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The Digital-Physical Transformation Imperative for the Public Sector

By Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

Executive Summary

We live in a digital world founded on data generated by humans creating text, pictures, audio, and videos using digital tools and by, cyberspace applications and automated systems.  Digital has invaded private enterprise and is the way of living and working through public big-platform social media and business services and offerings.  Consequently, we are in the midst of massive digital transformation creating new digital and human processes which are changing our human behaviour, societal characteristics, and economy – compelling new digital governance and policies to amplify digitalization benefits and mitigate risks.

But wait – the physical world is also undergoing rapid digitalization – sensors, actuators, everyday objects, intelligent devices, and more.  The resulting digital-physical transformation also has tangible impacts on individuals, businesses, and organizations that manifest in broader, higher-level economic and societal transformation.  And yet, digital-physical transformation significantly lags the public policy and digital governance attention compared to digital transformation in the enterprise and big-platform contexts noted above. 

At its core, Digital-Physical Transformation is the endowment of digital personas to physical things through embedded computing and Internet connectivity, or Internet of Things (IoT).  What used to be inanimate objects (doors, cars, trees, etc.) are undergoing physical animation, transforming into smart and autonomous things that are seemingly coming to life.  And, what used to be spaces where our only intelligent interactions were with other humans are now transforming into spaces that include interconnected intelligent digital-physical personas, creating human-aware ambient intelligence around us with which we can have “intelligent” interaction.

The mingling of humans and ambient intelligence in cyberspace blurs the boundary between our interactions with humans and the physical environment, creating a new and ambiguous model of our world.  With that, we can no longer accept the physical world as being somehow separate from the digital world, so it’s imperative that digital-physical transformation is brought under the overall digital transformation big-tent – including related digital governance and policy innovation.

To achieve the above, the public service must elevate their digital literacy around physical digitalization and its societal and economic impacts.  That means knowing the essential concepts and terminology, understanding their inter-relationships, and applying it to user-centered governance and policy innovation, and government services.

Consequently, we must have an effective way for policymakers to acquire that technological intuition.  To that end, Design Thinking is an invaluable tool to elevate digital literacy, help innovate digital-physical solutions and governance, and ultimately bring Digital-Physical Transformation into the fold under the Digital Transformation big-tent.

Digital-Physical Transformation is real.  It is not separate from the overall Digital Transformation efforts, including the Digital Governance innovation it compels.

Ignoring Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means stalling economic transformation and accepting a less competitive economy and nation.







3   SO WHAT?





1  Introduction

We are in the midst of accelerating digital transformation, and with it, we have evermore technology and data, driving automation and greater efficiencies.  The pandemic has further spurred digital transformation due to physical distancing requirements, reducing human workplace activity and interaction, and compelling even more automation to mitigate pandemic risks and effects.

Digital Transformation is the adoption of digital technologies and processes to make our work and lives easier.  It has, so far, been a convergence of humans and cyberspace in the enterprise and social (big-platform) contexts involving co-production and co-consumption of data by humans and cyberspace.  That convergence includes using digital technologies to take on mundane or repetitive tasks or to gain better insights through data analysis to achieve higher operational efficiencies and service quality (to name a few).

Human and enterprise-systems-generated data and communications have dominated digital transformation efforts for over two decades.  Human-generated data comes from digital technologies that humans interact with – such as text documents, pictures, videos, emails, forms, tweets, etc.  Enterprise-systems-generated data comes from digital computing applications and background processes in the enterprise cyberspace, such as gathering and managing data (e.g., inventory, billing), performing analytics, bots of various sorts, and more.

But wait – the physical world is also undergoing rapid digitalization – sensors, actuators, everyday objects, intelligent devices, and more.  The resulting digital-physical transformation also has profound and consequential impacts on individual humans, businesses, the economy, and society.  And yet, digital-physical transformation significantly lags the public policy and digital governance attention compared to digital transformation in the enterprise and social contexts above.  The physical is becoming digital, and the corresponding digital-physical transformation must be brought under the big Digital Transformation tent to systemically and systematically address the full human-cyberspace-physical convergence.  And that starts with literacy in digital-physical transformation to create the digital-physical solutions and governance that our new world compels.  Without it, we give up on economic growth and a smart, safe, and inclusive society.

2  Enter Digital-Physical Transformation

At its core, Digital-Physical Transformation is the endowment of digital personas to physical things and their consequential transformative impact through interaction with other physical and digital entities – and humans.

2.1   The Basics

By “physical things“, we mean, literally, the material objects and spaces we interact with and occupy.  Everyday things like doors, cars, rooms, sidewalks, thermostats, trees, gardens, cows, drones, and robots – the list is endless.  These are things that we humans can sense and feel through our touch, vision, smell, and other human senses and can physically manipulate directly with our body or the mechanical (dumb) tools we use.

A persona[1], typically referring to humans, is a role or behaviour that is externally or publicly observable.  That means it has a set of characteristics and states that are communicated (or perceived) outwardly.  A digital persona is a role or behaviour whose attributes are digitally encoded and communicated.  It can represent different types of entities, including applications in cyberspace, humans, or physical things.

So – how do physical things acquire digital personas?  That’s accomplished by embedding computing and communications microelectronics into physical things.  Computing that can range from simple and minute eight-bit microcontrollers to sophisticated high-end processors and even specialized AI-purposed processors – depending on the role and complexity of the thing.  And digital communication can be of various feeds and speeds, and protocols.  This hyperconnectivity includes wireless technologies ranging from Bluetooth to 5G, fiberoptics, and wired connectivity, such as Power over Ethernet (POE).

2.2   The Transformation Begins

The acquisition of digital personas by physical things, call them digital-physical personas, gives rise to two fundamental and critical transformational characteristics:

  • Smart things – The exponentially advancing computing is enabling more complex thing functionality with greater awareness of its environment and interaction capability – resulting in “smart” things.
  • Internet communication – Despite the advancements in various communication speeds and feeds technologies, the Internet Protocol (or the IP layer) is ultimately the standard layer where the thing or thing-related communication occurs.

In effect, the digital-physical personas are smart things that communicate over an internet, and that is the basis of the Internet of Things (IoT) – a collection of connected communicating digital-physical personas.

The smart things or digital-physical personas that comprise the Internet of Things generate and consume a lot of data.  The data they transmit represents the physical world around them or their internal state – e.g., temperature, humidity, location, orientation, human presence, battery level, etc.  The data they receive constitutes information from other physical-digital personas or applications in cyberspace that they need to act out their role – e.g., control commands, state of other personas, etc.

That data must be managed, communicated, secured, stored, and analyzed over the Internet, in the cloud or locally, to extract value from it.

Why is the Internet of Things so transformative?  IoT drives digital transformation at several layers, including the higher economic and societal layers (covered later), but they are all grounded in the following fundamental transformations.

