In this article, the 2Smart team talks about all the stages of building a new IoT solution and also shares its own approach and experience in effectively creating and bringing new devices to the market.
Whether a new consumer smart home device or a cutting-edge industrial IoT solution, it all starts with an idea. The best ideas are born from personal experience when the inventor is faced with a particular problem and does not find a ready-made good solution. Dropbox was born because Drew Houston forgot to take a flash drive with the files he needed on a trip. This is a classic example of how successful ideas are born in the market.
At this stage, you must determine what fundamental problem your product will solve and formulate its general concept.
The experience of the 2Smart team, among other things, includes developing a cloud-based access control system and IoT controllers for it, which are produced under the Propuskator brand. The idea for this access control system came to the mind of our friend and investor, who needed an access control system for the cottage community in which he lives. Having discovered that the ACS and controllers on the market were not modern enough and did not meet his requirements, he formulated the idea of a cloud controller and ACS and came to us with it.
After forming an idea for a new IoT product, you need to conduct market research to understand whether someone has managed to come up with and implement a solution similar to yours before you. When performing this research, several forks will arise before you, during which you will need to draw the correct conclusions and make the proper decisions. This will be achieved by carefully collecting and analyzing information with the involvement of business analysts.
If there are not and never have been solutions on the market that are similar to what you came up with, you probably need to quickly get a patent for your invention and start implementing the idea. Perhaps you have invented something that will make you a leader in the market and one who sets trends in an entire niche, as Apple does in the market of smartphones and accessories.
On the other hand, you need to make sure that your idea is relevant and interesting to the market. Perhaps it occurred to someone a thousand times but was not implemented simply because it has no prospects. To figure this out, you need to organize additional research to collect feedback from the market to understand whether there is a demand for your idea.
If, during market research, you discover that someone has already offered the world something similar to what you came up with, there is no need to give up. Study your future competitors, identify the weaknesses of their solutions, and think about where your product can be better.
The most obvious ways to get to know your competitors’ products are by downloading and reading instructions and other documentation for their devices, reading reviews from real users, and purchasing a device for personal testing.
Based on the results of a careful study of competitors’ products, try to formulate your own unique selling proposition, which could be price, availability, reliability, user experience, expanding the range of tasks solved, etc.
Of course, when researching competitors, consider the size and capabilities of the company you will be competing with. Suppose you’ve devised the idea for a smart thermostat and discovered that Google is releasing a similar device called Nest. In that case, it’s wise to give up trying to compete with such a giant, especially if you can’t offer a unique selling proposition that will cause a wow effect among users.
Whether someone has brought your idea to life before you or you are a pioneer, the ultimate goal of the market research phase is to gain a deep understanding of your IoT niche. Moreover, we advise you never to stop and continue to monitor the current state of your niche since trends, technologies, and audience needs are changing very quickly today.
Obviously, access control systems and devices for controlling electric locks or gate drives are not something new on the market. Rather, on the contrary, this phenomenon has existed for decades, and this niche is quite conservative.
2Smart business analysts studied the access control systems on the market, purchased various access devices, and conducted interviews with experts in this field and real users. As a result, they identified the following shortcomings of the systems on the market:
The discovered shortcomings of the controllers are the following:
As a result of market research, we formulated the following requirements, which include the USP of the new product:
After you have analyzed your future competitors and formulated the USP of your product, it is time to plan to bring the idea to life. We recommend that you create a Business Requirements Document (BRD), which contains a complete list of features of your solution, functional and non-functional requirements, and other product components. By writing a BRD, you can highlight the list of competencies that you will need. And this, in turn, will allow you to understand what specialists you will need in your team and what work can be outsourced to someone else.
Thus, at this stage, you need to understand what market niche you are entering, how many employees your team needs, and what competencies they should have. With this understanding, you can make an assessment and begin organizing the work.
Having conducted market research and realizing that the new modern access control system has good potential and that we are ready to compete with current players in the market, we identified our USP and compiled a BRD. Next, we needed to understand the scale of the work ahead, for which we determined a scope of work and described what stages we needed to go through to create this product.
Here’s what’s on the list:
Developing an IoT solution involves iterative prototyping as the product becomes more and more similar to how it will end up in the hands of the end user. With the classic approach, there are several prototyping stages – from Proof of Concept to Engineering Prototype.
Based on our experience, we recommend taking an approach with Minimum Viable Product (MVP) building. Create a list of primary tasks, build an MVP, and with 20% of your efforts and resources, you can solve 80% of the problems facing you. By releasing an MVP relatively quickly and inexpensively, you can immediately begin testing it on the market and collecting feedback. Minimum Viable Product will help you understand whether there is a real market need for your solution, whether it meets the needs of your future users, and what adjustments you need to make to the project.
These are the tasks that Minimum Viable Product solves:
When talking about the process of building an IoT prototype, you need to keep in mind that any prototype consists of three components:
Sometimes, a prototype can get by without software. In this case, device testing is carried out in headless mode, or engineers prescribe a minimum set of necessary control and data collection functions into the firmware and use the web interface.
