In this episode of the IoT Product Leadership podcast, we discuss Digital Twins. My guest today is Sam George, head of Azure IoT at Microsoft. Sam has been in the show before. And I’m really glad to have him back for another insightful conversation.
IoT Strategy for Product Leaders
There is no question that we are living in an era of impressive technological disruption that is changing the way we live. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a perfect example of the innovation that occurs when we leverage the latest technology trends to create solutions that positively impact the world.
The Internet of Things is possible thanks to the availability of more powerful and cost-effective components. Today, we have small and accurate sensors, powerful edge computing, cloud computing, advanced analytics techniques such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, and a myriad of display form factors, including phones, watches, car dashboards, and even Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Twenty years ago, we had accurate sensors and some edge computing capabilities, though not nearly as powerful as what we have today. We also had the ability to centralize data and analyze it to extract value.
The answer is connectivity.
Today, connectivity allows enterprises to collect data from remote locations at blazing speeds and affordable costs. With systems no longer siloed, we are seeing the promise of the Internet of Things become a reality.
Ubiquitous connectivity opens the door to new products and services that can reach a wider portion of the population. Take for example the concept of a Smart City. Cities are complex, siloed systems that support the daily life of their citizens. Systems like energy generation and distribution, water delivery, waste management, transit management, surveillance, and more provide the complete nervous system of any city.
The connectivity revolution enables us to remove barriers across all of these systems and create a unified mega-system commonly known as a “Smart City.” This opens up the door for a multitude of opportunities for both enterprises and governments to deploy solutions that increase operational efficiency, reduce cost, and improve the quality of life for their citizens.
Companies can improve the efficiency of energy delivery by creating a self-healing electric grid or “Smart Grid.” Cities can save millions of gallons of water by automatically detecting leaks across hundreds of miles of “smart pipes.” These applications and many others are beginning to take hold today, and they are powered by connectivity and the Internet of Things.
It’s easy to see how this connectivity revolution enables opportunities in developed countries that already have the infrastructure and know-how to take advantage of them. But what about opportunities in developing countries?
These technological innovations have the potential to have the largest impact in developing nations, where advanced connectivity can enable cities to “leap-frog” many years into the future. Governments will be able to bypass the construction of expensive, traditional infrastructure by adopting wireless connectivity solutions, such as 5G, that will deliver more bandwidth and capacity for a fraction of the cost.
With this infrastructure in place, enterprises and governments can focus on deploying solutions like the ones mentioned above. They can even take them further by creating innovative applications such as mobile payments, remote education, and remote health.
The connectivity revolution is just beginning, so now is the time for companies to develop a strong strategy to leverage these new trends to provide better products and services to their customers.
To be successful, that strategy must be informed by an understanding of what additional value will be provided to the customers and the company with access to real-time data in their customer’s environment. If you are able to identify that value, then you are ready to start your IoT journey.
Go ahead. The technology and connectivity will be there, ready to support you.
Note: I wrote this article as part of a collaboration with Ericsson (#EricssonInfluencer). Read how Ericsson and Grundfos are leveraging the connectivity revolution to develop intelligent pumps.
5G, with its increased bandwidth and intelligence, promises to propel the Internet of Things forward. Smarter connectivity and more bandwidth mean more connected devices, which means more data. This abundance of data (or the value one can extract from it), is driving players across the IoT ecosystem toward this opportunity.
Communication Service Providers (CSP) are no exception. They are working to bring the 5G infrastructure to market while exploring ways to play a more active role in storing, analyzing, and monetizing the data that flows through their network.
As CSPs plan their product and go-to-market strategies, it is useful to evaluate the lessons learned from other companies that have tried similar models.
Capitalizing on the data that flows through a system is not a new concept. In fact, this idea has driven hundreds of companies to enter the IoT cloud platform market, allured by the possibility of accessing IoT data, many without acknowledging the immense complexity.
While there are countless lessons from IoT platform companies, here are the three most useful conclusions for CSPs.