  • Physical Animation – What used to be inanimate objects (physical things like doors, cars, trees) are now transformed into intelligent and often autonomous things. They seemingly come to life due to their animated interaction with each other and humans – physically and digitally.
  • Ambient Intelligence – What used to be spaces where our only intelligent interactions were with other humans are now transformed into spaces that include intelligent digital-physical personas. They collectively create a human-aware ambiance with which we can now have “intelligent” interaction (e.g., human-aware sidewalk robots, mall kiosks, smart speakers, factory cobots, etc.).

2.3   A Unified Digital Realm – same-old but new?

Once we endow physical things with digital personas, making them smart and communicating over an internet, how do we combine them into solutions and derive value from them?  Do we build a separate infrastructure for the Internet of Things – a separate internet, dedicated cloud, or IoT-specific connectivity?  Do we use/create commercial and public infrastructure or build private enterprise structures?

Fortunately, the same-old Internet/Web we’ve been using in enterprise and social IT contexts is both a model and an available infrastructure to support IoT. That’s because there are significant needs and characteristics overlaps between the digital-physical personas and the digital personas in the enterprise and social IT contexts.  All of these personas

  • rely on the Internet,
  • store, manage, and analyze via cloud services,
  • use access technologies like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, cellular, optical, other, and
  • can build solutions on public or private networks and clouds

What’s new?  Compared to human-generated or enterprise-systems-generated data, physical devices produce real-time data that require deterministic, resilient, and low-delay communication.  Also, the device density (devices per unit area) can far exceed most enterprise or public device situations – e.g., hundreds of thousands per square kilometer.  In addition, IoT devices, unlike enterprise computers and terminals, are often deployed in very remote locations without access to electrical power, requiring battery operation.

The solutions to such IoT requirements are new add-ons to the existing Internet/Web paradigm, primarily in the form of new communication technologies.  For example, 5G was designed to address super-high device density (up to one million per square kilometer), low latency, and low-power communication requirements.  Other communication technologies, like LoRa, offer super-remote access for very low-power devices.  In addition, cloud extensions add real-time data services to align with the IoT device data qualities and volumes.

But – what’s really new?  The really new and most transformational aspect of Digital-Physical Transformation, with IoT at its core, is the situation we now have where humans, enterprises, applications in cyberspace, and smart physical things cohabitate on the same Internet/Web – creating a new Unified Digital Realm.  In addition, the number of devices, or digital-physical personas, will far exceed, by many multiples, the number of humans in it.  The expected 75 billion IoT devices will dominate Internet activity in the next few years compared to the eight billion humans.

What will it mean to have so many smart physical devices digitally mingling with humans?  What tremendous benefits will industry and humanity enjoy?  And, if we thought we were already stressed about dealing with the insidious aspects of the existing Internet, how will we cope when 75 or 100 billion smart (often autonomous) devices join in?  In addition to addressing the issues like privacy and cybersecurity at a much larger scale, we’ll now also face physical risks that Digital-Physical Transformation introduces.

Digital-Physical Transformation is real.  It is not separate from the overall Digital Transformation efforts, including the Digital Governance innovation it compels.

3  So What?

We can no longer afford to treat the IoT-based physical digitalization and the resulting Digital-Physical Transformation separately from the broader Digital Transformation discussions and efforts.  After all, the Internet of Things space or paradigm has made its way into every corner of the global economy, substantially impacting our work, lives, and society. 

It’s everywhere, including vertical digital solutions such as connected transportation, smart buildings, smart cities, wearables, connected health and others.  Its architectural components, such as 5G and other types of networks, cloud installations and data centers, and user applications, are also the bits and pieces involved in enterprise and social digital transformation.  And the enabling and impacted disciplines and domains like AI, semiconductors, cybersecurity, numerous digital algorithms, and business models and processes are at the forefront of digital innovation and transformation.

The above result in tremendous impacts and, therefore, reasons why we should care about IoT and its transformational forte, as expressed in this “Internet of Things – why should you care” video brief.  

The reasons and impacts why care about IoT can be divided into several broad categories, including

  • tangible material benefits,
  • tangible material pitfalls,
  • economic transformational impacts,
  • human and societal transformational impacts, and
  • governance transformation

The above constitutes a layered framing of impacts where the immediate tangible IoT benefits and pitfalls at one layer drive the higher-layer economic and societal impacts and transformation.  Both layers and the IoT layer compel systemic human-centered governance transformation.

3.1   Tangible Benefits

There are many recipients of tangible benefits from IoT and the Digital-Physical Transformation it drives.

For individuals, IoT means better health and fitness based on biometric and activity data from wearables, for example.  Or more convenient, safer, and energy-efficient homes from smart thermostats and security systems.

In business, IoT underpins automation, which increases product and service quality, and lowers operating costs through reduced human involvement.  It enables faster and more reliable supply chains, reduces equipment and facility costs, and makes work safer.

The economic benefits, for example, include safer, faster, and more efficient movement of people and goods through connected and autonomous transportation, more reliable energy distribution such as through electrical smart-grids, and more.

Communities and society, in general, get benefits such as better quality of life through Smart Cities founded on IoT, with efficient mobility, greater safety and security, reliable infrastructure, and more.  IoT also elevates public health effectiveness – including earlier infection detection and pandemic mitigation through touchless automated interaction and connected medical devices for diagnosis, treatment, and care.

All levels of government benefit from improved service delivery, operational efficiencies, and reduced cost and risk through asset management, regulation compliance monitoring, automation and other operations areas. 

In addition, Digital-Physical Transformation is essential for executing the climate plan, which, among other initiatives, must include the Circular Economy.

Remaining unaware of Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means hindering the tangible benefits for constituencies ranging from individuals to society, businesses to the economy, and government.

3.2   Tangible Pitfalls

As with any disruption or transformation, Digital-Physical Transformation comes loaded with pitfalls or negative impacts, including the two very tangible and ever-present cybersecurity and privacy risks.

Cybersecurity risk is a top-ranking IoT concern stemming from Things, or the Digital-Physical personas, effectively being connected computers.  Consequently, they are vulnerable to cyber-attacks and are hackable to become platforms for launching attacks.  Cyberattacks disrupt the digital functioning of Things and cause physical faults that can cause serious bodily harm or death by, for example, releasing hazardous industrial gases, disrupting patients’ I.V. drips, or disabling residential or business machinery (like cars, drones, and HVAC).  And with the billions of Things deployed, they are ideally suited for supporting massive botnets.

Privacy is a big concern stemming from the IoT sensing and monitoring capabilities.  For example, the wearables we sport can transmit our intimate bodily information and location.  And the ambient intelligence around us, the various sensors in the space we move within, can track and analyze our behaviour, generating data about us that can be put to malicious or unwanted use.

Unfortunately, digital governance concerning IoT cybersecurity and privacy is in its infancy.

