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Building Future-Proof Products: Myth or Reality?


There’s a lot of talk in the tech world about building future-proof products. Cloud computing is sometimes touted as future-proof in that it is an evolutionary technology that’s inherently flexible, adaptable and scalable. And it’s true that cloud is at the foundation of virtually every new IT innovation in the last few years, including internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and quantum computing.

However, I see cloud as a platform facilitating innovation, not a product, and it too is changing and improving. Is there even such thing as a future-proof product, where there’s a regular cycle of replacement, updates and improvement that’s both encouraged, expected and rewarded? If not, can we at least get close?

IoT and AI are at the Forefront of Future-Proofing

It’s possible that the vision of future-proofing technology products lies in IoT, where all types of products automatically exchange data with one another, along with AI, where computers convey a human-like intelligence. By 2020, Gartner predicts that 25 billion “things” will be connected to the internet. Cisco’s former CEO John Chambers boldly doubled that prediction.

And Siemens, an industry leader in the technology, says these smart things have begun to power the fourth industrial revolution. IoT devices raise our expectations of ease and convenience, challenging companies to continually improve. It’s well on its way to becoming ubiquitous, and the products and services we’re designing today must be IoT-capable to be tomorrow-proof, let alone future-proof.

Perhaps it’s a matter of adaptability in vision more than anything else. Andrew Ng, co-founder of the online learning hub Coursera, calls AI, “the new electricity.” It’s a valid comparison. Just as electricity transformed the way we worked and lived 100 years ago, AI is fundamentally changing the ways companies design and build new products.

Technology giants including Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft are already immersed in AI, and the rest of the corporate world is on the cusp of taking the plunge as well. From self-driving cars to website chatbots, AI is poised to revolutionize the way we all work and live, giving it future-proofing potential.

What’s at the Heart of Future-Proofing? Future-proofing may just be a marketing buzzword, but it does convey something of importance when it comes to engineering. Many of the functions we hear and use regarding cloud applications should be top of mind as we design and develop new products and services, including scalability, flexibility, extensibility, ease-of-use, and backward compatibility.

I also think we should be designing products and services that serve a need, solve a problem or simply make someone happy. I read a short article recently that added a few more relevant terms to the definition of a future-proof product:

  1. Meaningful – the product must deliver a meaningful functional benefit
  2. User-friendly – products must be simple to use (think plug-and-play)
  3. Safe physical safety may go without saying, but we’re also talking about data security and environmental risks, too
  4. Compliant – products must comply with standards and regulations, both domestic and international

If we design products with these factors in mind, we can ensure they will age well, play well with others and look good while doing it—even if we can’t completely future-proof them.

Join Us in the Future

If a future-proof product is simply one that cannot be improved upon, then it’s hard to imagine it’s possible to build one. I spent a few moments to see if I could name a few (potentially) future-proof products. The white, cotton T-shirt could be one. Converse high tops maybe? It’s tough to improve upon either of these and they haven’t changed in eons. But there are already smart shirts and smart shoes, so it seems that even these cultural icons can’t claim full future-proof status.

Perhaps it’s more reasonable to think of future-proofing as a journey, rather than a destination – a long journey with infinite potential. Join me and a cadre of thought leaders, fellow partners, vendors and more at Ingram Micro Cloud Summit 2018 to join in high-level discussions about AI and IoT, and to learn more about what the future holds and the infinite opportunity that awaits.

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