My team’s biggest and toughest job of the year comes right at the end of it when we have to update our annual VIA product guide. This is a painstaking task because of the need to check and recheck the specifications of all the different products we offer to make sure that they are correct when it finally goes off to print. It’s also an extremely important one too because it gives us the opportunity to think about how we position ourselves and define the value that we deliver to the market.
In fact, product guide is a bit of a misnomer, because we sell very few “finished” systems that that either a consumer or company can unbox and plug instantly into their home or corporate network. Instead, we offer a variety of board and system platforms that can be rapidly customized to meet specific user requirements through the integration of additional hardware components and the development of software and cloud functionality on top of the Android and Linux BSPs that we provide with them.
Hardware customization has long been the key driver of the embedded systems market, particularly for industrial applications. This has mainly been focused on system ruggedization and form factor optimization, with very little software work required because most of the systems were built on a standard Wintel platform.
For the emerging Enterprise IoT market, the ability to provide of blend of both hardware and software customization capabilities is becoming increasingly critical because of the diversity of processor architectures and operating systems that are being adopted in IoT systems. The level of complexity is further increased when such systems have to be connected to older devices such as air conditioners, printers, and point of sale installations as part of the overall deployment.
It is for this very reason that most of the Enterprise IoT boards and systems that we ship still come with legacy I/O connectors such as RS232 COM ports that have long disappeared from mainstream PCs together with the software drivers required to enable their functionality in the accompanying BSPs.
Even though this design approach provides real and significant value to customers working to tie together all their disparate systems and devices into a unified IoT deployment for their factory, logistics center, or retail chain, in marketing terms it is not a particularly easy story to promote without resorting to tired old “solutions” clichés.
As a result, the biggest single challenge I face this year is how to work with my team to communicate the value we bring to the market in fresher and more interesting ways than in the past. This promises to be a tough but enjoyable path. I look forward to sharing the lessons I learn on the way.