There are even more pitfalls from the higher-layer economic and societal transformation induced by Digital-Physical transformation, covered below.

Illiteracy in Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means being unaware and accepting tangible pitfalls of cybersecurity and privacy risks and the physical and bodily harm that smart Things can impose.

3.3   Economic Transformation

Digital-Physical Transformation is a significant driver of economic transformation.  IoT application in industry or IIoT (Industrial IoT) revolutionizes industrial activity through increased automation, connected manufacturing and supply chains.  Cyber-physical Systems, or the coupling of massive data generated throughout these physical systems and ubiquitous connected computing, drive innovation in digital algorithms, analytics, and AI to create value.  That digitalization of industry is one of the main pillars, the digital pillar, of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 – a new competitive landscape for companies and nations.

Cyber-physical Systems are not just present in manufacturing.  They are also applied in other economic sectors, including Smart Agriculture, Smart Mining, Oil and Gas, and more – all aiming to increase efficiency, product quality and quantity, and financial return to stakeholders.

While Cyber-physical Systems and Industry 4.0 drive demand for new types of higher-skill economic jobs, they also fundamentally shift demand and costs away from labour, blue-collar, and some white-collar work to more efficient smart machinery, robots, and AI.

Ignoring Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT means stalling economic transformation and accepting a less competitive economy.

3.4   Human and Societal Transformation and Impacts

Like the Internet, which has recently driven human and societal transformation, the Internet of Things is poised to amplify that transformation from the intensified physical digitalization.  That transformation comes in the form of beneficial behavioural changes and better quality of life, but also the seemingly intangible, though genuine, concerns around the future of work, human agency, and cyber autonomy.

Human Behavioural Impacts

Physical digitalization brings with it human behavioural impacts – both intentional and unintentional.  For example, that includes behaviours like greater motivation from wearables for healthy activity due to their motion and biometric sensing capabilities rather than friends and coaches.  Or, taking cashless and payless shopping to the next level, like walking into a brick-and-mortar store, grabbing what you want, and just walking out without stopping to pay.  That’s made possible by IoT-based shelf inventory, customer tracking, and surveillance automation, with charging/billing in the background.

The above are just two of many consequential behavioural changes from Digital-Physical Transformation, which, at their core, have ever-diminishing interaction and dependence on other humans while increasing reliance on smart Digital-Physical personas.  With that, we have to ask who is accountable for things we depend on and, therefore, where are the related transformational public policies and governance.  For example, in a world where we can buy IoT things from anywhere globally through sites like Amazon that don’t necessarily comply with product regulations, what protection do we have?  What responsibilities do developers of physical products (IoT devices and applications) need to take on – in terms of human behavioural impacts and accountability to humans?

Also, as the physical transforms to digital (i.e., becoming virtual), it further reinforces the already prevalent virtualization of humans – i.e., somewhere in cyberspace without a physical location or even physical body association.   For example, one of the authors recently talked on the phone with a new consultant in a different area code about working together.  The image of the consultant being in cyberspace, not in any particular location, came naturally, especially due to the area code difference.  As they spoke, they realized they were just two physical street blocks apart, immediately ascribing physical attributes to each other as humans and realizing that it could have been more productive and relationship-building to meet in person.  Our physical vicinity still matters, and cyber-human-physical integration and physical awareness are vital, paradoxically, to leverage our physicality for good and to protect against physical privacy intrusion.

Societal Impacts

In addition to driving the transformation of human behaviour above, Digital-Physical Transformation presents some seemingly intangible, though real, higher-level negative societal impacts.  IoT challenges the future of work with its fundamental role in automation – not only for labour but also for cognitive and decision-making functions.  Consequently, our human agency will be challenged, diminishing the feelings of relevance and societal inclusion.  That threatens to destabilize and fragment human and class relationships.  It could further escalate the social and political turbulence we are already seeing if it’s left unaddressed through missing transformational social policies.

Another potential danger lurking in Digital-Physical Transformation is the possible erosion of cyber autonomy.  Given some of the benefits of wearables and ambient intelligence enabling continuous digital tracking of humans, will cyber-tracking become the norm, and will we become permanent residents of cyberspace, not allowed to be disconnected and losing our autonomy?  That is not just a hypothetical but already a reality in less democratic jurisdictions.

To facilitate the positive human and societal impacts of the Digital-Physical transformation and mitigate the negative, we must ensure the survivability and resilience of the digital-physical space and personas.  For example, it’s essential to understand and deal with the implications of devices creating radio-frequency (RF) interference with other devices, unintentionally or maliciously rendering them inoperable or allowing security breaches into our home or workplace networks.

Understanding Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT enhances the human experience and societal interest.  It identifies the future-of-work, human-agency, and societal-inclusivity risks that lurk in digital-physical intensification that we must tackle.

3.5   Digital Governance Transformation

As Digital-Physical Transformation with IoT delivers tangible benefits along with tangible risks, it also drives profound broader socioeconomic transformation.  Those benefits, risks, and transformations stem from the IoT-created ambient intelligence, which shifts how we see and experience our lived environment and deal with the world.  

Until this age of IoT, we had the human-to-human environment and its (intelligence-to-intelligence) interactions and the separate human-physical environment and its (intelligence-to-inanimate) interactions.  As a result, our governance and policies dealt with human-human relationships, expectations and boundaries on behaviours, and separately with our rights and responsibilities for property and movement within the inanimate physical environment. 

But things are different now.  The mingling of humans and ambient intelligence comprised of digital-physical personas is increasingly blurring the boundary between our interactions with humans and the physical world, creating a new and ambiguous world model.  We are no longer concerned with just siloed human-human and human-physical (inanimate) interplay to drive our policies, but the wholistic realm converging humans, cyberspace, and the (intelligent animated) physical world.

Additionally, new technologies have historically given diagonal (parallel but delayed) rise to new policies and often entire governance models.  And for good reasons – accelerating and scaling adoption and mitigating adverse effects.  It’s not too different today.  However, the digitalization of everything and the rise of exponential advancement of technologies surrounding digital-physical transformation is creating a gaping and ever-widening governance hole – not just in digital governance but also in broader socioeconomic policies.  When governance policies are not developed, that’s a de facto decision not to govern.

This situation compels a corresponding governance transformation.  That certainly includes new policies to deal with the new digital-physical world and its socioeconomic impact.  But it also compels transformation of the policy-making process to simultaneously ensure the creation of human-centered policies and innovate governance faster to close the widening digital-governance hole.

Unfortunately, many quarters in public and private organizations are unaware of Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT, resulting in missing or incomplete policies.  That means missed opportunities for economic growth, national competitiveness, and societal good and protection.  For businesses, this also means missing opportunities for revenue generation and efficiencies.  One of the many benefits of Digital-Physical transformation is enabling more efficient and effective services and allowing for enhanced customization.  Without this, organizations are susceptible to profit decline, liability and irrelevance.

