Systems Engineering

Connected products, dependability and value in the IoT

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IoT seems, at times, to be the destination rather than the route by which we realize value. Connected products are clearly a key part of IoT, but the real benefits run deeper than simply being a means to sell more stuff.

As ‘Black Friday’ shopping events kick off the Christmas shopping season there will, of course, be the latest crop of connected products on offer—from smart, sleep tracking pillows with built-in music streaming, to connected toothbrushes that video-analyze your brushing skills in 1080p resolution. The range of product ideas and use cases never fails to surprise me; if it achieves nothing else, the IoT can be credited with unlocking a new wave of technical creativity.

The IoT is not just for Christmas

But, of course, the IoT is not all about consumer-focused connected products. In fact, most of the benefit that we will receive from IoT technologies are likely to come, not directly from products we will buy, but from the IoT’s ability to make the world work better:

  • Connected infrastructure such as power grids that respond more flexibly to extremes of load and equipment failures, or pipes that call to be fixed before the leak becomes catastrophic.
  • Integrated healthcare systems that can help prevent rather than just treat problems after they have occurred.
  • Transport systems that react to the volume of commuters to avoid congestion hotspots and use economic ‘nudging’ to modify market behaviour to more efficiently use their infrastructure assets.
  • And, when we do buy consumer goods, a choice of products that are better value and more reliable because of IoT efficiencies in their lifecycle—from design and manufacturing to use and disposal.

All of these IoT applications improve efficiency of vital systems, but in doing so they increase our dependence on the IoT – and so demand dependability in our engineering for the IoT. It may be that the true measure of success in the ‘infrastructure IoT’ will be its invisibility—systems and devices that we take for granted because they simply work.

Building dependability into connected products

This need for dependability means that our enthusiasm and technical creativity must be backed with robust, proven engineering approaches. This is challenging because the connectedness of IoT drives more rapid development and evolution of products and applications.

To address this challenge, we need to take proven engineering approaches, automate them wherever possible to improve flexibility, accuracy and speed of delivery, and augment them to support the new demands of the IoT. We also need to be prepared to apply these engineering approaches in industries that weren’t previously technology-led.

A particular area of challenge is dealing with the constant evolution of IoT products and applications driven by operational feedback. This changes the engineering lifecycle from the familiar, linear process of research, design, build, sell—to a continuous activity where constant inputs to the engineering process from operational feedback mean it is constantly optimizing the business value delivered. My colleague, Steve Shoaf explores this topic further in his recent post How to optimize product design for the IoT.

As connected products become an integral part of the infrastructure on which our prosperity and quality of life depends, robust engineering approaches are essential to deliver the dependability to ultimately make the ‘infrastructure IoT’ an invisible force for good.

You can learn more about engineering for connected products on the IBM IoT website.

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