Getting started with smarter products – to invent the wheel again or not
This year I have had the opportunity to meet many of our customers working in the manufacturing industry. I say opportunity because the customers and I are incredibly in sync with our agendas right now. A typical discussions starts with the customer telling me about their product that they have been producing and selling for many years. What is bothering the customer though, is that competition both domestic and abroad is driving margins down. Well yes, I reply. What makes your product different from those of your competitors? What is to stop the competition from copying your product and selling it cheaper and in some cases even making the product better in the process? We quickly agree that there is a problem either already here or just around the corner.
Most of my customers already agree that they have to change their way of thinking around what it is that they are actually selling and how. This is where we start talking about making their existing products “smarter”. How? Well in a simplified manner, it is a matter of automatically and continuously measuring and gathering data from your existing product, nearby products and systems and using that data to enhance existing or create new value adding services around said data. Many of my customers have already prepared by IoT-enabling their products.
So what is stopping them from just making their products smarter? After many discussions, I would say that it comes down to three things. You need an idea, you need acceptance from the board and management and you need the technical solution. We at Enfo have methods and expertise how to address all of these, but in this blog post, I want to focus on the technical solution. I think there are two ways to implement the technical solution. Either you contact a big vendor and buy a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution or you assemble a solution yourself based on already available, open and standardized components.
I recently had an interesting discussion with a potential customer where this issue was the main issue. Should they buy a COTS-solution or use already available cloud components to tailor a solution fully to their needs. Buying a COTS-solution would make for faster time to market and would not require as much effort from the customer. The customer would not need its own developers or expertise because the big vendor would perform development. However, by using already available cloud components and building a specific solution for the needs of the customer would guarantee a solution that would fit the needs of today as well as those of tomorrow.
This is where it gets interesting in my opinion. Discussing with my customers they often say that the one thing that made them succeed was their own drive and innovation coupled with their knowledge of whatever product they were producing. This more often than not has meant that they have had to build custom components to fit their products exact needs. As one customer said:
“Using only of the shelf components would maybe take us to 80% of our goal, but I really do believe that it is those last 20% that makes us a leader”.
In my opinion, the exact same argument is valid when developing smarter products. Will buying a COTS-solution get you to 100% of your current and future needs? Probably not. You will probably cover about 80% of your needs but the question to ask is how much are those last percent worth to you? I would say that the remaining 20% are what gives you speed, flexibility and an edge and we all know that innovation requires all of these attributes. You need to be a leader, not a follower.
We at Enfo have a long and successful history of helping our customers create tailored solutions based on standardized components. Please contact me if you would like to hear more and discuss this in greater detail.
Fredrik Khan, Enfo Sales