Digital transformation started in the digital enterprise converging humans and cyberspace, enabling the creation of better digital services for citizens and customers.  How can we now create better services for citizens by heeding Digital-Physical Transformation?  How do we include Digital-Physical transformation as an inextricable and necessary part of the overall Digital Transformation?  That is, to bring intelligent physical objects and spaces into the fold – as part of the broader digital strategy and digital operations implementation, including monitoring and maintenance.  And what do we need to know, understand and be able to use for a systemic and systematic approach that involves all three digital-realm components – cyberspace, humans, and the physical?

Unaddressed, digital governance will remain incomplete, leaving to chance the impacts of IoT and ambient intelligence and where we ultimately end up as a civilization.  As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it, “Tis the set of the sails and not the gales which decides the way to go” – so we must set the sails in our quest for digital governance in a seascape that includes Digital-Physical Transformation and IoT.

Physical things and IoT now compel digital-governance transformation as sure as screens, clicks, scrolls, swipes, and social media have, but with property integrity and human bodily well-being and risks at stake.

4  What should we do about it

While it’s critical to appreciate the above opportunities and challenges of Digital-Physical Transformation, what do we want to get out of it, and what is our way forward?  That is, ensuring that we reap the corresponding benefits and mitigate the risk deliberately – rather than leaving ourselves, as a society and economy, exposed to where the wind may blow or letting the chips fall where they may.

Whatever we do, we must ensure to put humans as individuals and citizens of society at the center.  But, we should do it in a way to maximize technological benefits for humans within an intelligent, just, and inclusive society.

That objective and its realization are aptly represented in the far-reaching aspirational model and a growing movement for Society 5.0.  Initially devised as a blueprint for a “super-smart society” for Japan, Society 5.0 merges cyberspace and physical space with humanity.  It’s enabled and driven by digital-physical transformation, including cyber-physical systems, IoT, and related technologies and systems such as AI, robotics, hyperconnectivity, autonomous driving, and more.  It’s a human-centered model that balances economic progress with a just and inclusive society, where technology plays critical roles in both aspects

To realize the aspirations of Society 5.0, we must start from a position of strength in digital literacy around digital-physical transformation and IoT.  

We must have an effective way for policymakers to acquire technological intuition around IoT, to develop policies for IoT innovation and adoption and the related social and digital governance.

4.1   Digital Literacy

We must elevate our literacy in IoT and Digital-Physical transformation to fill out our overall digital literacy and complete the whole digital transformation journey.  That means knowing what is out there, understanding it, and using it to innovate solutions and governance around it, as we explain in our article on IoT and Digital-Physical literacy.

Knowing means having access to, and being able to take in information about, IoT and Digital-Physical mechanisms, their concepts, terminology, who’s doing what, and knowing where to get it.

Understanding means finding patterns and associations between the concepts to critically analyze, interpret, gain insights and infer consequences and conclusions from the information.

Using means applying the gained understanding of IoT and the physical-digital realm toward innovation of new solutions and related digital governance.

It’s apparent that digital literacy means more than just being able to use and operate the technology.  It, more importantly, enables us to innovate products, policies and services in an informed and reasoned way, but with one crucial bias.  A human-centred perspective is needed to understand the people, how they use IoT products, and what should be done for citizens or customers through policy.  As part of digital transformation so far, we have only been looking at the cyber-human interplay aspects, but the physical aspect, more precisely the digital-physical aspect, has been overlooked.

Digital literacy in physical-digital transformation requires not just literacy of IoT or the digital-physical components and applications but must also include that human-centric focus.  Consequently, we must use a human-centric methodology to innovate solutions and governance – and that’s where design thinking comes in.

4.2   Design Thinking for Digital-Physical Innovation and Literacy

Design thinking is an invaluable method of ensuring the integration of cyberspace, human, and physical components in a way that serves humans and societies.  Design thinking is about looking at challenges from a human and end-user perspective.  We look to understand the end-users’ challenges before identifying the problem we aim to solve.  Creating technologies for the sake of creating technologies may be fun, but at the end of the day, the technology needs to solve a challenge for end-users – customers or citizens.  

Design thinking is so effective because time is taken to empathize with the end users to understand the end-users’ real needs, achieving clarity before we define the real problem to be solved and its scope.  Once the problem is clearer, it is easier to make decisions along the way, including the essential tasks of ideating, prototyping, and testing the solutions.  It’s a recursive process, ultimately converging onto one or more solutions.

Design thinking has been used widely for some time in the private sector by organizations like Procter & Gamble to understand their customer’s needs better and create more innovative products.  And the public sector has leveraged design thinking more recently to develop better services internally within the government and create better services for citizens.  That is, analyzing and working with internal and external end clients to better understand their pain points and develop solutions with them to increase services’ ease of use and effectiveness.  

Businesses like Telus used design thinking to foster 5G adoption innovation among potential partners and customers.  Design thinking was used to identify customer and partner challenges and how to support people to understand better that 5G is here to help solve their problems.  The outcome was the Telus innovation hub strategy.  They also use design thinking within the innovation hubs to issue challenges based on knowledge and understanding of end users.  The solutions to challenges are then presented back to users (a city, a hospital, an enterprise, a mine, or an agriculture farm) for validation and eventual productization.  That is a much faster and higher-quality go-to-market approach than traditional methods.  

In the public sector, design thinking supports agile procurement of products and services, such as at Shared Services Canada, by first talking with end users to better understand them and their needs before articulating a better-defined challenge to vendors.  Once conversations and a selection process are completed, fewer vendors can prototype and test their solutions and select the best solution for their end users.

Design thinking serves to innovate Digital-Transformation and IoT solutions and governance.  It also aids literacy development by applying it to use cases that are part of a group-based human-centered interactive learning process.

Design thinking is an invaluable tool to bring Digital-Physical Transformation into the fold under the big Digital Transformation tent.

5  Conclusion

We are in the thick of Digital-Physical Transformation with the Internet of Things (IoT) at its core, where everything and every Thing is connected.  Physical Things (with their Digital-Physical Personas) are digitally interconnected with cyberspace and humans, resulting in a new unified digital realm with powerful socioeconomic benefits and some significant pitfalls.  Therefore, the technological innovation it drives must also be coupled or interconnected with digital-governance transformation to reap the benefits and avoid those pitfalls.

We can no longer afford to think, let alone accept, that the physical world is somehow separate from the digital world.  As such, Digital-Physical Transformation is an inextricable part of overall Digital Transformation pursuit and innovation.  To innovate IoT, its related technologies, and the required digital governance, a baseline level of digital literacy is needed for public servants – including technological intuition among public-sector executives and policymakers.  Since governance is all about meeting citizens’ needs, it’s important to empathize with citizens and uncover their real and diverse problems and requirements.  That’s where Design thinking steps in – for human-centred and inclusive digital governance innovation and digital literacy elevation.