It is important for CSPs to perform market and user research to discover how they can bring value to IoT solution providers. Let’s not forget that accessing user data is a CSP goal and not something customers are asking for.
From the perspective of IoT solution providers, the CSP is usually just a means to an end. As long as the data transfer is reliable, secure, fast, and cost-effective, it doesn’t matter which CSP they use.
What can CSPs provide to IoT solution providers to be perceived as value-added partners, as opposed to non-differentiated infrastructure?
With the recent privacy scandals, consumers are more aware than ever about how companies acquire and treat their data.
IoT solution providers are fighting the privacy fight on two fronts. On one end, they need to gain the trust of their customers, requiring tighter SLAs and clear restrictions on what vendors can do with customer data.
On the other hand, IoT product companies are negotiating with every partner and vendor across the technology stack who is also interested in their data. This includes vendors for sensors, IoT cloud platform, analytics, etc.
Everyone is looking to access the data collected by the IoT company. CSPs need to compete with the other players, providing an extra level of value to convince IoT product companies to share their data with yet another vendor.
Often, infrastructure companies pursuing a data strategy through an IoT platform realize too late the complexity and steep cost of building and operating a cloud platform. These companies have invested billions of dollars building their IoT platform offerings, only to realize they are unable to pull it off.
This is particularly challenging for companies whose core expertise is not cloud software, as the challenge then becomes technical and organizational.
Companies that don’t have a software culture find it very difficult to compete in this space. Beyond building the solution, they have to support and monetize it. CSPs would benefit from a strengths and weaknesses analysis to determine whether they are equipped to embark on this journey and what it would take to succeed.
It is true that there are lucrative opportunities for CSPs to play a larger role in the data economy. Before diving in, the successes and challenges of IoT cloud platforms and other IoT component vendors should be evaluated—saving themselves from preventable headaches down the road.
Note: I wrote this article as part of a collaboration with Ericsson (#EricssonInfluencer). Download Ericsson’s report: Realizing IoT Strategies.
In this episode of the IoT Product Leadership podcast, we discuss Building the Internet of Things.
My guest today is Maciej Kranz, Vice President of Strategic Innovation at Cisco. Maciej, a world-renowned IoT thought leader.
In addition to his work at Cisco, Maciej is a frequent speaker at conferences around the world, and he is the author of the New York Times best-selling book: Building the Internet of Things.
What is the Internet of Things, anyway?
Although most companies, analysts, and media outlets constantly talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), a large number of professionals struggle to understand what it actually is.
In this episode of the IoT Product Leadership podcast, we discuss how product leaders build trust and gain influence.
My guest is Bryan Kelly. Bryan is a seasoned Product Executive and founder of Soft Works Practice, where he helps Product Managers improve their communication and collaboration skills.
As the Internet of Things continues to grow, more and more companies are trying to leverage this technology and business trend to grow their business and impact their bottom line.
Despite the vast opportunities the Internet of Things provides, many companies are struggling to build IoT products and manage all of their corresponding complications. There is one thing these companies are missing: the people with the right skills to manage the complexities of IoT products throughout their lifecycle.
Although this challenge might sound familiar to many Product Managers, there’s a twist. IoT products are significantly more complex than non-connected products. In most cases, even the most experienced Product Managers are struggling in this new area.
We need a new breed of Product Managers that can tackle all the complexities of the ever-changing and exponentially more complex field of IoT.
But, what exactly is an IoT Product Manager? And how does it differ from “traditional” PMs?
In this article, I’ll share my definition based on years working as an IoT PM, and experience training over 1,000 Product Managers on the nuances of IoT Product Management. But before I dive in, let’s start by defining what an IoT Product is.
As you know, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of millions of devices connected to each other via the Internet. People call these devices by many names, including:
These terms are used interchangeably—which complicates things, as companies don’t have a shared language around IoT.
I prefer the term “IoT Product.” So that’s the term I’ll use throughout this post.
