#3y3m: An approach to deal with Connected Objects Lifecycle

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2014 is on the edge between Cloud Computing and IoTH era. 
Design  ‘almost’ everything as a connected object it’s just natural.

To be “connected” is a “natural state of mind” for an object.
This because being connected is the only way to be actually useful in a specific context for humans.


Useful in a specific context, 
for an object, make the difference between being part of the background noise that fight for humans’ attention -or- being effective and survive, into this tremendous darwinian moment for technology.

Perhaps, I am personally too much optimistic, but I don’t see the humanity becoming a slave of robots and drones (not soon at least). Since the moment in which a form of General Artificial Intelligence will not appear, technologies will continue to evolve according the success in serving humans. Here is why *1.

To be useful in a context, there is no alternative: Products must be connected and -in some way- aware, autonomous, etc.

Apparently, we observe hundreds of successful example of connected objects, that are already on the market. However I feel -as general market knowledge- we are far far away from the needed awareness and culture.

The most common mistake is related to the HW/SW Lifecycle.

While I was the UX Principal in Razorfish Heathware, II was dealing with a customer about the “UI Aging” issue.
My problem was to demonstrate how and why any UI embedded in a HW, get old much faster than the HW itself.  

Time ago, I was discussing about this topic with a friend of mine, Davide Casali. He come out with a statement that I immediately agreed: The 3y3m theory. TODAY, while I’m posting my part of the model, Davide posted his part: The Three Years / Three Months Model of Integrated Consumer Innovation

According 3y3m idea, every atom of the “system” should be conceived to evolve in a 3 years roadmap, while every bit should evolve every 3 months. SW side, 3 months is a challenging goal. However, this is the way to stay close with customers needs, take the distance from competitors and fight UI’s aging. All embedded digital UI ages more quickly than the physical product that frames the UI itself.

NOKIA is a perfect example of the “common” fight between HW and SW that exists in many companies. In few words: Nokia totally missed the relevance of software. I might extend this concept in many ways, but basically we should simply say that: Since the iPhone, NOKIA was developing several dozen of phones that basically worked with the very same software.

WHOA.
It’s impossible to believe now, in the APPs ECONOMY, but that’s was real just few years ago.

In a post-mortem analysis, Jorma Ollila, former NOKIA CEO’s admitted:“I wasn’t a software guy”.  Ollila also highlights how the company struggled to find skilled software engineers, saying there weren’t enough people to meet Nokia’s needs in Europe. The company hired more people in the US in 2005, but the hiring didn’t deliver the results it had hoped for. (Source: ZdNet and Ollila Biography)

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NOKIA’s drama, recall to me an old scene from the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”: when Steve Jobs shown to Bill Gates the -on developing- Macintosh for the first time. In this fiction, an Apple engineer candidly said to Gates: It is not the hardware. It’s the software! 

Well… fiction still fiction, but the world recognises to Steve Jobs the ability to craft ideas trough software as no-one else. Later, the product ever was a perfect mix of hardware and software but -honestly- is the software that makes all mac an recognisable (and mostly remarkable) experience.

Apple was also the company (together with video games) that teach to the market how to build and spread “innovation” into product life cycles, creating expatiation about new “products” as nobody else. 

But more than “product”, since the iPod/iTunes introducing, we should talk about “System”. Later, Apple in few years evolved the HW/SW marriage to the next level, using a super-powerful glue: The Internet.
…and there is no way to go back.

Connected Objects Lifecycle
Internet of things and Cloud Computing are the most relevant tech trends of last years and both are telling the same true: Not any isolated product or software but Systems are leading our times.

Since the iPod/iTunes “systems” started to be “the most successful form of technology available on Earth”. 

In particular, consumer “systems” are spread everywhere and influencing the way in which humans perceive the world. Maps, Memories, Sociality, everything is influenced by our always on, connected SYSTEMS.

“The Soul of the product is on the Cloud”
Systems are OBJECTS+SOFTWARE placed somewhere in the cloud.

Your fitness bracelet, your car, your smartphone, everything is massively going to be sold as a connected system (or disappear).  

