The Internet of Things (IoT) has been one of the hottest topics in the tech world recently: we're seeing wireless-enabled TVs, agricultural equipment and even refrigerators – but why is it such a big deal, and how does it affect product developers and manufacturers?
Following up our talk on this year's Embedded World, let's investigate how embedded and connected systems, and the Internet of Things completely changes the way we think about products. Scroll below to download the full white paper from Embedded World 2015.
The evolution of products, as outlined by Michael E. Porter's comprehensive article in the Harvard Business Review titled How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition, has been propelled by the addition of "smart" components. The falling cost of microprocessors, memory, sensors, and other types of computer hardware has allowed manufacturers to embed such devices in their products in order to expand their functionality. Embedded software is increasingly used in more and more types of "smart" products, improving both the functionality and the performance of these devices, and even replacing hardware in certain cases.
This era of smart products can be considered something of a revolution in itself, but the real change was brought about by the inclusion of connectivity components. Connecting products to the Internet of Things, cloud networks, and a remote computing infrastructure has opened up new possibilities and is fundamentally changing various industries, and what we mean when we talk about 'product'.
These new types of connected products can now communicate with a central server, and even with each other, sharing data gathered through their sensors and processed via their embedded microcomputers. Product developers can then use this data and the connected remote computing infrastructure to introduce new, previously unheard of features and functionality to their products – even functionally simple devices such as refrigerators.
The smart fridge is actually a popular example used to demonstrated how smart, IoT-enabled products could help make our lives easier. Such an intelligent fridge could automatically analyze its contents, keep track of expiration dates, compile a shopping list, and share it via the cloud as a note on your phone, or, even better, could simply order the food online.
IoT's impact on the industry
So how does all this affect product developers? Previously, manufacturers only had to worry about the physical components of their products. The fact that connectivity components are increasingly becoming a vital part of devices doesn't only mean that engineering and manufacturing physical products is simply extended with a phase where connectivity devices (ports, antennae) are added. Instead, a whole new innovation and product lifecycle is needed to develop and manage the services that take advantage of the new opportunities provided by connectivity.
Software and services are increasingly becoming the backbone of products, and are transforming what we really mean by the term 'product'. Staying with our example of the fridge, we don't currently expect our refrigerator to order us food – but if this feature proves convenient and gains popularity in the future, no one will want a fridge that isn't able to do this. Thus, as the emphasis is being placed on software and additional services, more and more companies have to rethink what business they're in.
These additional lifecycles pose a variety of challenges to companies. Not only do they have to innovate and manage the development of these services, but there's also the question of the maintenance and reliability / safety of these new types of products. All this greatly increases the complexity of the development lifecycle, which makes it more and more difficult to manage these separate processes. The term 'xLM' is used to refer to the single, overarching lifecycle integrating product, innovation, development and service lifecycles.
Integrating and managing these interconnected, overlapping lifecycles (also referred to as xLM) is a burden faced by a growing number of companies. We have identified three dimensions of the integration that organizations developing IoT-enabled products will have to deal with:
- Integration of Suppliers – In order to be able to manage the immense complexity introduced by IoT, companies will have to strengthen their ties with suppliers, not only involving them at certain stages of the lifecycle, but instead collaborating with them throughout the development and maintenance of products.
- Integration of Lifecycles – As mentioned above, interrelated and overlapping lifecycles necessitate a new management approach...
- Integration of Tools and Technologies – ... and to support the new approach and enable the management of the overarching lifecycle, previously disparate tools and technologies will have to be holistically integrated.
With all three dimensions of integration, managing the various sub-lifecycles (xLM) of the overarching product development process can be greatly supported by a platform that helps combine these individual approaches, tools and lifecycles. Due to its high integrability and ability to manage high levels of complexity, codeBeamer is a solution that is successfully used by many companies globally to manage such complicated processes.
To find out more about how the Internet of Things changes the definition of products, and how companies align with this change in the industry, download our white paper for Embedded World 2015 below.