Product makers have pushed tech smarts beyond our phones and PCs into gear and gadgets, but many smart, connected products are not so smart. Whether it’s the latest connected harvester or a new smart speaker, the user experience often falls short of rising expectations. Adding sensors and remote control using internet-of-things (IoT) tech in products is challenging to get right, and not just because the technologies are still maturing — it also requires many changes to business process, structure, and skills.

Old Way: Design Product And Transact Occasionally

Manufactured products are either durables like coffee makers or forklifts or consumables like tissue or diesel fuel. Either way, the standard business focus is on great design, efficient manufacturing, and good distribution. There’s usually little or no engagement with buyers, just marketing to them for more purchases. So firms focus on designing great products and executing one-off transactions, with little knowledge about their customers and their experiences.

New Way: Design Connected Experiences And Deliver Continuously

The vision of connected products is that companies will engage in a direct ongoing relationship with the customer. Companies will learn about when and how customers use the product, whether they’re having a good experience, and when to deliver service or supplies. Achieving this result requires spending more on product engineering and components, creating ongoing software services to the connected products, and figuring out how to cover the increased product and operating costs.

New Research Stream: Connected Experiences For Durable And Replenishable Goods

We’re still very early in the era of connected experiences. The technologies for sensors, remote control, connectivity, cloud software, analytics, and artificial intelligence are evolving rapidly. The business practices and strategies haven’t evolved to optimize for connected experiences. For example, we’re likely to see more experiments with product-as-a-service and subscription business models.

I’m launching a research stream on connected experiences with an initial report to be published early this fall. This research will address the needs of clients in a broad range of discrete and process manufacturing industries. It will cover low-cost, high-volume products such as printers and expensive, custom products like manufacturing lines. It will also include industries such as food, paper, and consumer packaged goods — since these products are single-use or consumable, the IoT or connected tech is in the product dispenser, such as a coffee maker, fuel pump, or air compressor.

The connected experience research will also help Forrester’s tech industry clients understand enterprise buyer needs. Firms will need IoT software and connectivity services optimized for launching and managing connected products in the hands of customers. And they’ll also need help from a wide range of professional services firms for experience design, product engineering, organization transformation, business model strategies, customer analytics, and service delivery.

What research would you like to see on connected experiences and connected products?

You can tweet me at @FrankGillett. To tout your cool new offering, submit a vendor briefing request. Clients can reach me via your Forrester client team.