I was part of the very early stage of the IoT Era. Running WideTag (my Californian startup) for three years, I learned the relevance of few basic questions that anyone should ask while developing a connected object:

– Where is the intelligence of the device?
Think about “old school” Home automation Vs. the NEST experience. Do you still thinking that embed the intelligence in the walls is a good idea?

– Do you want to make money with UI, Logic or Data?
According the UI / LOGIC / DATA classic approach, you sell one-shot the UI, grow with LOGIC (apps) and become a leader through DATA. 
Splitting these three dimensions and investing accurately on these pillars, defines the product duration and lifecycle.

– Are you aware of your system LIFECYCLE? 
Do you have a plan or -at least a theory- about the speed of evolution both of HW and SW that should transform your system to a success?

Value is already migrating from HW to Apps.  In 2012 the app economy was worth $53Bn and is expected to expand at a 28%. In one sentence: “The hardware is becoming the long-term platform for the software”.

– Connected imply some level of Open Innovation.
I am not talking about client/server or some kind of broadcast trough the Internet. Successful systems are accessible and open to those that could amplify the success. Depending from the service, those people might be developers, partners, authors…  

As Davide Casali wrote in his article:

Three years is not just a promise to the user the device will not be obsolete soon. Three years is also a promise to the developers’ ecosystem that you are going to create around the hardware.

I think this example make it clear enough, but be sure that we are using 3y3m in industries that looks far away from a typical sw startup. 

Today, the innovation lifecycle of industries like Energy, Healthcare, Real Estate, are facing  the urgent need of a dramatic business digitalisation. being able to support their effort with a design strategy (or design powered innovation method) is really relevant. 3y3m theory is a powerful tool to connect various innovation stories into a meaningful way.

Now,
we know a few but relevant things:

  1. Systems Rulez! HW/SW must be planned and evolved into an harmonic effort. Moving to the 3y3m approach might be reasonable.
  2. Be scared if SW is too poorly considered in your company. You might be the next Nokia. On the other hand, think about the speed of SW/UI evolution. Perhaps -in your industry- you lead the market and that’s make you comfortable. However, when your clients, partner, etc deal with your SW, they have mental’s models that are continuously influenced by mass market social software and they expect YOUR sw works in a similar way.
    Facebook largely passes 1 billion monthly active users and every time that introduce a new way to do something, the world learn the new way in days. Believe me, UI’s get old too fast to be wield somewhere.
  3. Application (Logic) might be an opportunity. DATA is what might make you actually powerful (and possibly rich).
  4. Software is historically subsidiarity respect hardware. This fact comes from far away in time. Today, might surprise you to read the letter from Bill Gates -de facto- invented the “software licence”.
    NEVER NEVER NEVER undervalue the consequence of any SW running into your products. Everything in your business will soon depends from it or should depends on it.

3y3m might looks an helpless/easy idea, but it is a efficient litmus paper. If people in your company are shocked by this idea, perhaps might be safer change your job -OR- become a protagonist of the needed cultural mind shift.

Again, there are many business where life looks SLOW enough. I see situation where well payed and -honestly- smart people don’t feel the urgency of change. Perhaps is true that the world, from their perspective, is slow. However this “lack of urgency” is every second dismantling the value and competitive advantage that other people built.

In a role-play regarding an imaginary company, you might prefer to be:

  • the one that take the risk to feel the urgence too early
    -or-
  • the one that was perfectly running the everyday nothing new while destroying the value of the company?

Be honest with yourself: Life without innovation just doesn’t exist.
Leave your comfort zone. There is no enough life and excitement there.


L.

(*1) For those that are thinking that technology is not there for serving humans, I have two bites.

  • Technology is a “form of life” that is trying to evolve itself and -since humans will have the finger on the turn off button- their evolution will be oriented by what is actually useful to humans.
    note: About “technology as life form”, please refer to: Kevin Kelly
  • The number of humans that are taking a concrete advantage of this tech evolution path depends from the rules that we -humans- gives to ourselves… but this is another story: nothing related to how the tech lead the planet.  As a Ben Hammersley, said from the stage @foi13: Any sufficiently advanced technology is… POLITICS