Everything and every Thing is digital.

Everything and every Thing is connected.

(V1 2022-10-30)


RELATED TRAINING: To elevate your literacy in Digital-Physical Transformation and the Internet of Things register for this course: Digital-Physical Transformation for the Public Sector


The Quest for Digital Governance Includes IoT and Ambient Intelligence

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

The quest for Digital Governance is afoot to balance the benefits and challenges among technological, economic, societal and human interests, in this era of advancing digital technologies.  This quest’s success, like any other, depends on first setting the right destination and second having visibility of, or a way to discover the full seascape we have to deal with.  In the case of Digital Governance, that means recognizing that the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Ambient Intelligence it creates around us are a central part of the seascape in our quest.

Everything is Digital

Everywhere we humans turn these days, there’s talk of “digital” – and there is a good reason for it. Most information we deal with is digital or becoming digital, in the form of bits and bytes and higher-level data constructs they comprise.

Further, the way we work and interact with the data is through a Human-Computer Interface. But let’s correct this notion – we don’t really interact with the computer; we interact with applications that run on computers. The computer, whether on the desk, lap, palm, or in the cloud, is useless without applications.

The result is that we live in a digital environment comprised of information and a plethora of applications, underpinned by the Internet or internet-based connectivity. The information we deal with is mainly of human origin (text, voice, video) or generated by applications in response to us. There is, of course, new information and insights generated by platform-based intelligent and increasingly autonomous systems. That information is shared among other autonomous systems, with visibility and comprehension by relatively few humans, if at all.

This digital state of affairs has spawned or accelerated numerous disciplines and areas of endeavour including, among others,

  • User Experience (UX) design to facilitate, optimize and enjoy data interaction,
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for analytics and insights from data,
  • Cybersecurity to protect data integrity and communication and human privacy,
  • Blockchain for data and transaction integrity and non-repudiation,
  • Digital Governance for policies to maximize benefits and mitigate negative impacts on humans

The digital era has been in full swing for some time now, resulting in, not just the tsunamis of data, but also a transformation of human behaviour, how we relate to each other, and the character of societies and civilization. Commercial and political interests globally are feverishly working to both leverage and further influence our behaviour through this pervasive digital environment, while Digital Governance efforts are striving to catch up. All this as a result of digital data produced by humans and autonomous systems and attending applications, thanks to hyper-computing and hyper-connectedness.  Only time will tell how this will all play out in this “everything is digital” era – that is, how digital governance efforts attain the right balance between technologic/economic interests and the human/societal interests.

Oh – one more Thing

But wait – is that everything digital? Are we forgetting something?  Our ambient environment is much more than just the interactions through screens, clicks, swipes and scrolls.

We do live in a real physical world. Our ambient environment is comprised of the geography, spaces and structures we live in, full of physical things we use, consume and interact with. These things, which are increasingly outfitted with sensors, actuators, computing and connectivity, are becoming intelligent and autonomous things – the Things. They are the bridge between the physical and the digital worlds, generating data about themselves, their surroundings and the humans they interact with. Our interaction with the Things may be direct and local or in combination with platform intermediaries.  The bottom line is that the Things are not human, nor platform-based autonomous systems, but do produce mass quantities of data, and are now, most certainly, a part of the digital realm. However, they remain physical all the while adding intelligence to our ambient physical surroundings, and consequently affecting or forcing new human behaviours.

A Governance Hole

But now, the combination of humans and ambient intelligence is increasingly blurring the boundary between our interactions with humans and the physical world, creating a new and ambiguous model for our world. This converging paradigm also makes our physical environment a full-fledged member of the digital realm, as sure as the screens, clicks, scrolls and swipes have been – leaving an obvious hole in our digital governance. Unaddressed, digital governance will remain incomplete, leaving to chance the impacts of IoT and ambient intelligence, and where we ultimately end up as a civilization. 

As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it  “Tis the set of the sails and not the gales which decides the way to go” – so, we must set the sails in our quest for digital governance in a seascape that includes IoT.

IoT Digital Literacy

For policymakers to properly set the sails and complete the digital governance quest, they must go beyond just the  human or platform generated data and the related operational and governance concerns. To merge-in the effects of the physical ambient intelligence, policymakers must become literate with IoT, attaining relevant technological intuition and social impacts awareness. Further, IoT compels a systemic approach to digital governance innovation due to its breadth of technologies and impacts, needing to rely on effective innovation techniques and mindset such as Design Thinking.

After all – everyThing is digital!


Ottawa Shows its Product Management Colours

By Walter Knitl – CEO at PraxiemChief Business Development Officer at IoT613

It’s no surprise that the Ottawa area is a top technology hub in North America. With that comes a thriving Product Management community, which was on display at ProductCamp Ottawa 2019, produced by the Ottawa Product Management Association (OPMA). The event, hosted by Invest Ottawa at Bayview Yards, brought product management and related professionals together to exchange ideas and learn from each other about the leadership, development, and the scaling behind successful products.

It doesn’t shock anyone to know that the product management function is critical for product success, but the large spectrum of issues and entanglements with other functions and stakeholders is often an eye-opener for the uninitiated.  After the opening address by Andrew Faulkner, CEO of OPMA, this spectrum, the tone, and theme for the event was laid out by a great opening keynote from David Ross, CEO of Ross Video. The discussions that followed the rest of the day, through a select panel and participant-defined sessions, layered the event with the colours of the product management spectrum. What follows are some of the key areas of discussion.

What’s in a Name

It wouldn’t be a product management event without questioning the definition of the name or the term “Product Management” function itself and the role of a Product Manager. The answer invariably differs, even among product managers, depending on one’s experience in different types of companies (product providers) with different structures, sizes, maturity, and culture.

The consensus, however, converges on product management and product managers seeing the whole product picture and being accountable for product success. This was compared, by Steve Johnson in his talk, to being a conductor of an orchestra engaging the players to ensure the musical piece is delivered to the audience.  A reference to the way that product management engages different stakeholders from development, to marketing, to support, and customers and others to deliver the product to market.

So, with this in mind, what makes a good Product Manager?  David Ross provided his five-point take in the opening keynote – a product manager must

  • understand the customer and their problems,
  • understand the technology needed to solve it,
  • be a good communicator,
  • have a passion for the problem and solution, and
  • never give up even if other people find you annoying.

He added that “you guys and gals have an impossible job”, and managing a product is “like raising a child”. Alternatively, I would say managing a product is like conducting a symphony, and maybe even writing it.

It’s not Either-or

Much is said about the importance of product managers understanding customers and their problems and being a customer advocate. And for a good reason – without solving a real pain, a product will fail. The ways to elicit needs and define features to satisfy customer needs  was duly covered in sessions by Malik Jumani and  Colin Moden. Not to mention frequent references about building product UX that aligns with the customer way of working.

