The Importance of R&D for the Internet of Things

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In a recent blog post, we touched on the rapidly-expanding global market for the Internet of Things. We also emphasized the need for companies in this space to act quickly if they hope to take advantage of the emerging opportunities.

But how can an IoT-focused company keep up with the rapidly changing and expanding market?

In many ways, it comes down to research and development. If an organization’s R&D iteration turntimes are slow, or if that company is not going to be able to keep pace with the IoT industry’s growth. However, it’s not enough to simply speed up R&D—innovative IoT firms, both startups and established companies, must also make sure their R&D processes are extremely reliable. Overlooking quality to speed time-to-market here will cause delays, complications, and other shortcomings down the road. While speed is crucial, any successful IoT device or application requires an equal focus spent on quality.

Here are a few tips for speeding up R&D, and therefore time to market, without sacrificing excellence.

The Speed of R&D
Optimizing R&D is an inherently difficult task, whether a tech company is focusing on the IoT space or any other market. The sheer speed of evolution within the IoT field makes this task even more important, especially with regard to development rates and time-to-market capabilities.

“You can’t solve R&D speed issues just by increasing budget.”

When it comes to ensuring R&D occurs as quickly as possible, there are three key issues to keep in mind:

  1. Budget’s not enough: Speed cannot be solved simply by increasing budget. Research from the business school INSEAD found that making R&D decisions based purely on financial factors, including budget, actually leads to worse outcomes. Giving the R&D department more money won’t inherently increase speed, nor will it necessarily lead to better results.
  2. Communication is key: As Rob Carey of the National Center for The Middle Market explained, “[E]xecutives must maintain strong, steady communication with R&D regarding the department’s priorities over a particular time frame and how progress will be measured.” When a company identifies a potential opportunity in the IoT space, it’s imperative that the R&D team, executives, and all necessary personnel are on the same page. Miscommunication and misplaced assumptions will lead to problems that severely slowdown time-to-market.
  3. Guidelines are invaluable: The more structured and streamlined R&D procedures are, the better IoT companies will be able to move from conception to delivery. Businesses with a less-structured R&D approach will inevitably run into unforeseen complications that take time to be resolved.

R&D Soundness
All that being said, it is critical to emphasize that speed should not be seen as the be-all, end-all goal for IoT R&D efforts. Companies in this space also need to focus heavily on the soundness of their research and development. Again, it all comes back to maintaining high quality standards, even as companies focus on increasing speed.

What does this mean in practice? It comes down to ensuring that every element of R&D is as reliable as possible. The better an IoT company is able to trust the efficacy of their R&D process, the fewer variables they will need to review later on.

Sound R&D will cut down variables.Sound R&D will cut down variables.

Flex PCBs, R&D, and the IoT
Take, for example, the issue of flexible printed circuit boards—specifically prototype flex boards. Flexible PCBs are an essential component of countless IoT applications, as their small size and flexibility are ideal for sensors and other IoT devices (we’ll return to the issue of IoT design in a later article). It is therefore likely that a designer will need to order a prototype board while working on a new IoT device. A designer will likely need to order a prototype flex PCB board while working on a new IoT device.

Without sound processes, flex PCB issues may emerge, and the R&D team will find itself chasing a ghost. Consider this scenario: It’s time to test out the product and examine any deficiencies. The device fails in some capacity, so naturally the team starts to debug. Higher-level issues are often taken into consideration before looking to the circuit board as the root cause. The real problem—a PCB that was not designed in spec or a short in the board—is so base-level that it can go unnoticed for quite some time. As a result, the company loses speed and wastes resources.

That makes partnering with the right flex PCB manufacturer a key aspect of successful R&D processes. With the right partner, an IoT company can ensure their PCB, a crucial component of their prototype, is sound, and they can work with the manufacturer to better understand their printed circuit board design and spec needs. They can move full-speed ahead with their R&D, focusing their time and attention on bigger-picture issues.

As fast turntimes and reliability becomes a focal part of companies’ R&D processes, these companies will be well-positioned to thrive within the IoT market.

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