Already at the prototyping stage, think about the typical IoT tasks that you will have to solve in any case:
The MVP building process consists of three main steps:
Let’s talk more about each of them.
Understanding the goals and requirements for a new device, developers usually start with a Proof of Concept (PoC) build. This is the name given to the very first prototype, which is based on ready-made hardware solutions and is aimed at testing the product hypothesis.
When putting together a PoC, it’s a good idea to evaluate several solutions and choose the one that works best in terms of quality and cost. It is also essential to check the firmware’s compatibility with the selected equipment.
We recommend that, whenever possible, you build a PoC using off-the-shelf solutions instead of building a prototype manually by soldering or using a breadboard. Depending on the type of project, equip your PoC with the necessary sensors and IoT devices.
Here is a list of typical hardware components for an IoT solution that you will need to decide on:
The essence of this stage is testing and selecting technologies, protocols, libraries, and methods for writing firmware to solve specific problems. You need to decide on the tools you can use later when creating a full-fledged product.
If your team already has experience building new IoT solutions similar to the one you are currently developing, you can skip this step. Most likely, you already know which technology stack you will use.
We recommend that you create a development plan in advance, setting deadlines for each stage, considering its complexity and potential problems that may arise during implementation. Be sure to write down a product quality testing strategy and a plan to eliminate risks and issues.
The more prototype iterations it is possible to make, the better. It is advisable to test each iteration, make changes, adjust it, transfer it to a group of uninterested users for testing, collect feedback, correct the firmware, and make a new iteration. This allows you to make the final product of the highest possible quality.
Customer experience is what you need to rely on throughout the entire new product development cycle. During the MVP testing stages, you should interact as much as possible with ordinary users, whose feedback will give you invaluable information and can push you toward those improvements that will become the killer features of your solution.
Large production should be launched only when you are confident in the device, and the quality of the firmware, when you have all the accompanying materials, and are ready to begin sales as soon as the devices are manufactured immediately. Try to avoid a situation where the finished product sits idle in warehouses because the more time the devices are stored in this way, the more likely you will desire to improve something further, a new firmware version will appear, etc.
While developing the Propuskator ACS, we quickly launched an MVP, which helped us identify the weaknesses of the original project and find a new niche for IoT access controllers.
Having decided on the technology stack and chosen the basis for the hardware, we launched parallel development of the printed circuit board, firmware, and device design to speed up the process. Since different team members handle these processes, this approach is most appropriate. Of course, team coordination matters when the firmware developers know which chip the PCB developers chose and the case designers know the dimensions of the future board and other components of the device.
The first ACS distributor was an investor who ordered us to develop the system. Thanks to the ability to test the product on a small group of users, we received feedback from real consumers and requests for additional functionality. This helped us plan further development of the solution. In particular, we added the following to the project:
When preparing for launch, we recommend that your product include as many user analytics capabilities and collection of business metrics as possible. This will help you analyze user behavior and device performance, giving you information you can use to improve your product.
The critical components of this stage are the following:
Once the product is released, you need to organize a go-to-market process, where the critical components are the following:
As your solution spreads, you will move into business-driven development, where the market and users begin to dictate to you what improvements they need. Keep in mind that the more successful a product is, the more feedback its developers receive. Users will point out both existing shortcomings and suggest improvements, including those entirely fantastic or irrelevant for the majority. You will need to learn how to deal with this influx of feedback and prioritize further product development.
In addition to creating a customer support system and processing customer feedback, you will need to pay attention to the following points:
Probably, the central insight we received after testing the MVP Propuskator is that our solution may be of interest not only to the B2B audience. We have found that access controllers are devices that private consumers can use. After the launch, we modified the solution so that the controllers could be operated without access control systems. To do this, we changed the firmware so that the device could connect to our IoT platform, 2Smart Cloud, and users could use a free mobile application to control access without registering in any deployed access control system.
The 2Smart team has experience in independently bringing several IoT solutions to market and assisting other businesses in building IoT products. Our core competency is to provide a software solution for IoT developers, which includes a web application for developers, a business platform web application, and a mobile application for end users of devices.
If we talk about the niche of consumer devices, we have experience independently developing IoT smart lighting solutions. As part of this experiment, we went through the entire cycle of building an IoT device and bringing it to market. As a result, we are currently helping to create a similar solution for a business that specializes in smart lighting and has the necessary competencies for its successful sales and quality service.
Our experience in green energy includes collaboration with the MyBox brand, which develops and produces a range of charging stations for electric vehicles. We delivered a software solution to the MyBox team, which is a closed IoT platform with two web applications for device developers and business management of the entire fleet of products launched on the market, including the ability to connect an unlimited number of partners and subsidiaries. MyBox also received a mobile application for end users and technical employees, a white-label instance of the 2Smart Cloud application, which determines its affordable cost for the client.
A white-label instance of the 2Smart Cloud mobile and web application was also received by Newtwen, which produces digital twins of physical devices.
Find out more about the 2Smart team’s experience in building IoT solutions in the Success Stories section of the company’s blog.
Use the capabilities of 2Smart Cloud at all stages, starting with the creation of Proof of Concept. Here you get: