Design for Industrial Internet of Things

Varun Nagaraj, President and CEO
Sierra Monitor

I spoke recently with Bruce Sachs, general partner atCharles River Ventures, abouthow developers, product managers, and business managers at Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) should think differently to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things.

Bruce, who has walked the walk as a Bell Labs engineer and as CEO of a major company before he became a VC, provided an insight that was simple yet profound, and worth sharing. He recalled our early days as engineers when the term DFX became prevalent. If you are too young to remember, or if that phase of your life has become hazy over time let me elaborate.

dfxAs engineers, we were exhorted to not just design products to implement a certain set of functions, but rather to take a broader set of requirements into consideration while designing products. We were asked to make sure the products we designed were designed to be high quality, or reliable, or supportable, or manufacturable, or low cost, or environmentally friendly. These disciplines were called DFQ, DFR, DFS, DFM, DFC, DFE, and so on. They were collectively referred to as DFX. If I recall, the catalyst for the whole movement was the fear that the Japanese were outsmarting us by looking holistically at products while we were not.

Bruce pointed out that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a similar disruption. The companies that get it will design their products differently to take advantage. These products will be designed so they can be monitored or fixed remotely; the products will call home and provide usage data that the developers can use to identify new features; the products will leverage capabilities on companion products to get their job done, and so on. He collectively called this new set of disciplines DFIoT and posited that this term may become just as common in the future as DFX used to be in the 80s and 90s.

Product developers at industrial OEMs would do well to remember Bruces advice. The companies and engineers who thought DFX was a fad were wrong. The OEMs who think the IIoT is neither an opportunity nor a threat are similarly fooling themselves.

So if you are a developer, educate your boss about DFIoT. If you are a product manager, expand your requirements matrix to reflect new reality. If you are a business manager, dont leave DFIoT to just the developers. History repeats itself, but if you listen to the right guys (like Bruce), history can be on your side.

Varun Nagaraj started his career in 1988 at Hewlett Packard as an engineer. He is now president and CEO of Sierra Monitor in Milpitas, Calif. Contact him at VNagaraj@sierramonitor.com.

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