolving security algorithms on their own. Furthermore, the security of an IoT deployment is not limited to the device, but is also subject to diverse attack vectors across the entire computing landscape (e.g. network, cloud, data sets, communications platforms, partner architectures, etc.) Unlike other challenges such as ‘set-up,’ IoT security remains an ongoing challenge throughout the life of the product.
Challenge #2: Innovation
The second greatest challenge product manufacturers report along their IoT journeys is ongoing innovation. Many companies view adding sensors to their products as innovative, but in fact, sensors alone aren’t innovative. Rather, innovation lies in integrating and applying the data such sensors emit to improve or inspire new services. That innovation was ranked so highly amidst challenges in connected product deployment is a reflection of the deeper challenge of data management. When it comes to innovating connected products, the real challenge is harnessing the feedback and insights inherent to connected product data via analytics and customers to optimize the product’s functionality and user experience.
Challenge #3: Support & Service
The ability to adequately support and service connected products and their users is a challenge product manufacturers report along the entire IoT journey, from early in implementations to mature deployments. In the past, many manufacturers’ only interaction with customers was as the point of purchase. Analog products left them virtually blind to customer interactions and preferences, as well as to product performance and service needs. With sensing and cloud technologies, many manufacturers suddenly find themselves with more (real-time) data about their products and customers than they know what to do with. This is an opportunity, but achieving such requires manufacturers address numerous challenges:
- Properly managing and analyzing product and customer data to render it actionable for support teams
- Integrating connected product data with existing systems used for customer support and transactions (e.g. CRM)
- Providing training and knowledge sharing across support teams and channel partners
- Supporting customers with clear marketing, set-up, troubleshooting, and services content
Addressing challenges to enable faster reactive support of connected products helps pave the way to provide proactive support. The ability to use connected product data to predict product malfunction and pre-emptively service products, for instance, introduces a new order of customer experience, avoiding downtime, inadequate field service preparedness, customer-driven resolution requests, and associated cost savings.
Challenge #4: Interoperability
Interoperability, or the ability to integrate connected products, their data, functionality, or services with other products, systems, and data sets is a central challenge in connected product deployment. It is, in fact, one of the most significant challenges facing the entire IoT market and promise due to a lack of universal connectivity and integration standards. The ability for products to “speak” with each other, particularly when they come from different manufacturers is a good example of how IoT introduces unprecedented considerations to manufacturers. The value of products communicating amongst each other from a user experience and customer intelligence standpoint simply outweighs manufacturers’ desire to only integrate with their own proprietary products.
Challenge #5: Scalability
Scalability is another critical challenges manufacturers report during their connected product deployments. Companies often begin such implementations with small pilots, perhaps limited to one product in a suite, one operational environment, or targeted for a specific set of customers. But without proper planning, talent, and adequate measurement, analytics, and support structures in place, some companies struggle to ever get out of the gate. Companies can also find themselves in a circular challenge when it comes to scalability—one in which procuring greater investment and integrations (i.e. scale) are a function of showing meaningful results, but achieving meaningful results in the first place relies on having those critical (sometimes costly) structures mentioned above.
Advice for Product Manufacturers to Best Navigate Challenges
As companies rush to invest in IoT, one of the most prudent steps they can take is to assess their connected product strategy execution against the primary challenges and risks they face. Given the diversity of the challenges surfaced in this research, how should product manufacturers proceed?
What follows are recommendations and takeaways to apply these findings:
- Understand the likelihood, risks, and needs associated with common challenges
- Take thorough inventory of potential roadblocks before and during connected product deployment; consider allocations for existing vs. new resources to support their management
- Prioritize use cases and scope pilots based on feasibility against these challenges
- Leverage the checklist developed from our research for a round-up of potential challenges
- Consider partnerships as a strategic solution for security, data management, and ultimately scale
- Partnerships with platforms specializing in connected product security may be strategic given the significant attention, monitoring, expertise IoT security requires
- The ability to rapidly process, manage, analyze, and contextualize connected product data underscores all of the above challenges; Choosing a partner with proven success in this area may help expedite scale
- Partnerships and feasibility assessments help support other core challenges reported in connected product deployment, including product design, set-up, connectivity, software updates, and regulatory compliance
- Prioritize interoperability to support connected product’s success
- Identify and then prioritize the key product types, data sets, and systems with which to integrate or make interoperable connected products. Start with those that offer the most immediate benefit to the success of connected product use cases, analytics, and to end users
- Design initial and ongoing security mechanisms and structures to safeguard connected products and their data when integrating with external products and systems
- Integrations lend greater context; Use insights from connected product data to drive new service layers and improvements to customer support, product functionality, security procedures, and process optimization
You can access the full report at no charge for deeper analysis, data cuts, and see how these challenges vary across different phases of IoT implementation.