Engineering for business outcomes

By | 2 minute read | November 18, 2016

Image of a robotic arm

I’m at the PI Congress PLM event in Orange County, CA, mixing with some of thought leaders in the areas of product design and development. Of course, IoT is a big topic of discussion as people speculate, advise, predict and guess at how increasingly rapid technological changes will impact engineering and product development as most of us know it.  One of the first sessions of the day confirmed something I’ve been thinking about for a while—the growing importance of engineering in support of business outcomes.

I guess this isn’t really all that new—in fact, engineering has always had an impact on business outcomes as we have strived to make products more attractive to the market.  That is, we sell more.

How IoT changes engineering

But the Internet of Things (IoT) changes things a little—well, a lot.  As companies attempt to disrupt before they are disrupted, many are implementing significant shifts in their business model to adapt to shifting industry boundaries.  The value that they deliver isn’t necessarily a sleeker, more efficient, more functional product, but a set of services that deliver value in new ways.

Certainly it’s important to design products to support these services, but now it’s an entire system delivering value.  In thinking about such a system—consisting of connected products, operational data and analytics—the number of variables and the resulting complexity increases dramatically.  These complex systems don’t just happen automatically.  It’s true that some come about through trial and error, but in highly competitive or safety-critical environments, where learning from failure means catastrophic outcomes or even death rather than mere inconvenience, they must be engineered from the start.

In the first session of the day, Joe Barkai put up a slide that said the following:

  • FROM: Product promise of the past: features, functions, specifications
  • TO: Product promise of the future: business outcomes

Ultimately, a set of business outcomes drives the overall requirements of an IoT solution, which itself must be engineered.  In looking at the many ways that business outcomes can be delivered, engineers now suddenly have a huge responsibility, for the decisions that they make in designing an IoT system can have a major effect on the success of the business.

I find this interesting in the sense that company cultures must find ways to allow the experimentation and exploration that accompanies innovation. The BLOODHOUND project gives us some insight into how the right culture can unleash innovation. An IoT Platform that facilitates rapid innovation is an important first step.  But the real engineering must deliver the reliability, security, and dependability on which someone would bet a business.  After all, we’re talking about business model transformation supported by a complex system.

Today’s engineers are suddenly inheriting a lot more responsibility, and to be successful must have a keen understanding of the business. Engineering decisions are, more than ever, effectively business decisions.

I’m not trying to frighten any engineers attempting to deal with IoT complexity, but I am excited to see how things evolve.

Read Dibbe Edwards’ recent post on how hardware and software connectivity can help us to engineer an IoT that addresses these challenges.