Several months passed before I finally got around to connecting our Nest smart thermostat to the Internet via a Wi-Fi network. And it was only then that I began to understand the power of product connectedness.
What used to be a moderately better, albeit well designed, thermostat suddenly transformed into an intelligent and accessible home comfort assistant that understood our preferences and patterns and worked on our behalf, without asking too much.
Connectedness has always been a highly desired feature for customers. But it’s also useful for engineers and product designers, as well. After all, what product designer wouldn’t want to be able to better understand how customers use their products? This information could help the product designer provide better customer support and continuously improve products, even while customers are actively using them.
This wasn’t that simple or cost-effective as recently as a couple of years ago. But with the near-universal availability of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G/4G/LTE, combined with the plummeting costs of low-power computing platforms, it is even less of a problem now.
Four reasons your company’s products should be connected
Many products – toys, medical devices, industrial machinery, autos, kitchen equipment, washing machines, etc. – are candidates for connectedness. Moreover, there are plenty of worthy reasons for designing connected products:
- Developing a sticky customer relationship: A non-connected product generally leads toward a transactional customer relationship. A connected product moves the customer toward a long-term relationship – at least through the life of the product and usually beyond – by sharing data and providing more value with the help of cloud services. For example, Fitbit users usually get limited information from the fitness band itself. A connected Fitbit, however, can share information with Fitbit’s cloud services so the customer can receive richer, more insightful analysis. This information sharing and additional insight are prime sources of sticky customer relationships that can last well beyond a single product purchase.
- Changing business models: Connected products and services allow many organizations to establish a commercial relationship based on outcomes and performance.
- Improving products while they are actively being used: Tesla’s ability to change ground clearance to improve safety with an over-the-air software update is an amazing example of how connected products can be enhanced while in use.
- Obtaining extremely valuable usage, performance, and fault data: Companies can use this information to improve existing products, understand what is important for customers, and design even better products in the future. In addition, actual usage and status information can be used to guide customers toward more optimal maintenance and service protocols to reduce total lifecycle costs.
Developing the right strategies for your connected products
Clearly, the case to develop connected products is compelling for product designers and companies. However, designers and companies should approach connected products with a fundamentally different design and lifecycle management strategy. The normal approach is one of designing and creating a product – even if it is made up of mechanical, electrical, and software components – as a rigid object that is designed, manufactured, sold, and, eventually, forgotten. This approach is at odds with the key tenets of connected products.
Connected products require a product design and lifecycle management viewpoint that takes into consideration the following:
- Products are malleable and can be improved even when they are being actively used
- Products can be accessed with customer permission in real time
- Cloud services are an extension of the product itself
The design strategy then will modularize and parameterize key capabilities, performance issues, and other components in order to modify/improve products with software and technology updates.
Key capabilities of connected products companies
Companies that offer connected products must also be able to:
- Design, develop, deploy, and operate cloud services that complement and enhance product features and capabilities
- Develop customer service and relationship management processes that can work directly with and through the connected product
- Have the capacity to analyze historical performance and fault data to predict likelihood of failure and take appropriate action
- Adjust maintenance and service recommendation processes to take into consideration the actual use of products
- Modify existing supply chain and replenishment processes to meet real-time fulfillment needs
In short, connected products force companies to rethink and reimagine how they design products and how they operate to serve customers.
For more on why the Internet of Things’ value will be in the data, not the connections, see the white paper Live Business: The Importance of the Internet of Things.