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Integrate, integrate, and integrate? Building Products for a Connected World

August 26, 2014

3 minute read

One of the most hotly discussed topics for the future of products is the increasing connectivity of devices, also known as the ‘Internet of Things’. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2014 report, by 2020 over 30 billion devices are predicted to be connected to the internet. By 2017, more than 50% of analytics implementations will make use of event data streams generated from instrumented machines, applications, and/or individuals. And global IP traffic is expected to nearly double between 2013 and 2016, while broadband is expected to speed up more than twofold.

But what does all of this mean for the products we’re building?

Well again, according to Accenture, “Consumers become better informed and better equipped to influence the ways they experience everything around them. And businesses get real-time connections to the physical world that allow machines as well as employees to act and react faster—and more intelligently”. 

When you collect a load of data, fire it back to your users, and allow them to take actions on that data, from anywhere, you can make their lives better.

At least that’s the possibility.

In fact building connected products presents us with much broader product challenges than the technicalities of software integrations. An astute product manager will probably think about integrations, an API or multiple device capability when making decisions about development infrastructures. But what about the people actually using your connected products? Have you considered how they should navigate data across different locations seamlessly? Do you have consistency and continuity in your design and data? What about how you communicate with users when something goes wrong and any one device loses connectivity? Building integrated products requires a 360 degree perspective of the user experience, which becomes much more intricate as you expand interactivity across systems and devices.

And perhaps most importantly, building more connected products should never come at the expense of good user experience. If people don’t have a need or desire to use your products, they just won’t work. In a recent ProductTank talk, focused on the Internet of Things, Alex Jones summarized the risks of the integration and connectivity trend quite succinctly; “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to.”

Whether building products for the workplace, where our focus is on integration between systems and streamlining business processes, or for consumers, where the focus is on connectivity wherever we happen to be, the ultimate goal is the same. Are your integrations and your mobile versions helping your users to make better, faster decisions? Whether you look at a business app like Salesforce, promising a full connected view of the customer; or consumer app like Waze, allowing drivers to share real-time information on traffic disruptions; when it’s done well better connectivity is about enabling users to make use of data to do things they couldn’t do before.

So although we’re facing a very different technical landscape moving forward, the ultimate message for product managers looking to build products in a connected world is not all that different to what we usually say. Yes, you should be conscious of changes in consumer and business relationships with technology to be sure you’re always innovating new solutions, but never build things your users don’t want just because it’s technically possible.

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