While the above was going on, there were other non-customer related discussions.  That is, about the requirements of the company or product provider – the need to stay in business and provide a return to owners.  To that end, Mark Lindsay provided a compelling discussion on product management’s accountability for ROI (return on investment) and the need for entanglement with internal functions ranging development, testing, procurement, production, and many others.

So, which one does the product manager focus on?  It’s not an either-or answer. It’s clear the product managers must have their feet simultaneously in both realms – the customer’s, and their own company’s.  The main job is to align the interests of the customer and their company to ensure a successful product.

Master Influencer, but Master Not

Given the communicator and the persistence traits noted in the keynote, and discussions around engaging a plethora of stakeholders, it’s a no brainer, and without objection, to say that a product manager must be a good influencer. For example, influencing development on features and prioritization; C-suite or owners on why the company should enter or exit markets; customers on the merits and values of a new product line; and many other situations.

The product manager as a master influencer was addressed by a number of sessions aimed at elevating the influencing skills of ProductCamp goers.

One of the interactive session was headed by Amanda Holtstrom on the importance of the product manager’s status. It included role-playing interactions with stakeholders from simulated positions of low and high status.  Status is important for product managers to be respected and taken seriously.

Another important part of influence is networking, which was expertly covered by Michael Hughes. That is, creating new and cultivating existing customer, partner, and generally stakeholder relationships. The all-important thing to remember, he asserted, is that we buy people first, ideas second, and things last. Consequently, it’s important to first establish a personal human connection by demonstrating a genuine interest in the other person.

Video, as another tool in the influence toolbox, was covered by Darryl Praill. Short videos are a great way to cast out your take on the industry, technology, or products, to provide a platform for feedback into your processes, and generally to establish thought leadership and influence with your stakeholders. It’s important, however, to set an objective for each video and do it with confidence.  The ROI on this is not hard to prove, especially due to the availability of reasonably low-cost video gear.

With the pervasive influence needed in many directions, it might seem easier at times for product managers to delve into narrow areas themselves for apparent expediencies – such as, for example, do detailed R&D budget planning, or debug code. This would be wrong.  An overwhelming consensus says that a product manager cannot be, nor should be a master of all areas. This would be akin to, as Steve Johnson put it, the conductor playing the trumpet if the trumpet player doesn’t play their part correctly. The conductor’s influencing role is to set the piece objectives and help the player understand their role in it and to understand their problem, but leave it to their professional skill to interpret and execute.

Yes, but don’t SaaS me

Software as a Service (SaaS) has become a dominant way of delivering applications and software-based services. It leverages the ever-growing network performance and capacity to offload much of the previously needed on-premise IT functions into the cloud. In the process, it provides better cost performance, service/application continuity between desktop and mobile devices, and many other benefits.

It’s no surprise, then, that a panel on SaaS Product Ecosystem was an important session at ProductCamp, and of great relevance to product managers.  The panel moderated by David Mennie that included Catherine CormierAaron EvansLibby Robinson, and Kari Simpson also discussed the role of UX.  One of the takeaways was that UX isn’t just about pretty panels, but also a way to build relationships with stakeholders. Furthermore, properly designed, UX can help discover innovation opportunities by assessing its impact through continual measurement.

The panel also concurred that an effective and sustainable SaaS road map should have three areas – to grow the business, defend it, and explore new possibilities. Tracking feature requests to opportunities is also important, as is tracking deal wins/losses with or without features.

With all the talk of SaaS greatness, one might conclude SaaS is the only way to go for all software solutions.  But, don’t sass me about SaaS. That was the sentiment expressed by David Ross, as SaaS still doesn’t cover many solutions. One assumes he comes from a place where specialized hardware in the solution is needed to do high-speed processing with stringent real-time response. Here SaaS, with limiting cloud compute performance and long and non-deterministic delays, just won’t cut it for real-time on-location video production. He contends that selling software and maintenance contracts is still a valid way to go.

Shares or Sharing

Undeniably, to bring products to market or to grow a business requires resources and money – a well-trodden and inescapable quarter for product managers. A common form of money is external investment, such as by Venture Capitalists (VCs), which, while offering faster growth ramp potential, results in diluting founder and existing owner equity, by shares issues to VCs.

But, you don’t have to go down this road – you can grow through profit reinvestment. This, likely slower growth rate, can be accelerated through debt. Get to know your banker. They want to see you succeed.

There are two types of companies, according to David Ross. Carnivores that acquire companies for growth, and herbivores that grow organically.  While acquisitions are not entirely unavoidable, remaining herbivorous has its advantages. Forming partnerships among herbivores for sharing development, IP, and other resources can provide huge leverage to organically amplify product portfolios. This may also be possible with competitors in a co-opetition relationship.  Further, customers can also potentially finance scale. Growing herbivorously like this, without VCs, reduces risks and various associated problems such as founder dilution, having to know your exit date before starting, and others.

It’s a Community

ProductCamp Ottawa 2019 is a proof point of the Product Management community and talent that exists in the Ottawa region.  This well-attended event was the product of many in the community, but the driving force behind the event and much thanks go to Hala Hawa for her organizing expertise, perseverance, and long hours.

The ProductCamp would not be possible without the participation of the keynotes, guest speakers, sponsorship, and support from the following companies:

Assent Compliance 

Bayview Yards


InGenius Software

Invest Ottawa



Pragmatic Institute



Tweet Beam


And, of course, kudos goes to the Ottawa Product Management Association and its leadership and volunteers who run monthly networking and learning events. They provide continuity and a hub for the region’s Product Management and related professionals, which culminates in the annual ProductCamp.

Product Management is not a linear process but a space with several dimensions that product managers breathe and live in, in their quest for product success and accountability.

Come out to the next event, and join OPMA to SHARE your knowledge, LEARN from others, and GROW yourself and the region – and in the process, become a true Product Management space navigator.


Internet of Things & Design Thinking Pave the Way to Digital Literacy

By Walter Knitl and Nilufer Erdebil

We now live in a digital world, immersed in lakes and rivers of digital information not just generated by humans but also by bots and other autonomous systems. This is made possible by a wide range of exponentially advancing technologies such as AI and ever-increasing digital connectivity and Internet capacity.

As if that wasn’t enough, the situation is compounded by the digitalization of the physical world through the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT pushes the info rivers and lakes into digital tsunamis by hugely adding to the number of data generators, the volume of data, and types of data.

This exponential advancement in digital technologies and information is not matched by advancements in digital literacy in different quarters of society, economy, and governance. Lagging digital literacy not only prevents us from fully reaping the benefits of these advancements, but it also stifles the de-risking of their negative impacts. Often, it’s a case of not knowing what we don’t know, and what questions to ask. 

What is Digital Literacy Anyway?


To better understand Digital Literacy, it’s useful to first look at literacy in general. Being literate means, you have the ability to know, understand, and use information toward a desired end.

