How do we develop smart, connected products efficiently?
R&D organizations, for their part, have been good at developing and combining mechanical and electrical components, and many have begun to master the challenge of incorporating software in products. Few R&D organizations, however, have deep experience in building and managing the cloud-based elements of the technology stack. With the development of smart, connected products, however, IT must assume a more central role. Various organizational models for this new relationship are emerging.
Do we have the right skills in house?
The skills needed to design, sell, and service smart, connected products are in high demand but short supply. Indeed, manufacturers are experiencing a growing sense of urgency about finding the right talent as their skill requirements shift from mechanical engineering to software engineering, from selling products to selling services, and from repairing products to managing product uptime.
How can we utilize all of the new product data?
Testing that tries to replicate the conditions in which customers will use products has long been part of product development. Smart, connected products take quality management several steps farther, enabling continuous monitoring of real-world performance data, allowing companies to identify and address design problems that testing failed to expose.
How can we accelerate product innovation?
In conventional products, variability is costly because it requires variation in physical parts. But the software in smart, connected products makes variability far cheaper and faster. For example, digital user interfaces can replace dials and buttons, making it easy and less expensive to modify a product by, say, changing control options. Meeting customer needs for variability through software, not hardware, and oftentimes remotely is a critical new design discipline.
How have others made the transition successfully?
Smart, connected products require a fundamental rethinking of design. At the most basic level, product development shifts from largely mechanical engineering to true interdisciplinary systems engineering. That’s why design teams are shifting from a majority of mechanical engineers to a majority of software engineers, and some manufacturers, like GE, Airbus, and Danaher, are establishing offices in software engineering hubs like Boston and Silicon Valley.