Without a standard term for these things (pun intended), there is no clear definition of what they are. To start creating that shared language, I want to offer you my definition of an IoT Product:
An IoT Product is a product that combines hardware and software, measures real-world signals, and connects to the Internet to provide value to a customer.
In a future post, I will break down every part of this definition. But for now, let’s use that definition to define an IoT Product Manager.
Keep in mind that I’m using the generic term IoT Product to capture all products that fit into my definition, regardless of industry or vertical. That means that any hardware device that connects to the cloud can fall under this definition.
So yes, this goes way beyond your “smart toaster”. Here are some examples of IoT Products across various industries:
Recommended article: What is an IoT Platform?
Based on the definition of an IoT product it’s easy to answer the question of what is an IoT Product Manager.
An IoT Product Manager is a Product Manager skilled in all areas of bringing an IoT product to market.
Sounds simple, but it is deceptively complex. Think of IoT Product Management as a specialization on top of Product Management.
Take this analogy: a cardiologist is a doctor, but a very specialized doctor. Similarly, an IoT Product Manager is a Product Manager who is specialized in IoT.
In this sense, the core responsibilities of Product Management still apply. An IoT PM is responsible for understanding customer needs and driving the creation of products that satisfy those needs, while bringing value to their company. In fact, we can still use Martin Eriksson’s diagram to define a Product Manager as a professional who lives in the intersection between UX, Business, and Technology.
So if an IoT Product Manager has the same overall responsibility (i.e. creating value), how is the role different? Let’s take a look.
The complexity of IoT Product Management stems from the large scope of IoT solutions. IoT PMs have the same challenges as traditional PMs, just at a much larger scale due to the increased complexity of the product. Let’s break down those differences.
Every IoT product has five technology building blocks. I call these blocks the five layers of the IoT Technology Stack.
If you are new to the IoT Technology Stack, I highly recommend reading my article: A Primer for IoT Product Managers.
IoT Product Managers need a clear understanding of these five components and how they fit together to form a working IoT solution. The above diagram showcases the complexity, as each layer can be considered its own product, with its own roadmap, timelines, and more.
To put it in perspective, a PM working on a non-connected product would need to worry about only one or two layers of this diagram. For example, a PM working on a social media app would primarily focus on the Cloud Applications, along with some involvement with the Cloud Infrastructure. If you’ve ever managed such a product, you know how complex that alone is… now imagine adding three more layers of technology!
IoT Product Managers need a holistic understanding of each of the layers, as well as how all of the components in each layer fit together. In a nutshell, IoT Product Managers need to adopt “system thinking.”
IoT Products have both hardware and software components, meaning IoT PMs have to be familiar with managing cyber-physical systems.
Product Managers usually have experience managing software OR hardware, but not both. To further complicate things, an IoT Product includes many “types” of software, including embedded software, networking software, backend/Cloud software, front-end applications, and edge/cloud APIs.
All of these areas are very specialized. And in order to be successful, IoT PMs must grasp the basic principles of managing the entire stack.
Again, it’s not that IoT products are “magically” more complex. Every single component is well understood. It’s simply that there are many more components to manage.
Having a bigger scope means more people will be involved in building, deploying, and using your solution.
An IoT Product typically has more external and internal users than non-connected products. This includes users involved in installation, deployment, asset management, operations, etc.
IoT PMs have to earn buy-in from more people within the company, including customer success, operations, security, compliance, field support, supply chain, and more.
Not to mention the engineering team is much larger and more diverse to include hardware engineering, industrial design, embedded developers, IT, cloud developers, front-end developers, UX designers, QA, integration team, and security testing… just to name a few.
IoT products are too large and complex for a single company to build all the components. Even the large-multibillion dollar companies understand that IoT is an ecosystem and partner game.
As an IoT Product Manager, you’ll need to work closely with many vendors across the IoT Technology Stack, including technology components, service providers, channel partners, etc.
Your partner strategy will have a significant impact on your overall IoT Product roadmap.
You can’t read about IoT today without hearing about another hack or cybersecurity breach. IoT Products are more prone to hacking because:
1) Companies are not focusing enough on this area, and
2) The attack surface is much larger given that all five layers of the IoT Technology Stack need protection.
