The Internet of Things (IoT) sits at the intersection of the digital and the physical, dramatically extending the reach of technology. McKinsey reports that IoT could generate up to $11.1 trillion per year in economic value by 2025.
With all of that hype, plus the fact that opportunities for IoT extend to most industries, it’s natural to expect to see mass deployments all over the place.
But in reality, the adoption of IoT is off to a slow start. The reason? It’s really hard. In fact, Gartner predicts that 75% of IoT projects will take twice as long as planned.
The road to the future of IoT is littered with the wrecks of projects that sputtered out along the way. Thankfully, there are lessons we can learn from these failures. Here are some of the common pitfalls companies run into during the IoT development process:
1. Trying to Do Everything at Once
There’s no shortage of potential for IoT applications. But coming up with an idea isn’t even half the battle. Picking the right ideas and then prioritizing the ideas presents a real organizational challenge to even extremely innovative companies. It may sound painfully obvious, but in some companies, technology isn’t always used to solve a business problem.
To make your IoT project successful, it’s important to pick the problem you’re aiming to solve and to set clear expectations that you’re not going to try to do everything you could do.
This isn’t a conclusion you arrive at through guessing, by the way. You should never build on a hunch. Instead, you should test every assumption that a proposed solution requires you to make so that you can minimize risks down the road.
Validating a product concept requires some time spent in discovery to deliver the results you want, and it’s worth the investment. You’ll need to conduct a sizable amount of in-depth interviews with your customers to confirm that you understand the problems they’re actually facing. That's the only way to make sure your solution will adequately address those challenges. At Very, for example, we typically conduct three rounds of week-long interviews — ideally, with five to seven customers per week.
2. Working in Silos
Connected products can’t be effectively built when there are internal silos. If everyone is laser-focused on their own piece of the puzzle, they lose the ability to see how it all fits together. When challenges inevitably arise, silos make difficult problems even harder.
This principle is true in software development, but it’s even more true for IoT, where you're trying to make software and hardware fit together seamlessly. IoT requires thinking outside of the box about:
- How a connected device might be architected to work well with software, and
- How the user experience translates between the app and the IoT device.
Additionally, mistakes in IoT development can be more costly because hardware involves real physical assets and costs. You can make updates to your software 10 times in a week, but if you’ve already manufactured hundreds of IoT devices only to find out that they missed the mark entirely, those devices will be much more difficult to adjust.
We’ve found that a strong IoT development team is cross-functional, with a product owner at the center who owns the product vision. In addition to a strong product manager and product owner, you’ll need hardware, software, and cloud experts. This team of specialists should be tightly meshed, working together to achieve your goals.
3. Approaching IoT App Development Like Hardware Development
Before we had computers small enough to put in our pockets, innovating was a pretty conventional process — you identified a problem, then perfected solutions, then mass-produced your final product. But IoT applications must be agile enough to adapt on-the-fly. If your hardware or device has been thoughtfully designed, you can add new features to your IoT product simply by updating the software and firmware. Unfortunately, many companies’ product development approaches aren’t flexible and agile, causing them to fall behind.
We’ve found at Very that Agile and Lean methodologies work especially well for IoT development. That’s because the goal with these approaches is to solve your users’ problems as quickly as possible by developing a minimum viable product (MVP), and then iterating on that initial MVP with each release.
With Agile and Lean, you begin your project by focusing on the most critical, value-add pieces of your IoT application. Conveniently, the beginning of your project is also when you’ll have the most budget available to your team. If sacrifices have to be made down the road, Agile and Lean make it so that those compromises won’t affect the core of your IoT product.
4. Failing to Account for Real-World Conditions During the Development Process
The real world is messy. That’s why agile IoT is relevant and necessary.
Human behavior is unpredictable. The rate at which your hardware will deteriorate is unknown. It's hard to predict or account for the impact of the unique blend of temperature, moisture, dust, and bugs (the arthropod kind!) that any device may experience.
For this reason, user testing is critical to the success of your IoT product’s user experience — and that testing shouldn’t happen in the lab, or be conducted by anyone seriously involved in the creation of the product.
The lab — where everything runs perfectly and you can control all the surrounding conditions — is not the real world. Similarly, the people who developed your product don’t represent your real users, who won’t know anything about how the device and/or app is supposed to work until they start experimenting with it.
Your user tests should happen in the real world, with people who closely resemble your real users. That's where you're going to see how your product actually functions, and how it can be improved.
Facing Challenges in IoT Development
Companies investing in IoT are moving quickly. They have an eye to the future, they’re trying to innovate, and the rate of innovation required to stay competitive and lead is fast.
By getting familiar with the most common IoT development pitfalls and learning how to avoid them, however, businesses have the opportunity to surpass competitors and deliver compelling IoT products that meet the real needs of their customers.
Ready to learn more? With this guide to IoT development, go beyond what we've covered in this post, and get the resources you need to start your own IoT project.