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Symbolbild: F&E/ Engineering von vernetzten Systemen, z.B für IoT (Internet der Dinge) How does Your Product get on the Internet? Digitalization/ IoT Implementation

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You want to digitalize your product? Bring it to Industry 4.0? We don't believe that technology is the most important challenge. This is for two reasons. First because Industry 4.0 is not so much a revolution as an evolution. Except in a few cases, it is about skillfully combining existing technologies, not inventing new ones. From the clever combination - in this context, clever means that money can be made – comes the next reason: the business model. This should be clarified first.

For the implementation, a step-by-step approach with quick decisions, efficient testing of the chosen hypotheses on the market and then quick reactions to the market feedback are required. From the technical side, this could look something like this:

Solutions: Only Now Technology comes into Play

For each of the capabilities that we can give to things, there are different technological realizations:

  1. Identification: QR, NFC, Bluetooth...
  2. Positioning: GNSS, accelerometers, indoor navigation...
  3. Measurement: sensors for all physical quantities, cameras, radar...
  4. Storage: Flash memory, smartphone...
  5. Signal Processing: micro controllers, signal processors, programmable logic (FPGA), smartphone...
  6. Actuation: power electronics, (linear) actuators...
  7. Supply: battery, photovoltaic, energy harvesting...
  8. User Interface: buttons, LED, display, touch, gestures, voice, smartphone...
  9. Communication: Bluetooth, NFC, USB, sub-1GHz radio...
  10. Networking: WLAN, cellular radio, Ethernet...

In most cases, the specific technology is determined by non-functional requirements, such as price, power consumption or the simple fact that smartphones only provide certain interfaces. For this selection, use our experience in system design for an optimal solution.

And don't forget to verify the business model again with the chosen technological solution!

Boundary Conditions: Security?!

As soon as a thing is hooked up to the Internet of Things or just can communicate with a smartphone, the security question immediately arises, the question of data security and possibly even data protection. The cybersecurity challenges can be solved, but it is important to keep their implications in mind from the very beginning of development.

Two types of considerations are important here. One is when security is digitalized. For instance, when "physical keys" are to get a digital replacement, e.g., in the smartphone. Mostly, this is for the convenience of the user. But the user assumes that his convenient solution is just as secure as the familiar solution. On the other hand, the protection of the newly generated/ stored/ transported data. E.g. the transfer of such keys between users over the Internet.

These security considerations have an impact on the technological solution, e.g. cryptographic keys should be able to be calculated quickly in the device and certificates should be stored securely. You can save money there, but do you really want to be in the headlines? After a hacker attack?

Rolling "Agile" Planning

To make sure that everyone involved in the IoT implementation is pulling in the same direction, clear intentions, goals must be set for each phase: What do we want to achieve here?

A plan can then be derived from this, more coarse for the long term, more detailed in the short term. Always in such a way that everyone is clear about the next tasks and who is responsible for them, while the overall goal is not lost sight of.

Risk management also makes a lot of sense, because risk mitigation should be one of the main drivers of the planning for IoT implementation projects.

This plan and the goals can always be adjusted when new insights arise, which hopefully happens very often.

Approach: The Journey is the Destination

Since digitalization projects usually involve more uncertainty than normal product developments, it makes sense to take an iterative approach and get potential users and customers, both internal and external, on board early for feedback. If you have not already discussed the concept with them on paper, then selected users should give their feedback on the solution in these next phases if possible.

Rapid Prototype made tangible

The first thing we recommend is the construction of rapid prototypes. There are two types of these, first those that serve to verify the technology, i.e. minimize the technological risks. Then those that serve to show users what to expect. To make the product and service tangible, also for stakeholders and decision-makers within the organization.This can be a very simple paper and cardboard simulation or use more sophisticated tools.

The point is to test the biggest (market-)risks with the least amount of effort and then adapt the solution to the results of the tests.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

In the next phase, the product is developed as an MVP. This means that it contains the most important functions that generate benefits. The point is to get feedback from the market, from the practical application. Then the next version can be adapted and improved. The most important thing in defining an MVP is not the list of what it can do, but the exclusion list of what it cannot (yet) do.

Modern additive manufacturing methods often allow to produce first series directly from drawings without tooling costs and also to adapt them quickly. "Quick" is the key word here: it's about seeing what works, quickly analyzing what would be better, and then deciding and quickly implementing a new solution.

Markets, Customers, Organization, Processes: People

The paradox of digitalization projects is that they not only require greater (decision-making) speed and a departure from the comfort zone, but that many solutions affect people, not just technologies and products. Changes are required in markets and customers and even "worse" in processes, workflows and organization.

If you also, and sometimes especially, pay attention to these human aspects, then nothing will stand in the way of the success of your digitalization projects!

Andreas Stucki

Do you have additional questions? Do you have a different opinion? If so, email me or comment your thoughts below!



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