New Product Development in the Age of IoT

If you’re responsible for new product development in your company, you will be familiar with the several steps of that process. Experts mostly separate the new product development process into seven or eight steps, starting with idea generation and finishing with a post launch review. The fact that more and more things become smart; i.e. they either feature some intelligence or they are connected and controlled through the IoT, has significant implications on new product development, particularly on its very first phases.

Traditionally, ideation and screening of first product ideas have focused on research, brainstorming, SWOT analysis, market and consumer trends, and so forth. All these activities imply certain hypotheses and more or less tangible perceptions of products or product components. This works fine, as long as the final product is a one-way product; i.e. once produced and sold it won’t change (other than to age and break, ultimately). However, smart things aren’t on-directional, but bi-directional: they communicate, they change, and therefore their effects on consumers are far more complex and variable than those of their „dumb“ predecessors.

The smarter a thing, or a group of things, is, the more complex the situations they will create for their environment and their users. The much discussed self-driving cars which algorithms must decide whom to run over in case of an inevitable accoident provide a good example of the complexity future products will create.

Now – what are the implications of smarr things and the IoT on new product development? The answer is pretty easy – we just have to look at the discussions regarding the IoT: privacy, responsibility, sustainability, awareness, acceptance, relevance, and ethics. Is my data secure? Who takes responsibility of data provenance? Do I want this thing to be smart? Do I accept a thing’s decision? Do things add value? Do others accept me using my smart thing? Can I defend using my smart thing against my beliefs?

We can sort these crtical questions into three categories:

  • – philosophy (ethical aspects),
  • – sociology (responsibility/acceptance aspects) and
  • – psychology (awareness/relevance aspects).

Philosophy, sociology and psychology are the „new“ fields for benchmarking new product ideas. As distinct from present techniques of finding new product ideas, corporate innovation managers will have to broaden their scopes and companies will have to adapt by hiring and training their innovation departments towards these fields of expertise. Today, only very few companies seem to have inherited this new way of thinking: just look at how Apple creates and markets its products: there is no talk of product features, but of sustainable production chains, of family accounts or enhanced well-being.

Would you have thought that philosophy, sociology and psychology would play a pivotal role in new product development? Could that mean that philosophers sleeping in ceramic jars now can afford posh apartements, or formerly unemployed sociologists can choose their employers, or psychologists leave their universities to actually develop new products? And – will we see a lot mote useful, meaningful, usable and accepted products? I think so.

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