How To Shift To Building Physical Tech

Even when you start with a genuinely great idea, moving from software development to designing and building physical tech products isn’t a simple shift. It not only requires your team to learn new production skills and processes, but also new strategies for launching, marketing, selling and more.

If you and your team are new to the hardware and manufacturing sectors, it’s essential to diligently research what’s in store before moving from the drawing board to development. Below, 20 members of Forbes Technology Council detail some of the intricacies of a shift from building software to hardware, from ensuring you’ve really got a viable product to promoting the positive impact your creation can make in the marketplace.

1. Review The Business Case And Risk

You need to have a clear understanding of the business case for moving from software to hardware. Software margins are four times those of hardware (and that is assuming great hardware margins). Software is more valuable. The skill set of your teams also has to be considered, as software engineer and hardware engineer aren’t interchangeable roles. Is your organization built for hardware or adaptable enough to allow that much change? – James Carder, Eptura

2. Ensure There’s A Product-Market Fit

Having a product-market fit is the cornerstone of a successful business. Countless products have failed because they did not cater to the needs of their target market. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that your product resonates with your potential customers before launching it. – Wesley Crook, FP Complete


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3. Adhere To Regulations From The Start

Adhering to regulations from the start streamlines development, prevents costly rework and facilitates smoother market entry. A commitment to responsible business practices aligns with today’s competitive and socially conscious marketplace, which emphasizes the importance of ethical considerations, and is essential when moving into the physical tech space. – Hadi Tabani, Liquid Technologies

4. Bring On A Product-Management Expert

You need to have real product-management expertise and experience, which a program manager or business analyst does not typically have. Product management is both a science and an art, and you need someone with experience in product launches that have been successful and those that have failed — indeed, experience with failure can be most important, since the lessons are etched into your continuous learning. – Richard Ricks, Silver Tree Consulting and Services

5. Be Careful With Prelaunch Quality Assurance

It is a tough leap from software as a service into the physical product world because so many of us are used to letting products out the door that might be “less than perfect,” knowing we can make updates to software whenever we like. That’s not so with physical products. Yes, you can update firmware, but that can be cumbersome, and missing features or a poor electronic design cannot be remedied remotely. – John Gunn, Token

6. Prioritize Supply Chain Management

When transitioning from software to physical products, tech leaders must prioritize supply chain management for risk management, cost control, adaptability and customer satisfaction. Effective SCM ensures smooth production, market responsiveness and competitive pricing, which are all crucial for success. – Praveen Andapalli, Vitel Global Communications, LLC

7. Establish Relationships With Multiple Vendors

Keep in mind that supply chains can be disrupted. This became really apparent during the pandemic, causing many longtime manufacturers to build multiple supply chains for their products. Those new to physical products need to remember this and work with multiple vendors throughout the design, testing and production phases of any new product. – Laureen Knudsen, Broadcom

8. Research Inventory Management And Distribution

Software is developed, not manufactured. The biggest challenge for tech leaders transitioning from software to physical products is effectively managing inventory and distribution. With software, there is no need to store inventory in a warehouse. Often, the most significant challenge leaders face is estimating the supply and demand for their products, and accurately planning for manufacturing needs. – Siddharth Gawshinde, Consultadd Inc.

9. Be Ready For Resistance From Established Distribution Channels

New tech products need to find a way to reach consumers. Products typically get distributed through established distribution channels, and new entrants are unwelcome. A new tech product is typically met with fear and fierce antagonism since it challenges the status quo. Tech leaders need to find a way to make distributors welcome their new technology as an addition, not as a replacement. – Rhonda Dibachi, HeyScottie.com

10. Pay Close Attention To Ergonomic Design

In transitioning to physical tech products, tech leaders should prioritize understanding the user experience in a tangible context. Unlike software, physical products involve direct interaction, making an ergonomic design and user interface crucial. This focus is vital, as it greatly influences customer satisfaction and product usability. – Patrick Emmons, DragonSpears, Inc.

11. Focus On An Outstanding UX

Provide the best user experience, because it directly influences the interaction and perception of the product. If the user experience is intuitive and well-designed, your customers will be satisfied, increasing brand loyalty. This, in turn, can transform them into brand advocates, thereby enhancing the success rate of your product in the market. – Nitesh Sinha, Sacumen

12. Plan For A Longer Product Life Cycle

When designing physical products, companies need to plan for a longer product life cycle. Successful hardware products are designed to be relevant for years. Investing in the latest components allows us to add future functions through software updates. Adding a line of accessories is another great strategy. When customers can upgrade their device with new looks and functionality, the product stays up to date! – Alex Gudilko, AJProTech LLC

13. Leverage AI To Streamline Manufacturing

As artificial intelligence expands out of the digital domain, industry leaders should take time to evaluate their workflows and identify processes that could benefit from integrating AI-powered automation. Physical manufacturing largely relies on manual labor. Looking for ways to leverage AI can help transform factory environments into smart, data-driven operations where human work is augmented by AI. – Max Versace, Neurala

14. Be Wary Of Leveraging Software Development Techniques

In the software world, iterative product-building techniques — such as Agile development and iterative product validation — are mainstream. This isn’t the case with hardware yet. Applying a software industry development technique to physical product building could blow up the development cost and time. However, one could get the benefits of iteration by architecting the product for component-level iterations. – Rajagopal Natarajan, Xook

15. Implement A Robust Security Infrastructure

Implement a robust security infrastructure for physical products to inspire customer confidence. The physical loss or theft of a consumer device poses a severe risk of a leak of the owner’s sensitive data. We pay meticulous attention to the security of digital solutions, and the safety and reliability of physical products needs to carry equal weight. – Parvinder Walia, ESET

16. Ensure Seamless Integration Across Devices And Networks

Consider the interconnected nature of networks. It’s essential to ensure that your solution is seamlessly integrated across various devices and networks. Attacks that come in through the digital space can impact connected devices, threatening physical operations as well as worker and customer safety. Companies must deploy seamless security solutions across both cyber and physical environments. – Anand Oswal, Palo Alto Networks

17. Evaluate The Product’s Environmental Impact

Tech leaders should meticulously evaluate the environmental impact of their physical tech products. This is paramount due to the increasing global focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility. Ensuring products are designed with eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient operations to meet the growing demand for sustainable products will increase brand reputation and market success. – Indiana (Indy) Gregg, Wedo

18. Carry Out Rigorous Tests In Varied Physical Environments

We’re used to testing in the software world, but the importance of testing and validation is significantly higher when building a physical product. There needs to be a comprehensive test suite to evaluate the physical product in many physical environments to reveal issues designers may initially overlook, such as the impact of extreme temperatures on the device. – Erfan Rostami, Voltai

19. Provide Training And Support For Sales Teams

Tech leaders should prioritize training and supporting sales teams when entering the physical product space. Proper training ensures sales teams understand and effectively communicate the product’s features and benefits, driving sales and customer satisfaction. It also minimizes misunderstandings and miscommunications that can lead to lost sales and reputation damage. – Brian Sathianathan, Iterate.ai

20. Highlight The Jobs Being Created

A strategy that can be helpful when announcing your new product is explaining the extent to which the move will create employment or improve the terms under which people are employed. Doing so builds affinity for the new product proposition that translates into social plaudits, which, in this populist moment, will also drive market uptake. – Gregory Francis​​​​, Access Partnership

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