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Designing Products for the Internet of Things (IoT)


One can think of the areas of design, engineering, and R&D as the forces that joined together to give birth to the Internet of Things (IoT), much like any significant product innovation. And now, as the IoT evolves into greater maturity, there is an opportunity for these disciplines to take product innovation to even higher levels. 

So what will be required in this next evolutionary phase? To continue to drive rapid innovation that takes full advantage of IoT technology, it will be important for designers to take into consideration these following three perspectives.

Design holistically and collaboratively. When designing for the IoT, it is important to go beyond individual parts and think of interrelated components from a systems engineering perspective. 

For instance, a sensor-enabled product or component is almost always comprised of hardware, software, and electrical components. But instead of developing these components as individual pieces independent of each other, it’s vital for mechanical, electronic, and software designers to work more collaboratively and holistically. In doing so, they can move beyond the component level and truly start solving business problems from a broader IoT perspective.

Design in a bigger context. Another key consideration for design teams is to view a sensor in a product as part of something larger. This requires looking at how a sensor fits into a nested group of devices, products, or services that form a connected network of intelligence of increasing value.

For instance, here’s an example of how measuring tire pressure in a truck can be part of a holistic IoT system that grows in complexity and significance at each level.

• The sensor in a product. Here at the basic level, a sensor is created for measuring air pressure in truck tires, which can be of great value in and of itself.
• The product in a connected system. A pressure sensor on a tire can track data on the tire, but also it can track other things, because it’s now part of a bigger system, which is the truck. At this level, the value of the tire sensor increases, as it can could indicate how a company can save fuel efficiency with proper tire inflation, Michelin Tires is doing this today.
• The connected system in business context. Moving up the complexity levels, one can see that the truck may be part of a fleet in a transportation system. And the management of the fleet is critical to the company that owns or leases the truck. For instance, poorly inflated tires can not only decrease fuel efficiency, but they can cause a truck to be out of commission. To prevent this, the sensors in the tire can proactively indicate that maintenance is required. The truck company can then schedule service when it is least disruptive to the overall management of the fleet. Hence, tire pressure data has now become part of a larger network of information that can contribute to increasing efficiency in the company’s overall transportation management system.

Design with IoT intelligence. Perhaps one of the most untapped areas of IoT design to date is bidirectional data. There is a massive amount of IoT data being generated today, and it is all one big treasure trove for design teams.

And as more of this intelligence becomes available, designers can start to use it in an operational context to improve their products. In fact, the data received from sensors that are embedded in products that are actively being used can drive insights that could never before be realized through traditional design avenues.

For instance, feedback from these sensors could help drive the next level of product innovation in ways such as:
• Determining whether a product is being used in the manner it was intended – or in some completely unexpected way that could open up new market opportunities 
• Discovering that small changes in a product may create greater usability for customers
• Increasing the lifecycle of products with simple design adjustments or different, more durable components or software updates (think of Tesla’s use case here)
• Discerning whether product failures are caused by components, improper usage, or lapsed maintenance

Products like computers and smartphones – which have integrated software, hardware, and services built right in – have been leveraging data in this manner for a while. And building on the truck example, truck and car manufacturers have already started using telemetry and system performance data in connected cars as feedback to design teams when malfunctions occur.

These examples are just a few of the ways that bidirectional data intelligence can be used to drive greater IoT and overall product innovation as it’s fully mastered. 

A more connected, collaborative, and intelligent world

By the very nature of designing for the IoT, designers have already taken steps down each of these paths. But it’s time to go a little farther and take IoT design to the next level.

To learn more about how SAP is helping designers bring innovation to the next level of the IoT, visit and

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      Author's profile photo Richard Howells
      Richard Howells

      Interesting discussin Garrett. Thanks

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great blog!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      These example help bring IoT to life and I like your focus on opening up ideas in design.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks, David. No surprise that I agree we need to put more emphasis on designing thoughtful, flexible and scalable products to function in the new IOT reality. It really puts more requirements on designers to ensure that the connected products they create today will still be relevant in the IOT future.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member are dead-on accurate!   We cannot think of IoT as a series of products, rather an advanced way of doing business.   Our portfolio process is a unique blend of understanding the customer problem, the technical design of the solution, and the creation of a GTM plan that is predictably successful,   That is how we judge the value of the ultimate solution; but for IoT, the 'secret sauce' now has to be showing the full extent of the solution in the value chain and how it impacts our customers' success and our ability to generate profitable revenue.   This is going to mandate a new way to approach not only the portfolio content development, but how he steering committees need to review and approve the IoT solution.

      So it's not as simple as designing a product to meet a specific customer need.   By its very nature, it must be able to affect and impact the benefits to multiple customers in the value chain - AND articulate a compelling story for all of the customers in that value chain to purchase it.   Excellent piece...and great timing.   Thanks.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      That's exactly right and one of the reasons I think SAP is so well positioned to truly tackle this challenge. Designers/manufacturers really need to think about the nested impacts their decisions/products will have as they ripple through a component or product's life cycle. SAP as a company has all of the touch points along that value chain and across the different stakeholders through our networked business strategy to truly enable a transformative business model shift.