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Four times when the internet of things isn't the answer

The internet of things is a seductive world. Once product designers imagine the possibilities of making ordinary objects into internet-connected objects, it can suddenly seem that there’s no product that couldn’t be improved by becoming an IoT device.

Yet it can be easy for companies to get caught up in developing IoT products just because they can without first asking honestly whether they should. While there are certainly a host of situations in which creating an IoT device does make good business sense, there are also several reasons to put the brakes on an IoT project and reexamine whether making a device connected is really the right path to pursue.

Here are four common business situations when the internet of things isn’t the answer to your design and business challenges. See if you recognize your business in any of them — and get ready to ask the right questions to find out whether adding IoT capabilities to your next product is the right next step for your company.

#1: When products lack compelling use cases or business cases

Today, almost any device or product could potentially be a connected, IoT device. A car? Of course. A lawnmower? Sure. A cat litter box? Why not?

Yet the “Why not?” question is an important one to take seriously — and many business get caught up in the potential possibilities of IoT devices too much to take a step back and honestly address whether making a product into a connected product creates sufficient value to justify the cost of development, troubleshooting, prototyping and bringing it to market.

An important question to ask is, “What additional value does being an IoT device deliver to the user?” In the case of the connected cat litter box, perhaps the box could send users an email when a cleaning is due … but that’s probably also an “alert” that a user would be aware of using the good old sense of smell.

The point is, do an honest assessment up front to make sure the payoffs of developing a connected device are there for both the user and the business.

#2: When you’re unsure about access to resources for the long haul

In some ways, connected devices are like the orchids of the technology world. They are not products that you can put out into the world and forget about — they require constant care, updating and support to truly thrive. Make no mistake — your smart watch is no hardy cactus that will do well despite any amount of neglect.

That’s why developing and launching an IoT product may be a bad idea when you’re unsure about whether you’ll have access to the business resources to support the product long-term. There’s often plenty of excitement and funding available for new product ideas during the development and even testing phases; yet once they’re out in the marketplace, business enthusiasm often turns to the next big thing.

Make sure that you have a plan in place to support your IoT product and its users over the long haul to ensure its success, from customer support to technical upgrades to troubleshooting to marketing and more.

#3: Lack of readiness to capitalize on the new business model

While IoT products present lots of new opportunities, they also require ongoing execution on a completely new type of business model. Is your company ready to support the infrastructure, revenue models and other aspects of the new business model that an IoT device will require?

Take our connected cat litter box example again. Instead of simply producing and selling the best cat litter box on the market, is your company suddenly ready to be in the business of selling monthly subscriptions for cat litter refills? How about shipping those refills out, or dealing with customers cancelling subscriptions or wanting to change quantities or frequency of deliveries? Will these new business model requirements take away from your primary focus of designing cat litter boxes with industry-leading features that set you apart in the marketplace?

Be ready to ask the tough questions about how the new IoT business model will affect everything from cash flow to staffing. How will sales teams’ compensation change? What new customer support staff and mechanisms will need to be added? How will you provide technical support on an ongoing basis for the new device? Does the cost/benefit ratio of the new business model actually work out in your favor over the long term?

The answer may be a resounding “yes” — but it’s important to be realistic about how an IoT device fundamentally changes your business model so that there are no surprise hits to your bottom line once the device hits the market.

#4: When there’s wavering corporate commitment

Many, many IoT product development projects get the blessing of corporate leaders thanks to the excitement surrounding the possibilities that connected devices can deliver. But just as many leaders fail to realize that unlike more traditional products, IoT products require a different kind of long-term commitment to really go the distance and be successful.

Be realistic about the level of corporate commitment you can expect to sustain over the lifecycle of your proposed IoT product, from concepting all the way through the support and maintenance phases post-launch. Will there be corporate support for the funding, team members, time commitment and other key factors you need to ensure the success of your product down the road?

Because so many companies are developing IoT products now, it can seem deceptively simple just because it looks like “everyone is doing it.” Yet it remains difficult to do well. Make sure that there’s a strong corporate commitment to your product at the outset — and that that unwavering commitment will still be there when the sizzle-appeal of the initial development and launch phase has passed.

While I’ve just described key situations in which IoT doesn’t make sense, there are certainly a host of situations in which IoT can deliver outstanding additional value and functionality for consumers and companies. The key is determining when it makes sense to make a product connected — and when it makes sense to pass on that technology in favor of a more traditional solution.

Arming yourself with the right questions to ask can help you make a “save” when it really counts for your company — or know when to go big and take a calculated product design risk that can truly pay off

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