The PM Vision

Product Vision 2014: The Internet of Things

What’s your product vision?

As a product leader, you already know that the most powerful way to align the independent teams you need — user experienceproduct marketingsales, executives, etc. — without any authority is a compelling product vision.

Adam Nash refers to a strong product leader as a force multiplier.  People respond if you paint an image of a place worth going, and a credible plan (your product roadmap) for getting there.  

Your vision isn’t a revenue number, it’s an imagination of what the world will be like in the future, as changed by the product(s) you’re leading.  You’ve got to consider the problems you’ll solve and how; software product companies must keep pushing, because competition will leapfrog you if your roadmap and vision don’t also consider what’s technically possible.

Don’t let sweeping changes pass you by.

As we approach 2014, we appear to be approaching another sea change in the growth of the internet.  If you’re only thinking of mobile vs. desktop, you’re already behind.  The virtual world is merging with the physical world.  How will your business make use of the internet of things?

Wait, what’s the internet of things?

Today, we live in a paradigm where people access the internet via a laptop, desktop, phone or tablet.  As more and more common everyday objects are infused with processors, we’ll be interacting with objects that reflect their purpose using more than just visual metaphor.  They’ll be real objects, and they’ll have a location and other state attributes: context.

Brad Feld (via Dave Rose) refers to phones and tablets as “glass slabs,” which will be replaced in the upcoming few years by “enchanted objects.”

Eyeglasses and watches, along with next generation television, are the next expected high-profile product announcements from Apple and Google.  Those companies already know a lot about you, so tying in to objects natively on your person extends their ability to offer compelling services by providing more context.

But those are actually just three of many!

Some people already control the lighting in their homes or their Nest Learning Thermostat from their phones via WiFi.  Siri and Google now accept voice commands.  How long is it before you control your living environment without having to touch anything?

Google pulls real time traffic data from people’s smartphones, but only because the cars aren’t logged into Google already.  Can you imagine a day when you start your car by speaking your Google username and password?

What about the enterprise?

Factory equipment fitted with sensors and an IP address can “phone home” when maintenance is required.   Much like the market position in digital music that Apple created by pairing the iPod with the iTunes Store, manufacturers are seeing that services paired with devices can yield higher margins:

Considering the example of a papermaking machine, they note that the sale of the machine itself generates a margin of around one to three percent, while selling a related service yields five to ten times as much. The ratio is much the same for the sale of rail cars versus related mobility and maintenance services.

Sensor driven technologies can provide value up and down the supply chain.  Operations and inventory levels are only two of the many areas that will be changed dramatically in the new reality.

Facing this new reality, Bosch Group created a software and systems unit in 2013 called Bosch Software Innovations.  How are you thinking of the way your market will change once connected devices are the norm?

How do you communicate that vision?

The IoT may not be impacting your development efforts in 2014, but it should be in your intermediate-to-long range vision already.  Once that future is imagined, how do you communicate it?

To lead, you need to communicate.  To communicate, you need to speak to people in the manner they can be reached.

Speak passionately about your vision, and find opportunities to revisit it periodically.  Consider blogging about your vision–externally to get your prospects excited, and internally to lead your team.

Create a visual prototype that shows what the world will be like.  Marty Cagan argues that the high fidelity prototype is the best tool by which to communicate your vision of the future, by which to obtain estimates and gather prospect feedback, and align all the other teams in the organization.

Could your product portfolio take advantage of sensors built into devices already in use where your customers are?  Don’t limit your vision to tablets and phones!

Lead with your vision, into 2014 and beyond.


Image via Flickr.