IoT Across the Product Lifecycle
Jim Heppelmann kicked off the LiveWorx 2015 conference; for part of the audience, the traditional PTC customers (PLM, CAD/CAM users), he helped position how IoT fits into the product lifecycle (and PTC’s portfolio) footprint. Pointing out their change from a company that helped design things he said, “We had to evolve, since things have evolved. Things are not just mechanical things that you model in 3D. They’re more than that. They’re smart. And they are connected.” In reality, things live in a physical world. Software is a digital representation. “Engineers use things to create digital representations of things to test and prototype — and these — become the input to Manufacturing — turning a digital product into a physical realty.” He went on to point out that historically, the value of the digital representation hasn’t had much life beyond manufacturing. Once the product has been created, they often don’t have much use for that model.1 That model was not really leveraged across the lifecycle of the product.
Today, PTC’s strategy is to bring the digital and physical together to leverage the digital across the life of the product and, conversely, bind the physical — manufacturing, service management, design, and testing — together with the digital. The 3D model becomes useful to service technicians who can see how to install and repair parts. Conversely, the technician can show the engineer where faulty parts fail. IoT becomes the platform from which to monitor the product for these product professionals, and also when the product is in operation within the user’s boundaries. It can inform customers and other relevant users as well as the product designers and customer care people about what is happening and in what context.
My thought here: This should not be just PTC’s strategy. This should be the strategy of any product company that makes complex products today.
Strategy and Competition
Hence, Michael Porter, the author, thought leader, and Harvard Professor who brought us Competitive Strategy and Competitive Advantage was an appropriate next speaker and keynoter. Porter played the evangelical role for IoT. Many of you have read the recent HBR treatise that he and Jim Heppelmann co-authored.2 Porter deals in business strategy and it was a good starting point, since with each shift in societal trends, technology and so on, the impact on product companies is real and maybe life threatening. He preached about the importance of transformation. (More about IoT strategy in this issue.
While I was listening, another thought came to mind: The Fortune 500 ain’t what it used to be with many household names coming and going from the list. Why? Did their leadership somehow miss an important turn in the market — one that their competitors did not? What did they miss? A pivotal moment when they did not detect or act on change?
So is IoT one of those pivotal moments? I ask you a simple question: From whom would you rather buy a product? From a company that sells the product and ignores the lifetime performance; or one that ensures performance and care, maintaining your investment over the long term?
Technology and Markets
Russ Fadel3 of ThingWorx talked about the IoT market and his perspective on where it is now and where it might go. A real truism by Russ aptly stated ThingWorx wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Jim Heppelmann. As Jim said at the MIT IoT event we had in Feb., “With an energetic CEO and lots of investments — a lot can be done.”
Russ went on to say that he and the other ThingWorx founders did have their aha moment (coupled with past expertise and successes in other manufacturing software ventures): although many of the sectors such as agriculture, mining, etc. were having success with IoT, the mega market opportunity just wasn’t there. The missing component, according to Russ, was the application — taking the sensor data and combining data from machines with data from other sources to create applications; predicting was the example he used. “No application — no value.”
While listening, I realized there was an additional, important factor about these markets: Although the market for remote and autonomous operations in mining, farming, and construction is growing, there just isn’t enough volume for a mass market. We came to this same conclusion in other related markets, RFID being another good example. Once you are focused on item-level (or thing-level) intelligence, you need a lot of things to have a large market.4 Hence, IoT needs the one-two punch here — lots of things that could be intelligent plus the applications that really make them intelligent.
Russ went on to point out what I would characterize as the challenge of uniqueness. There are a lot of unique types of things and each thing would need its own applications. We see this phenomenon racing ahead today with very many apps connected to everything from electric toothbrushes, washing machines and evaluators; combined with many applications inside your automobile and so on. So Russ said, “You could find a few ways to make money in this market — build unique apps, help others build apps (systems integrators), or you can provide tools to help all the app developers.” Thus, the genesis of ThingWorx.
Another thought here: No matter who is developing all those apps, not many of the apps talk to each other. Hence, the value of a platform. The world needs interoperability to really leverage the intelligence created by these new applications.
Make It Easy
During the keynote the audience was shown a ‘task building’ session using the platform:5 A day in the life of a ThingWorx designer, which followed a modeling process, development, and a mash-up user experience. Composer, the ThingWorx app development tool, has a high-level modeler, development template, data storage engine, security, and other configurations. The platform has a library of existing properties of things and processes (a growing library comprised of many already-built applications). There, users can add their own properties to the applications. Once their property is added to the data model, values can be applied.
The next steps really demonstrated the value of ThingWorx within the PTC family. This data model can be applied to the schematic of an existing product. (See truck graphic.) The user then ‘binds’ the digital data to the sensor data through drag and drop, binding the digital to the physical.
Next is the integration to a standard business app. This is how the IoT platform and application can be linked to your existing portfolio. Two paths emerge here:
1. Use the new IoT app to feed smarter data into an existing functional application that can use the data.
2. Use Composer to create a new business application to leverage information if your business does not have the desired functional applications.
Not Just Talk
Lots of break out sessions with ‘live’ applications end-user testimonies filled the days of the conference, taking this beyond buzz words and theory and bringing it to reality. The components come together — things, sensors, mobile/ubiquitous wifi, and IoT applications. Many of the components are managed in the tools/platform, eliminating all the technical ‘icky stuff’ — from the tedious to the really difficult — to unleash a whole new generation of applications.
I feel evangelical myself after having seen a few of the providers such as PTC6 who have launched into this IoT world and made it tangible and accessible. They have enabled things to be empowered with more data (become smart) and be bound to applications that can leverage that data — connected.
1 It may be useful for a new generation of product. But beyond that, there is not much use. — Return to article text above
2 You can access the recent HBR treatise here — Return to article text above
3 President, CEO and one of the founders of ThingWorx (now a PTC business) — Return to article text above
4 Or companies are willing to pay almost any price for automation. Remote oil and energy platforms may be examples of this flexibility on price. — Return to article text above
5 ThingWorx Composer — Return to article text above
6 Savi Insight recently demonstrated in-use business applications for IoT that also provide the applications and tools to develop new use cases and analytics.
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.