The Diary of the IoT Product Manager

Rainya Mosher IoT Product Management ConsultantThe Device Chronicle interviews Rainya Mosher, an expert IoT platform and product management consultant. 

Rainya has been an IT and telecommunications software professional for over 20 years, half of that in large-scale cloud infrastructure. Her most recent project was to develop and manage an IoT platform for connected solutions with IoT gateways for smart manufacturing and smart and connected solutions at Watts Water Technologies. She helped Watts to set up their digital products division, “Watts Digital,” over the last two years.  The Watts Digital Group sits alongside the mechanical and electronics groups and builds digital into the DNA of the business. 

As a product manager, she leverages her qualifications in technology commercialization from UT Austin to “intrapreneurial ship” in large OEM companies with mechanical and electronic foundations, helping them with digital product strategy, innovation, software engineering, and product management.

Digital transformation in Industrial manufacturing

Watts is a solid mechanical and electronics engineering and manufacturing company whose “bread and butter” is backflow preventers. These are giant valves that keep municipal water supplies safe. The company has a well-formed electronics area to develop embedded C programming, controllers, gateways, and sensors in-house. Rainya explained that they then wanted to add the digital experience layer. “Very few companies have an electronics component and a physical, mechanical components design function in the same place. When you bring mechanical, fluid solutions and embedded electronics together, the firmware or “pure play software” is important to enrich the capabilities and security of the connected product.” She believes the ability to update the firmware securely and robustly surpasses almost everything else in connected product development. “You can make the mobile app and cloud services as beautiful as you like, but if you can’t quickly and safely upgrade the software on the circuit board, then you will be constrained.”

Rainya was the Head of the IoT platform at Watts. Also, she focussed on the product management aspects of introducing a little “a” and a big “A” agile business mindset into the business - to be responsive, flexible, adaptable, and bringing in agile development software practices and lifecycles. “Watts has the mechanical as a base, which they are very good at. This is the core competency. Then, they have the electronics, and it has its unique product lifecycle. Then, they wanted to add pure play software “digital” capability with its separate product lifecycle.” 

Rainya shared one use case for IoT connectivity in water management which is leak detection. Here, you have sensors in the building that connect to the gateway, connect to the cloud, and gather data for new insights. In essence, this is about transforming how the data is collected in a building and drawing insights from that data.

Successful product management

Rainya’s guiding principle for successful connected digital product management is to embrace and manage the complexity head-on. She says “With industrial products, you must combine the mechanical flow device embedded flow with the digital and software flow. They are different disciplines but must come together for a successful outcome. Typically, in a connected product, you have the pure software, mobile app, embedded electronics, the thing which is the product, and the service.” 

IoT product managers are challenged with finding and validating commercially viable product ideas. It is a complex endeavor. Rainya observes that “you have to talk to customers, tap into their empathy, find the pain points, and isolate the differentiating issue in the proposed new product. What is it that people do not like about the existing offerings? How do you get customers to say "I will buy your product rather than I would buy your product?” She advises that you can use interviews, social media, internal support systems, and review sites as tools to find these insights. 

Successful digital transformation

Rainya cites the example of Nike as an example of successful digital transformation. The company was a traditional analog manufacturing company that sold through retail, and they have succeeded in generating significant additional revenue from pure-play digital services. They completely changed how the company thought about itself and started offering smart devices, an e-commerce store, a Fitness tracker, and content (classes and instructors), separate but connected to the core product of “the shoes.” They used the “golden insights” in the data to understand how to create new customer value for consumers and sourcing managers at large companies. They were thinking about providing value for the jobs-to-be-done.

The success story of digital transformation from B2B

In B2B IoT, Rainya points out Disruptive Technologies as one of the most compelling examples of a company with an IoT-connected product going from idea to reality and commercial success in a short time frame and continuing to innovate. Disruptive Technologies provides an IoT gateway box with connected sensors that adds smartness to a building - detecting environmental conditions and people flow, movement, and occupancy in buildings. They bring together everything that’s required to build services and applications that collect data from wireless sensors. This enables a number of business use cases including cutting costs by monitoring and optimizing space utilization, improving indoor environment by reducing maintenance and energy costs. They use over-the-air software updates to the gateways and sensors to ensure security and that new capabilities can be added frequently to the Cloud Connector and the fleets of connected sensors. 

Building brand for digital products

Industrial manufacturers need to consider the brand strategy for new connected products. Brand recognition in the digital native world is a considerable challenge for mechanical industrial companies developing connected products with digital brands. Often, industrial products are behind the wall, and they need little to zero brand recognition outside reps, distributors, and contractors. “The benefactors (end users) are not aware of the products nor care about them in most cases.” Rainya believes that you can change this dynamic with digital and connected services. “The brand is a big deal for the digital generation. Still, it is a balancing act: do you push the existing strong industrial brand and risk losing core business, or do you create a new brand for the digital propositions?”

OTA updates are a key business driver

Rainya naturally believes software is the lifeblood of these new connected industrial products, and over-the-air updates enable innovation and security. “Industrial manufacturers can continue to innovate without investing in a whole new electronic device, or existing products can take on new capabilities for upsell. A thermostat detects temperature and humidity, and leak detection could be added with a firmware upgrade.”
Rayna adds that the digital lifecycle is a year or less, so you need to have OTA to upgrade capabilities fast. You also need OTA to be able to react quickly to adverse events. Rainya shares the example of the retirement of an SSL certificate for Microsoft Azure IoT Hubs, which required a certificate replacement on IoT-connected devices already in the field. Products with OTA were easy to update; older products with no OTA updating capability became bricks, triggering warranty replacements and customer dissatisfaction.”

We wish Rainya well as she continues to inject IoT connectivity and software into industrial products for meaningful innovation and business growth. 

Connect with Rainya through her Linkedin profile.

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