Don't design from scratch when you can do an in-field retrofit

May 31, 2016 OpenSystems Media

Analysts are predicting big outcomes for the macroeconomic Internet of Things (IoT) movement. In a recent survey by Forrester Research, 23% of enterprises now use some form of IoT; an additional 29% are planning to use it; and 30% more are interested in adopting it in the future. This means a majority of enterprises are strategically on the IoT path, but most aren’t there yet.

The reality is that many organizations are facing internal dissonance in areas like: what the IoT is, what the strategy should be, and what things need to happen to execute on that strategy. How organizations respond to these challenges will define their competitive success for the next decade. Harmonizing this dissonance is not easy and requires the execution of a set of enterprise-wide change initiatives that are difficult to achieve in a short time period.

Enter IoT retrofits: a common-sense strategy to integrate in-field machine data into the enterprise in a way that reduces near-term risk, produces early success, and enables valuable insights that can be used to inform a long-term strategy. An IoT retrofit can be as simple as a gateway and/or set of sensors that can be easily added to an existing product in the field, thereby turning it into an Internet-connected product without designing and manufacturing a new model with Internet-connectivity built in.

Here are examples of IoT retrofits that have been successfully deployed:

  • Electromechanical compacting trash cans have been fitted with sensors and a cellular gateway to enable remote monitoring, management, maintenance alerts, and pedestrian circulation patterns. The cans were retrofitted without requiring the design and manufacture of a new Internet-connected trash can model, which would have taken multiple months of design, manufacturing, distribution, and installation to complete.
  • Garage door opener controllers like that recently released by The Genie Company have been retrofitted onto an existing garage door opener, regardless of brand.
  • Environmental sensors such as humidity, temperature, and vibration have been deployed to remotely monitor localized surroundings with minimal installation complexity and cost. The data generated from these solutions provides near-term insight into environmental conditions that are used to influence the long-term IoT roadmap of connected devices, machines, processes, people, and spaces.

These types of IoT retrofit solutions provide the following benefits:

  • Faster time-to-market. A retrofit solution is often simpler and easier to deploy than a fully customized product. It’s not uncommon to see a company deploy a retrofit solution in six months as opposed to the more traditional 18-month design cycle associated with a new product that includes integrated sensors and communications capabilities.
  • Low-cost market entry. An organization looking to enter its market with a connected product solution can do so with relatively low costs by first starting with a retrofit. This low-cost approach enables fast success or failure at the lowest price point, thereby minimizing business risk and expediting the learning process.
  • Efficient data collection. A retrofit lets an organization collect quantitative data about its devices, machines, and customers quickly and in a low-cost, low-risk way. As long as the data collected helps an organization answer meaningful questions about its products, processes, or customers, this approach can be an effective and efficient way to make data-driven IoT roadmap decisions for subsequent product offerings. Armed with this data from an early retrofit, an organization then can make intelligent future decisions for its product portfolio.
  • Improved competitive positioning. In an increasingly competitive environment, threats from new market entrants (startups or cross-overs from an adjacent industry) are a risk for many companies and time is of the essence. By introducing a retrofit solution to the market quickly, an organization can stave off emerging competitors and gain ground on other competitors that can’t or won’t move as quickly. Staying in control of these competitive dynamics positions an organization to improve its overall competitive position.

Investing in an IoT vision requires long-range fortitude, patience, and clarity of vision. Additionally, near-term successes and proof points are necessary for investors, business unit leaders, and technologists in the business. If your organization is just getting started on an IoT journey, consider a retrofit approach as a low-risk first step while your long-term IoT strategy takes shape.

Mark Benson is the Chief Technology Officer at Exosite. In this role, he navigates emerging IoT developments and leads the company’s technology. Over the course of his career, Benson has led highly-creative and multi-disciplined teams in the development of advanced embedded product designs for industrial, medical, aerospace, military and consumer industries. Additionally, he has authored the book, The Art of Software Thermal Management for Embedded Systems, and several technical papers and articles, and he is a regular speaker at industry conferences. Benson holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minnesota, and a master’s degree in software engineering from the University of Minnesota.

Mark Benson, Chief Technology Officer, Exosite
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