How IoT is transforming product processes

April 8, 2019
There’s a need to manage—at the start—requirements that define how IoT capabilities will work.

By Paul Welch, Arena Solutions product management director

The complex, connected devices at the heart of the Internet of Things create the need for greater control and interoperability between highly dispersed teams and supply chains.

Arena Solutions Paul Welch

So, where do you start?

Well, a clear set of requirements are critical in the beginning and throughout the new product introduction (NPI) process to deliver products as envisioned and on time. While IoT helps create better user experiences and greater customer satisfaction, there’s also a need to manage the requirements that define how IoT capabilities will work in the first place. 

Key challenges

There are several challenges to consider:

IoT products are complex. In addition to hardware, make sure IoT devices include secure, fast connectivity, robust device management and sophisticated data management.

Traceability is essential to keeping product launches on track. Ensure all original requirements are intact and aligned with the resulting final product. For every feature,use an appropriate test case that’s reviewed and approved by all key stakeholders on the product team. Each step in this activity must be carefully documented and recorded for easy reference and historical context, should issues arise later.

Feature creep can be difficult to control. Without strong requirements it’s easy for engineers to begin fixing what they perceive as current or future problems. This often leads to over-engineered products that—in the case of an IoT product—can inadvertently affect key features such as connectivity or security. It can also lead to NPI delays because engineers set out to solve a problem that wasn’t in scope.

Deadlines are all-consuming. In the rush to get cutting-edge products to market, some key requirements can be overlooked, putting security and other design elements at risk.

Traditionally, requirements are written and shared in documents or spreadsheets. Although this practice is acceptable for early-stage development or product teams working in the same location, it falls apart with dispersed teams, multiple design teams working on various product elements, and when communicating with ODMS and partners.

Why is that?

First, it’s difficult for team members to be certain they’re referring to the latest document revision. Second, it’s easy for stand-alone documents to become buried in email, physical inboxes or folders. Third, this type of document management, even if electronic, doesn’t link the requirements to the design itself (parts, assemblies, drawings, etc.), making it harder to ensure the latest documents and requirements are always aligned.

How PLM tightens control for complex IoT products

IoT development requires electrical, mechanical and software-design teams to work together early and often to get as-designed products to customers on time. Product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions are specifically designed to help bring all teams and designs together into a single system—enabling better collaboration, faster design approvals, and increased traceability from concept through initial requirements to final product launch.

PLM systems, especially when cloud-based, help teams avoid the most common issues around requirements: missed requirements and over-engineered products. As an example, a clean-tech company relied on Microsoft Word to author and manage requirements documents. Initially, this process was sufficient to cover a limited product line with an NPI team in a single location. However, as soon as the product line scaled from simple hardware-defined products to more complex hardware- and software-defined products, a PLM system was required to manage frequent requirements changes in a more traceable and controlled approach.

With automated PLM workflows, all team members are instantly aware of new or updated requirements, enabling timely collaboration. In addition, all stakeholder approvals can be captured for historical reference throughout the NPI process. 

Cloud PLM systems provide better traceability of requirements by connecting them directly to product design, linking design inputs to design outputs, or linking to the affected part of the product record. This connected-requirements approach ensures that every time requirements change, local and dispersed teams are immediately notified to consider the impact to downstream design elements such as connectivity, security and device management.

Why connected requirements drive IoT success

The success or failure of any connected device is tied to how well requirements are defined and managed from product inception. For those operating in regulated industries, it’s even more critical to use PLM to drive requirements that comply with regulatory and safety standards. Innovative IoT companies have come to understand that requirements management is the keystone of a successful product launch.