Making products smart and connected, also for SMEs

In a rapidly evolving and connected world, there are many opportunities for product manufacturers to create value with smart connected products. Even though it presents them with a number of new challenges, these innovations are also within reach of SMEs that are less familiar with them.

In the meantime, the world has more connected products than people - not counting computers and smartphones, of course - and these innovations don’t just happen to technological pioneers abroad. Lowist, a small company in Bilzen specialised in access control, recently launched its own connected retractable bollards. But how do you go about it? And why, to begin with, would you, being an SME, take that step?

Product innovation is definitely one way to stand out in the market. However, there are at least three more specific reasons to focus on smart connected technology: new users, new competitors and new solutions.

Adding value to products with smart connected technology

Users who are surrounded by digital technology on a daily basis - i.e. internet, apps, mobile devices - increasingly expect, both as consumers and in a professional context, that the product options are also in line with this technology. At the same time, their relationship with products in general is changing rapidly: users are increasingly concerned about the result, not about the product itself and all the concerns associated with buying and owning it. Or like Theodore Levitt puts it: “People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Just consider electric scooter sharing or leased photocopiers with automatic toner orders, where smart connected technology enables product builders to anticipate on this by means of new revenue models.
Competitors are globally active and have access to the same technology. At the same time, products are less and less long-lived on the market. Anyone who can deliver product-based solutions and services instead of exchangeable or copyable products has an edge on this competition. By digitally supporting services related to the product, you can roll them out efficiently on a large scale and at the same time strongly personalise them. Just consider, for example, remote troubleshooting or custom configuration of connected products. By capturing and analysing the usage data of smart connected products, you can always focus on the new solutions and services that deliver the most value to the users.

First value, then technology

Thanks to smart connected technology, new solutions are within reach today, creating value by offering users totally new possibilities or by making existing possibilities faster, better, more pleasant and safer. Just consider, for example, connected waste containers with a built-in press and a sensor that indicates when the container is full. This can reduce the number of pick-ups by up to 80 percent. This not only has an enormous impact on the direct costs, but also results in much less exhaust fumes, road dirt, noise and traffic obstruction. 

SMEs that have reasons to take the step should first of all look for what delivers value for the user, for the hole instead of the drill - to refer to Theodore Levitt’s statement. You can read in this artictle that this search is not always easy, but with the right information and insights leads to better results.

Lowist connects retractable bollards for management from the cloud

Lowist is a small company that has been installing and maintaining retractable bollards in the public sector for 15 years. This company saw that customers needed to be able to manage retractable bollards by means of a web application. Not so much the search for value for customers, but the technological solution to realise this value was a challenge for Lowist. Even if you, being an SME, do not build the solution yourself, but involve partners and suppliers, you need knowledge about the technological possibilities and how to tackle such a development. The fact that smart connected products go from hardware to software and from sensor to cloud makes it less obvious to make all that knowledge available or to build it up within your company. How Lowist went about it you can read here.

Taking steps towards smart connected products

In order to build a smart connected product, you do not have to be a pioneer, but you do need to go about it. How you, being an SME, approach your search for value and your technological development determines your chances of a successful innovation.

Sirris supports SMEs that want to take steps towards smart connected products. As part of the WAT Slim project, Sirris and Agoria joined forces to help companies in this field. In the meantime, 125 companies have been informed in thematic sessions and more than 40 companies have received short individual coaching. Later this year, we will publish a guide to the lessons learned in this project for companies.

Do you want more information about the topic or do you have a specific question? Please contact us!
Want to receive the guide? Register here!
Or do you want to know more about the WAT Slim project? Read all about it here!