How To Develop Your IoT Product
IoT Market Insights
The global market for Internet of things (IoT) end-user solutions is forecasted to be a $1.6 trillion USD market by 2025.
The number of businesses that use IoT technologies has increased from 13% in 2014 to about 25% today. The worldwide number of IoT-connected devices is projected to increase to 43 billion by 2023, almost a 3x increase from 2018.
How do you capitalize on this growing industry?
It depends on what stage you're at. This guide will take you through every step of the way, from idea to commercialization. Feel free to skip to the section that matches your current situation.
This will follow the same simple 3 step approach we use at Alora: Plan, Build, Scale.
Put a plan together
What market are you trying to address? You need to perform market research and competitive analysis to get a sense of the landscape.
IoT can make an impact in almost every industry that has some physical aspect. Is there some potential that is currently untapped?
Even if it's at a high-level, you need to figure out what features you want to build. They shouldn't only be that features YOU want to build but rather what do your customers want you to build? How would you prioritize them? Quick tip, try perform the exercise of assigning points to each feature. What is the impact vs. development effort of each feature? Once you have a score for each, sort the link and that should put you in the right direction.
Similar to your strategy and roadmap, you need to have a high-level understanding of what pieces will make up your IoT solution. Most IoT products will compose of some hardware (to collect data), backend infrastructure (to route and store data), and a web application (to configure the system). The hardware aspect will likely be the trickiest as the barrier to entry is greater than software.
Do your research and speak to experienced professionals for advice on what tech stack you should use. There may be some varying opinions, but weigh the options as the technology you choose will have downstream effects.
How are you going to build your product? Working with the right team from the onset is crucial and you need to decide if you are going to build a team internally, outsource to a development partner (like Alora), or a hybrid of both. Make sure to prioritize experience over cost as working with the right team will pay dividends in the long run. The early days of your product will be the foundation of your platform and similar to building a house, if shortcuts are taken laying foundation, it'll jeopardize the integrity of the structure.
Building your product
Minimum Viable Product
Frankly speaking, it may not always make sense to immediately start building custom technology. In fact, most of the time you shouldn't. You've heard it time and time again: "build an Minimum Viable Product" to get feedback as soon as possible. This statement is thrown around so often, because it's true!
With software development, it's easier to create an MVP but that doesn't mean that you with electronics you can't take the same approach. There are a ton of Off-The-Shelf (OTS) products available that can help you get started. You can even start with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino.
This is what we call a Proof-of-Concept (POC). You need to prove that your idea works, regardless of how it looks. Hardware isn't a cheap vertical to get into so it's better to find out if your idea has legs sooner than later.
This POC will help you validate that you are able to collect data points. Where do you want the data to flow? How do you want to visualize the data? Check out this Management Dashboard we built for inspiration.
Basic backend infrastructure should also be built by this point. It won't be fully featured but as long as it has the basics, it should be sufficient for now.
Once you have some validation and you're confident in the path forward, it's time to make another iteration of your product. This still may not mean that you should immediately start building custom hardware. Designing and developing custom electronics, namely Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) require quite the investment. So it's best to reserve those resources for when you are absolutely sure it's the right time.
This next iteration could mean moving from a Raspberry Pi to a commercial Single Board Computer (SPC). It depends on your unique situation as each one is different. Get your product into the hands of customers to gather feedback as early on in the product development cycle as possible.
At this point, you should have at least a barebone web application to help you manage and configure the IoT devices. A basic visualization feature will also help you avoid having to manually query the database to analyze the data collected.
Now it's time to take all your learnings and invest in developing a product that's ready for production. This is also known as Commercialization. If you require a custom PCB, then make sure to choose a reputable PCB layout designer and contract manufacturer to manufacture your PCBs. (Check out how we helped Mero develop their custom sensors). For small scale runs, it's typically better to manufacture locally, whereas for large scale runs, overseas may be more economical.
Scaling your product
Think big. How will your system hold up with millions of devices or users? Your backend infrastructure should enable you to scale successfully. You don't want it to be the bottleneck.
DevOps and Product Management
Your development process may have been simplistic up until this point, but as you scale, you want to make sure you implement the right git flow and ensure that you have Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) in place.
Strong Product Management practices like Sprint Planning, Daily Standups, and Retrospectives, will help you and your team collaborate better. Breaking large bodies of work into small tangible pieces will enable you to develop with higher velocity.
Exploring Contract Manufacturers overseas may make sense at this point. Make sure as much Intellectual Property (IP) is protected as possible. You can do this by only sharing PCB Layouts and keeping firmware source code in-house.
Following these steps should give you a good guideline to bringing your IoT product to life. There are a ton of small details that go into building a successful product though and it would be impossible to list everything here.
If you're interested in how we can help you, feel free to contact us to schedule some time to chat.