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An IoT Technology stack and framework for product managers.
More and more product managers and innovators are bumping into IoT, the Internet of Things, as part of their current or future product roadmaps. I’m seeing a convergence of product forms. In the past, we may have categorized a product as being digital, physical, or service. Now it is more common to see all three categories associated with a product.
Further, more of you have been asking for me to bring on an IoT product expert, which is why Daniel Elizalde is joining us. Daniel is an IoT product coach who helps Product teams develop an IoT product strategy. He has over 18 years of experience in managing the lifecycle of IoT products across several industries. He also has trained numerous product professionals through his consulting practice, online courses, and his popular course at Stanford University.
In the discussion we cover:
- What is and is not IoT
- Challenges with IoT products
- The IoT Technology Stack
- Six decision areas for product managers
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[5:08] What is and is not considered IoT?
I think about a concept called the IoT stack, which is made up of five building blocks: Device hardware, embedded software, communications/networking, cloud platform, and cloud applications. From this model, you can see that a lot of different things fall into these categories. For example, if you have a lightbulb in your home that you control from your phone, that is technically IoT. The lightbulb has hardware and software, connects to a network, connects to a platform, and has a mobile app. However, a lot of people only think of IoT as automated home appliances. They are technically IoT devices, but the real value comes in industry in things like autonomous vehicles and improving the yield of farmers from ground sensors. We’re seeing most of the IoT growth on the industrial side.
[10:01] What are some of the challenges in developing IoT products?
The traditional challenges like listening to customers do not go away. However, there are a few patterns I see over and over again across industries and companies. Most of the problems have to do with the complexity of IoT products. They’re really systems and each component has individual complexities. It’s difficult to find a company that’s good at developing and managing all five parts of the IoT stack. You have to deal with all of them at the same time. Manufacturers of physical devices are accustomed to sending products out into the field and moving on. IoT products are always out in the field sending data back, which creates opportunities for service and maintenance contracts that companies are not equipped to deal with. They do not know how to secure and monetize these products. Innovators need to know how to deal with these complexities because IoT is not going anywhere.
[16:54] Can you walk us through the six decision areas for IoT product managers?
If you think of it like a matrix, the IoT technology stack is on the horizontal axis and the decision areas are on the vertical axis. The decision areas are: UX, data, business, technology, security, and standards. You have to think about the possibilities and ramifications across the stack and across the decision areas. The first area is user experience, which means considering the users and their needs at each stage in the stack. This is important because the users are different at each stage. At the data step, we’re asking what data needs to be collected and processed at each point in the stack. In the business area, we’re asking how we’re going to monetize the solution and what is the build vs. buy strategy at each step. Technology is fourth in line because the other three components need to be in place first. Once we know the technology we’re going to use, we need to think about how to secure that system at each level. Last is standards and regulations. Most B2B applications will be deployed in areas that are regulated at each level of the stack. Innovators need to understand what those regulations are. Iteration is key here because these decisions may need to change as you consider each decision area. The framework doesn’t give you the answers, it gives you the gaps to focus on.
[27:30] Where are we with respect to maturity in security?
Many companies realize they need to secure something, but they don’t know what exactly that means and they don’t have the personnel and the skills to do it. There’s also a sense in the C-Suite that security will slow things down. Security needs to be top of mind for product managers and baked into the roadmap. Security is as critical on an agile team as UX or QA. On the technology side, security is getting better because vendors like Intel and Microsoft are getting better and the cloud platforms are getting better. The challenge is that a lot of things fall through the cracks — each piece might be secure but the entire IoT system is not.
[30:35] Are there emerging standards for IoT?
There are standards across each layer of the stack, but there are still a lot of choices. Each industry has regulations for products as a whole and Congress is trying to pass an IoT security bill that would be the first one in the space. Product managers need to know that regulations apply to each component in the stack, but also to the whole system. The components need to be flexible enough to change and accommodate them.
- Daniel’s website
- A Simple IoT Framework for Product Managers
- IoT Product Manager Certificate Program
- IoT podcast
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” -Thomas Edison
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