Our Connected World

Our Connected World: No. 3 - On Building Your Own DeviceOps Software

By Michael Campbell

I know you’re smart enough to build it. But are you smart enough not to build it?

You’ve already heard this refrain if you are part of the EdgeIQ community. That’s because every single partner in our world either built, or contemplated building, their own Device Operations (DeviceOps) software. And honestly, I don’t blame you. 

First of all, there is an absolutely fundamental need for feature-rich, highly scalable DevicOps software and the underlying business processes. It is a sine qua non. But today’s unique requirements are relatively new and it snuck up on us. No, really it’s true. 

Connected products aren’t new - been around for decades. But the realization for many CEOs, CTOs, Product and Support managers that their products must be connected has been a slow progression. Likewise, the tools to connect products to a network, then the Internet, then to an application, in a cloud, with access by many stakeholders has also been an evolution, not a revolution. 

The initial response by product and engineering teams was very logical and progressed through a series of incremental steps. Buth those steps led us to a chasm which needs a bridge, not just more steps. 

Let me explain. 

The first step was actually endowing products with intelligence - not connectivity. These “smart products” had small microprocessors that managed electro-mechanical processes. Some electrical engineer had to program these systems with a little business logic. Voila, a smart product.

Two years later, the second step was to connect the product to a network. Maybe it was just a local connection, on a LAN to another device or server. Now maybe the device is running an RTOS which is helping to manage the processor, the memory chip and the connectivity module. Enter the embedded software engineer. 

A little bit further on our evolutionary timeline, the devices get smarter, more features, more powerful chips, more memory, cellular or WiFI connectivity, throw in a local Bluetooth device. Of course now we may or may not evolve to a full blown Linux distribution and we need more complicated firmware. Our same embedded software engineer is just the right person for the job and thrilled with all the new responsibilities. 

Fast forward to a couple years ago, and the emphasis shifts upstream to the application, data, integration and orchestration management layers. Now our connected product company realizes that its over-worked embedded software engineers and hardware engineers are too busy and don’t have the right skills for the new requirements. They need a new team to build web and mobile applications, configure and manage multiple databases, cloud infrastructure, manage a group of internal users, external customers and service partners. Did I mention all the layers of security that now have to be managed?

The engineering manager for a $2B consumer products company told me that 4 years ago, 80% of his staff was focused on embedded systems, firmware and basic mobile applications. Today the numbers have flipped. Almost 80% of his engineering team is now focused on applications, analytics and the customer experience. He couldn’t even hire the CX, application and analytics team in the same location as the embedded team - completely different skill set and DNA. 

Back to our chasm. 

We reached the end of the steps when we hit the enormous opportunity and challenge of software beyond and outside the device. On the other side are all the new requirements for applications, analytics and infrastructure. You need to hire both, do both and own both. Your strategic IP lies in the design and execution of your physical product. Your strategic IP lies in the unique customer experience, applications and use of data. 

Which brings us to the bridge. 

The bridge is necessary - you will never cross the chasm without it. But the bridge itself is not differentiated and it is not strategic. Don’t build the bridge. Don’t cut down your own trees to make lumber. Find the tools from partners that can bridge the strategic domains that make your business valuable. You don’t have unlimited time or talent. Use them well. 


Stay Connected!

- Michael

Our Connected World is a new creation of (hopefully) relevant, insightful and perhaps funny content that I share weekly (fingers-crossed). It is written for anyone interested in the Connected Product Economy. I always welcome feedback and an opportunity to engage. Write anytime to michael@edgeiq.io. And please forward this to anyone you think may be interested.

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