Knowing means having access to information or data, and the ability to decode its symbols (letters, words, acronyms) to form and retain mental dictionaries of individual concepts and meanings. It includes the ability, through thought, to remember, identify, and access them.

Understanding means having the ability to find patterns, associations, and comparisons between point concepts and meanings. It includes the ability to critically analyze, interpret, gain insights and infer consequences and conclusions from information.

Using information, more precisely using the understandings from information, toward a desired goal can take many forms. It could be innovating or creating new value in the form of products or services. It could be synthesizing and deriving new information and higher-order knowledge. Or, it could be making more informed decisions, policies, and processes by evaluating the relative merits of diverse knowledge and understandings.

Digital Literacy includes the above aspects of literacy applied to the Digital – the digital technologies and information we are immersed in. And, that involves just about everything except for our direct human bodily senses. It includes human-generated information in the form of e-books, blogs, videos, podcasts, social media, email, and other. It includes computer generated information from bots, games, UX interactions, and autonomous systems. And now it also includes information about the physical world manifested through the Internet of Things. IoT extends the legacy Human-Compute digital paradigm into the Human-Compute-Physical or the Cyberphysical paradigm.

While Digital Literacy in many quarters also envelops skills needed to use digital-era tools and applications, the critical aspect for business leaders and policymakers is knowing about and understanding Digital in its various dimensions. It means attaining intuition about digital technology, its capabilities, drawbacks, and impacts to be able to drive or protect business or develop informed governance.

Knowing and Understanding the Internet of Things, coupled with Design Thinking to facilitate Using, is an important path toward overall digital literacy.

Internet of Things – Knowing and Understanding Digital

The Internet of Things paradigm is an extension of the Internet, which newly interconnects Things (devices), analytics, control, applications, autonomous systems, and humans over a common communications infrastructure. It increasingly underpins economic activity and societal function, creating economic value across a spectrum of verticals, such as connected transportation, connected manufacturing, wearables, drones, smart cities, smart buildings, and other.

IoT is digital end-to-end and greatly overlaps with the overall digital space. As such, it largely uses and leverages the common underlying digital technologies and infrastructure, including analytics, AI, Internet connectivity, algorithms, cloud and other. It also shares the impacts of the broader digital space, including efficiency and convenience benefits, as well as privacy, cybersecurity, and human agency concerns, to name a few.

There are, however, important distinctions between IoT and the rest of the digital space – stemming from the inclusion of Things. For example, at a very personal level, IoT augments our bodily senses with greater information about the world and extends and amplifies our motor capacity within it. That alone presents greater bodily risks from potential malfunction or malice. IoT also breaks the default notion of having only inanimate objects in our physical environment over which we have direct control. Because IoT extends and distributes computation and algorithms into devices (or the edge), our physical environment is becoming animated almost as a default. Whatever concerns there are around cybersecurity, privacy, and AI-based autonomy around current relatively centralized autonomous systems or personal devices, these are significantly amplified by IoT. IoT offers a greatly expanded surface for launching cyber attacks and autonomous behaviour. In addition, new technologies such as 5G networks are needed by more demanding and stringent performance needs of devices, compared to human-generated information.

Digital literacy that only includes human-generated information and centralized autonomous systems is not sufficient to deal with the new reality that IoT brings to the digital space. Conversely, by knowing and understanding the Internet of Things from the start, the broader digital literacy is also attained due to the technology and effects commonality with IoT.

Design Thinking – Using and Understanding Digital


The Knowing and Understanding abilities are necessary but not sufficient for digital literacy. The ability to purposefully Use them to solve challenges with people at the center makes literacy whole. But, simply creating digital products, services, or policies without knowing the people’s real needs and challenges is unlikely to have them used or adopted, diminishing their value. We need a way to ensure the attained knowledge and understandings are usefully applied. This is where Design Thinking steps in.

Design Thinking gets at who will use digital and how they will benefit from it. It’s a journey that takes us from Empathizing and Defining real needs, through Ideating and Prototyping solutions and Testing their use. As creators of digital products and services we don’t always know, nor can foretell how they will be used, so it’s important to take users along for the journey. Only by incorporating diverse perspectives of user needs and testing the prototypes can we ensure the usefulness of the attained knowledge and understandings to ultimately fulfill digital literacy.

Design Thinking is not restricted to product and services solutions. It is equally important for making use of attained digital knowledge and understandings for developing digital governance, and economic and social policies while involving citizens and industry along the way.

It is also part of how we can de-risk challenges around digital literacy and IoT. By understanding the challenges better and the people involved in the challenge, we can co-create solutions with the end users. The outcome of applying Design Thinking to IoT challenges will be to drive or protect business, and develop informed governance and policies

In addition, applying the Design Thinking process to different digital use cases further bolsters our understanding of the Digital, consequently increasing our literacy. Also, Design Thinking naturally elicits information on human needs and requirements as part of its process, again adding to the Knowledge aspect of literacy.

Summing Up


Digital Literacy – Knowing, Understanding, and Using Digital – is key to growth, governance, and relevance in today’s age of exponential digital advancement. The Internet of Things, while hugely overlapping the overall digital space, also presents one of the largest and fundamental digital literacy challenges. At the same time, Design Thinking is an important method for innovating, de-risking, and creating solutions. Digital Literacy is greatly advanced by Knowing and Understanding IoT, in combination with Design Thinking for Using the attained knowledge and understanding – ultimately enabling growth, governance, and relevance.

About Authors:


Nilufer Erdebil – CEO at Spring2 Innovation

Nilufer is the award-winning founder of Spring2Innovation and a leading innovation and design thinking consultant experienced in telecommunications, application development, project management & information technology management.  Her firm focuses on strategy and vision development, design thinking, creating and managing innovation programs, and change management.

Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem, Chief Business Development Officer at IoT613

Walter is founder and consultant at Praxiem, empowering organizations to discover and deliver the right product to market, leveraging his extensive technology Product Management and Product Development experience. He is also a co-founder at IoT613, enabling the IoT community to learn, interact, and connect, including at the IoT613 Conference.


Product Management – Alignment is Job One

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

All product providers “manage” the products they deliver whether they realize it or not. Irrespective of the provider’s size or maturity or the type of product, delivering viable and successful products to customers always demands the following of product management:

  1. Discovery, prescription, and tracking of product objectives, attributes, positioning, and metrics – i.e., Product Scope
  2. Set of progressive innovations, investments, activities, and checkpoints to bring the product to, and off the market – i.e., Product Lifecycle
  3. Participation of a variety of stakeholders both within the provider organization and outside – all focused on both the customer interests and the provider owners’ interests – i.e., Product Stakeholders
  4. Simultaneous attentionto all the above areas, or dimensions of product management, aiming for a viable and successful product.