Because IoT Products can interact with the physical world, a compromised device can damage property and put human lives at risk. This must be taken seriously.
IoT Product Managers must prioritize security above all. To learn more, check out these additional articles:
IoT Product Managers need to be nimble and confident to launch products under the uncertainty that comes with IoT.
The technology, processes, and business models around IoT are very new, and the industry is still working to figure them out.
Because we have five layers of the IoT Technology Stack, there’s more to keep track of as technology evolves. Plus, keeping up with higher-level trends such as Blockchain or Artificial Intelligence can be disruptive for our products.
On the other hand, IoT Products—with their ability to have a 24/7 connection to customers—enables new and innovative business models not possible with non-connected products. As an IoT PM, you’ll need to experiment with new and untested business models and adapt your roadmap quickly to ensure you are capturing value from your customer. Easier said than done.
Here’s where the uncertainty kicks-in. We can’t wait for the dust to settle on the “right” technology or business model. We need to solve our customer’s problems today and therefore, we need to be as confident as possible making decisions in an ever-changing technology, market, and business landscape.
Note: To learn more about IoT business models, I recommend my article: 7 IoT Business Models That Are Transforming Industries.
Now that you understand what an IoT Product Manager is, you might be thinking: wow, that’s a lot! Do I have to know all that to become an IoT PM?
Good question! No, you don’t. Let me explain.
The scope to launch and maintain a successful IoT product is huge, and there’s no way a single person can be an expert in ALL the areas. Companies who want the “unicorn” IoT PM, quickly find out that this person either doesn’t exist or they can’t afford them.
Instead, companies are focusing on building strong IoT Product Teams. The goal is to build a team that together covers ALL the necessary areas. IoT Product Managers should strive to have the skills required to be successful within a team. I call that a T-shaped IoT Product Manager.
The concept of T-shaped Product Managers had been around for some time. In his article, Roman Pichler describes a T-shaped Product Manager as a PM with a horizontal set of skills that are transferable across products, as well as a vertical set of skills that go deeper into the specific product they are building.
For the IoT T-shaped definition, I use my IoT Decision Framework to map all the different areas IoT Product Managers need to focus on. Here’s an example of the skills of a T-shaped IoT Product Manager with Cloud experience.
The horizontal part of the T means an understanding of the development processes (and challenges) of building hardware, embedded software, networking technology, cloud platforms, and front-end applications.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in all of these areas. It means you need to have a solid understanding of how these pieces fit together, and how the different teams collaborate to build the final solution.
The vertical part of the T means having expertise in the six decision areas for that particular layer of the IoT Technology Stack.
For example, a Product Manager with Cloud experience will have vertical expertise on all six Decision Areas of the IoT Decision Framework:
Here’s another example of a T-shaped IoT Product Manager, now focusing on the Device Hardware layer.
In this example, the IoT PM would have a horizontal understanding across the IoT Technology Stack, AND they would be intimately familiar with the different decision areas around developing hardware products.
Disruptive trends are usually surrounded by a lot of hype. Given how fast things move in the product world, it’s easy to dismiss the Internet of Things as a passing trend.
But make no mistake, the Internet of Things is here to stay, and IoT Product Management is the new normal.
Think about it like this: each layer of the IoT Technology Stack will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Microprocessors and sensors will continue to become faster and smaller. Networking technology will continually improve its bandwidth. Cloud technology will continue to be more robust and ubiquitous.
Best of all, these technologies will continue to get cheaper. Not to mention the tremendous growth of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, which plays an important role in powering the Internet of Things.
Therefore, the trend of connecting physical products into the virtual world will only continue to grow. More companies will adopt these trends to improve their products and provide more value to customers.
With this as our new normal, IoT Product Managers will soon be called only “Product Managers”. The Product profession needs to catch up to the complexities of building IoT Products so we can avoid becoming obsolete, and continue to add value to our customers, our companies, and society as a whole.