Commercialising industrial products: look beyond technology readiness

22 December, 2021

The stakes are always high when a new industrial product reaches the commercialisation stage. But considering the wider product ecosystem during the innovation process aids risk management and improves the odds.  

Shreekant Mehta (SVP, Energy Sector) and Paul Williams (Principal Consultant), recently shared their thoughts on this matter in our latest podcast: exploring the commercialisation of technology. Naturally, the conversation turned to the technology readiness levels (TRL) concept, with Shreekant pinpointing full-scale demos as a high-risk moment. However, Shreekant and Paul both emphasised the need to look beyond TRL to the wider ecosystem when developing an industrial product. Based on their experience in the industrial, chemicals and energy sectors, they advise monitoring and managing commercial and market readiness levels alongside technology readiness.

Commercial and market readiness

Firstly, they underline the importance of understanding a product’s target sector and ascertaining whether the market is ready to buy. The length and complexity of the decision-making cycle for industrial products mustn’t be underestimated. Purchasing decisions are likely to involve various departments and job roles, especially for big-ticket items. So, think strategically about when and how the product should be introduced and the information that will be needed to make a persuasive case for investment.

Initial liaison with the target sector – via potential buyers or other industry representatives – should happen early, around the proof-of-concept stage. Be confident that the market is clearly signalling receptiveness before allocating vast sums to product development. In fact, it’s a good idea to encourage customer engagement throughout the entire innovation process. This presents valuable opportunities to gauge their thoughts on technical and commercial aspects of the product as they take shape.

As development continues, it’s important to keep revisiting the core proposition, considering whether the target customers’ need is sufficiently painful that they’ll pay for the solution. With traditional product development strategies, the emphasis is on time to market. Paul and Shreekant suggest that in an industrial context it’s more useful to focus on ‘time to revenue’. Finding ways to accelerate this journey will help mitigate commercial risk. They suggest treating technology and commercial readiness as two parallel ladders where progress is made concurrently rather than consecutively.

Understanding the wider ecosystem

Aligning technology and commercial readiness requires collaboration between various stakeholders and third parties, so creating space to set expectations and target outcomes is essential. Shreekant advocates the use of a business model canvas to ensure the entire ecosystem surrounding an industrial product is considered. This covers everything from the supply of key resources to revenue streams and channels to market:

“Taken at face value, a business model canvas may appear simplistic. However, when it’s done properly it can be a powerful mechanism for interrogating the business model and challenging assumptions. This enables potential issues to be identified and mitigated early in the process. It may even reveal insurmountable problems – enabling an ill-fated concept to be abandoned before it swallows too much cash.”

Another area Paul and Shreekant touch on in the podcast is regulatory matters. They highlight the stringent testing associated with some energy industry products under directives such as ATEX, as well as the need for certification from organisations such as API. Dovetailing regulatory strategy with product development and commercialisation strategies is to be recommended for any sector governed by national or international policy. It’s an effective way to grease the wheels and accelerate the time to revenue journey.

Listen to the podcast in full here.

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