With that said, however, the definition of product success is not universal and depends on individual provider’s and customer’s objectives at different points in time. For example, provider success might be defined as maximizing product margins or return on investment. In other instances, success may be termed as achieving certain revenues or market share, de-emphasizing margin. Despite this variation, there is a common thread or condition for product success – both the provider and the customer must achieve their-defined net benefit from the product. In other words, there must be a Net Benefits Alignment.

Benefit vs. Net Benefit vs. Net Benefit Alignment


The common mantra says that a product will succeed if it provides a benefit to the customer. While this is a necessary condition, it’s not enough. A benefit occurs when a need is satisfied, or a pain alleviated. Unfortunately, benefits are never unaccompanied by opposing costs, objections or detriments to various degrees.

For example, consider a SaaS product which is a supply chain app/service for procuring least-cost components from the market. The SaaS product is delivered by a SaaS provider and used by a SaaS customer. The SaaS customer may, in fact, derive the Benefit of locating least-cost component suppliers from the SaaS product. However, the subscription Cost and the cost of integrating the app/service into existing enterprise tools, for example, must be weighed against the benefit of reduced part pricing. In the end, it is the Net Benefit or the benefit less the cost or detriments that matters. The SaaS customer will buy the SaaS product only when it achieves its specified Net Benefit from the product – the Customer Net Benefit.

If we, as a provider, achieve the Customer Net Benefit we can sell the product, and we’re done – right? No – not so fast. There remains the matter of care and feeding of the provider owners – investors, shareholders, C-suite. Revenue, for example, is one provider benefit from a product. But this benefit has costs associated with it such as material costs, selling costs, investment costs, and opportunities lost – among others. These must be subtracted from or weighted against the benefits to ensure that a Net Benefit accrues to the provider. It’s the net benefit, in terms of profit or other metrics that matters. No rational product provider will deliver products without deriving its own Provider Net Benefit from it.

So, if a customer doesn’t buy a product without getting its Customer Net Benefit, or a provider won’t sell without getting its own Provider Net Benefit, there’s no viable product. It’s not enough for just the customer to get a benefit (e.g., lowest component pricing from a supply chain app) while the provider loses money providing the product. It’s not enough for the provider to get a benefit (e.g., revenue from selling a supply chain app/service) if the customer incurs excessive costs using the product. The overarching condition for a viable product is the alignment of Customer Net Benefit and the Provider Net Benefit – i.e., Net Benefits Alignment.

Product Manager


A product manager has accountability to deliver viable products, which means ensuring Net Benefits Alignment at inception and throughout the product lifecycle. This involves straddling the provider and customer realms to define the right product function and pricing that will sell, but within the capability and cost structure of the provider to deliver it. This may also mean redirecting to different markets or dropping some customers if needed, influencing capability development and cost reductions at the provider, and if Net Benefits Alignment can’t be found or sustained be brave enough to stop the product or pivot.

Net Benefits Alignment is job one for product managers.


Praxiem – What’s in the Name​

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

At Praxiem we help turn ideas into products through practical actions and the application of our knowledge and real-world experience in product management, high-tech development and commercial management. We are the practice or a shop, a virtual emporium, our clients come to for both guidance on product realization and for hands-on actions and deliverables.

Our name borrows from two words that reflect what we are and what we do – praxis and emporium

The first part praxi comes from praxis, a word with several related meanings – translating ideas into action; practical application or exercise of a branch of learning; application or use of knowledge or skills; the practice and practical side of a profession or field of study; deed, act, action; a practice.

 The second part em and iem come from the first part of emporium (em) and strengthened by rhyming with the last part (ium).  Emporium has several related meanings – a marketplace; a place of business; a shop or retail store selling a variety of items; a commercial center.

Praxiem is a practice where you can shop to turn ideas into practical actions and results, and ultimately successful products, services, and policies.


Product Management - Enter the Dimensions and Zone In

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

Much has been written about product management from a variety of perspectives, including comparisons with roles such as product owner, product prime and project manager.  Product Management and the Product Manager role are well understood by product providers that have them.  Their definition and objectives, however, are not universal and sometimes differences exist even between lines of business at the same provider.

In other quarters, Product Management as function may be confusing.  Because product management involves the breadth of a provider’s organization, it’s not surprising that product accountability is conveniently slotted into any one of the key areas or departments.  Marketing, Development or Business Development often take on product accountability under several role titles, but  the necessity to work the full space of product management considerations still remains.  Unfortunately, this type of arrangement often does emphasize certain considerations over others based on the natural bias and specialized skills of the accountable group.  It can result in poor alignment of provider and customer net benefits and ultimately diminished business outcomes.

A number of product management frameworks or models are offered by various consulting concerns, practitioners and in literature.  They are sometimes disguised under marketing, product owner, project management and other monikers even if they do provide reasonable breadth beyond their namesake.  In other cases they do in fact live up to their narrower billing emphasizing particular aspects of product management while glossing over the rest.  For example – customer related aspects may be emphasized while the importance of development or regulatory concerns and constraints are underrepresented.  The full product management universe has many considerations, some of which are depicted below.

It’s clear that product management isn’t just a process or just a linear set of checkpoints, and is not just customer facing or just internal development or testing, and is not just technology focused or just business minded. It’s all of these considerations and more. Organized in a framework or space. Its dimensions requiring simultaneous recurring attention.

The following are the key dimensions of the product management space:

  • Product Scope  embodies the set of product attributes and their interrelationships which define the product that best aligns provider and customer net benefits.  It includes product objectives, requirements, specifications and metrics across several domains including technical, commercial, operational and others, and from several perspectives and contexts including the provider, customer, market, and regulatory.
  • Product Lifecycle  includes progressive activities, states and checkpoints over time from concept through incubation, delivery, useful life, retirement, to eventual end of life.
  • Product Stakeholders  include those that benefit from the product (namely provider owners and customers) and also those that influence, constrain and deliver the product.  They may be internal provider functions, customer functions, or other market or regulatory influencers and bodies.

Zones of Accountability


So – must every product manager cover the full product management space?

Individual product manager’s accountability may vary from responsibility over the whole space to just a subset – or a zone of accountability.  A zone is defined by a combination of segments (or ranges) along each of the dimensions.

To illustrate, a product manager may be accountable for only product inception and initial strategy.  This zone might be characterized by early lifecyclescope dominated by technology trends, market share and high level needs analyses; and stakeholders mainly representing owners, lead customers, and market and technology analysts.

Which zones are actually defined and worked depends on factors such as product maturity, product complexity, individual product manager skill set and availability.   Situations with in-house skills or resource gaps can be addressed by services from reputable external product management practitioners.  For example – managing introduction of opportunistic products, tutoring skills in a particular zone (e.g. competitive and market analysis), or retiring old products.

Voluminous, Not Linear


In summary, product management is a complex space of considerations and actions needing simultaneous attention, rather than a routine linear process.

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