Product Developers Will Benefit from Connected IoT and PLM, Arena Predicts25 Nov, 2017 By: Cadalyst Staff
On their own, the Internet of Things (IoT) and product lifecycle management (PLM) each offer opportunities for product design professionals. What insights can result when the two systems are brought together?
By enabling products to connect with the Internet (and with each other), the Internet of Things (IoT) opens up new avenues for gathering information about product function, provides insights into user behavior, and enables functionalities not possible otherwise. But to realize these benefits, product developers must embrace new workflows, rethink how familiar products should work, and determine how to handle the heavy data loads their new designs will generate.
The latter is a source of headaches, but also tremendous opportunities. Feeding product developers a stream of real-world data about how — and how frequently — a product is used, the conditions it operates in, and how well it performs can yield improvements to that product, and even entirely new products, according to Arena Solutions. The company foresees a future in which a maturing IoT will deliver “enormous” benefits to product developers, making this data more accessible and actionable by connecting cloud-based PLM systems (such as its Arena PLM solution) with the IoT.
“Now they can see much more clearly how to improve that product … all that guesswork and hunch-work starts disappearing,” said Steve Chalgren, executive vice-president of engineering and CTO at Arena Solutions.
It’s an evolution that mirrors what happened when software began migrating from on-premise implementations to the cloud a decade ago, Chalgren pointed out. Before that point, software developers had a disconnected view of their products' use, he said, relying on surveys, customer site visits, and feedback from sales teams. Although those information sources were valuable, they left crucial questions unanswered: “How many people are adopting and using it? Is it shelfware or not? What parts [of the software product] are they using or rejecting?”
As a cloud-based company, Arena is able to collect data about the use of its software that provides a clearer view of what works for customers — and what doesn't. “Now we can see with real data, and make real product improvements based on the data,” said Chalgren. “That’s the benefit to companies that are connecting their product with IoT.”
Connecting PLM and IoT systems is not a new concept. “I think it happens already — it starts as an informal process,” Chalgren observed. Data collected by IoT developers, such as the number of times that a user presses a button on a product, is very helpful to engineering teams, he noted. “I don’t think you’d have to ask [engineers] to look at it, they’d be so curious.”
The next step is to make that transfer of data more programmatic, defining analytic triggers so when a particular threshold is reached, an engineering process is automatically launched — such as creating tickets in a PLM system. “It will just get more and more codified and automated,” Chalgren predicted. As for Arena, which provides an application programming interfaces (API) for integrating Arena with other systems, “we’re on a very clear path to connectivity,” he affirmed.
The Non-Optional IoT?
As Chalgren sees it, for product developers the impact of the IoT is not a matter of if, but when. “I think it’s just becoming part of every product. … It’s cheap to have a connected device and a chip,” he said. “Everyone’s going to be forced to do it.”
That growing ubiquity is reflected in Arena’s own customer base: more than 250 of them are major or startup IoT companies. That’s a huge increase over three or four years ago, Chalgren noted, when the number was no more than 50.
Improvements from one generation of a product to the next are much bigger than in the past. According to Chalgren, high-tech products continue to evolve after hitting the market almost as quickly as during their initial development. (The inclusion of electrical elements in IoT-connected devices is a contributing factor, as electrical engineering processes are much more iterative than mechanical ones.)
Chalgren also noted that many “companies you wouldn’t have thought of” are connecting. For example, he sees a huge opportunity in the automotive area, with cars and stoplights interacting, or with streetlights that can monitor and report on local weather conditions (an initiative that GE is pursuing). “I think IoT will move outside … will start going from the computer in the home to the real world.”
Boosting the Human Voice with Data
Embracing the IoT/PLM connection to gain product improvement insights will provide benefits in a variety of markets, Chalgren explained: “In a super highly competitive market, where small things make a big difference in your success, this is it.” And in a stable market where design teams are isolated from customers — meaning they don’t know about certain problem areas customers are encountering — gaining more insight into those problems can shake things up. “Someone is going to use that information to disrupt [the status quo],” he observed.
Even with the data Arena now gathers about its software via the cloud, the company still has a place for surveys and meetings with customers to observe their challenges and get their feedback. “There’s no replacement for hearing directly from someone about their frustrations, so I think that will continue, but it will be a lot more productive … before, we couldn’t even know where to look,” said Chalgren. “The improvement of communication, the quality of voice of the customer, is now able to be clear.”