The role of a product manager involves a blend of strategic thinking, communication skills, and a deep understanding of both market dynamics and customer needs. With a primary goal to guide a product from its conception through development — and to ensure its success in the market — a lot is riding on the shoulders of the people who take on these types of roles.  

For a long time that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge when it comes to the business of building a product roadmap, considerations that guide product development, and the strategic vision that propels a company forward. I had the occasion to learn more about these endeavors during the recent Axis Converge & Connect Conference (ACCC) in Kansas City, where I met with Steve Burdet, Manager of the Solutions Management team in the Americas for Axis Communications. In a wide-ranging conversation, we spoke in-depth about his work in the development and launch of Axis products & solutions into the Americas. That’s no small notion, considering the company has introduced around 110 products to the market so far in 2023, with more to come before the end of the year.  

What I learned from Burdet is the product manager’s role is akin to steering a ship of innovation and strategic development. The ability to shape the trajectory of product portfolios, anticipate market needs, and navigate the evolving landscape of security technology is both challenging and exhilarating, he told me. Our following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. 


How do you prioritize market needs and trends when developing the product roadmap?

It comes down to a lot of discussions and the challenging of different ideas. A good idea should be challenged, because if it's a great idea it will stand up. And if it's not a great idea, then you caught it. And that is a lot of what we go through. Anybody can come up with ideas. We invite a lot of feedback. We invite a lot of communication, both externally with our partners, but also internally. Our people are talking to 10 to 15 partners in a week, and so they are even better conduits of information.  

And then to take that and kind of discuss with different engineers, based on what does it take to get it? What are we trying to achieve? And how do we prioritize if we can only do five things or one thing. What is it that we're really looking to achieve? And how do we then prioritize our resources? There is no simple, one-size-fits all structure. A lot of it is challenging those ideas, working as a group and having a lot of dialogue on it. 


What criteria or key factors guide the decision to develop a new security product?

Generally, what we're looking for are things that will bring value to our existing customers or an opportunity for our existing channel to continue to grow. This goes back to why it's so important that we have all this communication flowing with our partners, because then we have an understanding of where their worlds’ exist and the challenges they're trying to solve. 

For example, to dive into our radar product, no one had really been asking us for it, per se. But they were running into troubles with false alarms, getting cameras to see in low light and various weather conditions like rainy days or foggy days. Knowing that those were the problems they were trying to solve — and realizing we can't solve those just with optics — led us down a journey for a different type of sensor that can see. So radar is in that example where we realized this is going to add value to existing customers, it's going to simplify the problem of false alarms or missing things that are really relevant. It is providing new opportunities. Our partners can go to their customers who maybe weren't looking to add cameras in these spaces, but now a radar actually helps them and now a camera helps them. 

That's the compass that leads us whether or not it's an idea we want to run with. If it doesn't fit into that criteria, we probably won't look at it or we'll have to really ask ourselves how far away from that core space is it? Is it worth trying to bridge that gap? 


How do you evaluate emerging technologies for potential integration into your product offerings?

It's one of the things I'm most proud of with Axis. Martin Gren, our founder, started the company with one of his classmates at Lund University. That set at our foundation with this academic desire. Even though that was 40 years ago, we actually have departments within our R&D side and their whole thing is just to evaluate new tech. And we might put nine out of 10 of those on the shelf. But we've studied them.  

By example, when someone in the industry first came out with Bluetooth 5, we put 10 engineers on it to study and learn all the ins and outs, stresses, its opportunities, its weaknesses, whatever, and write a thesis on it. Let us know what we don't know; not just what they're telling us. Run it through the rigors so we have this knowledge in-house, and maybe we use it, but at least we know what it is.  

So we get to test tons of different chipsets, tons of different technologies. And so it's this passion for academia, just knowledge for knowledge sake, which has kind of been the well from which everything springs. It goes back to the root that you can find good engineers anywhere; it's creating the environment where they can thrive. 


What are the key considerations when determining resource allocation to support the development and launch of a new security product? 

Our CTO was talking about this company philosophy recently, and it's a balance of investing in the things that are driving business today. For us it would be our traditional cameras, growing into our access control and our audio spaces as well, making sure you're investing in that and maintaining it. That's what helps pay the bills and do all the other stuff. If you get too attracted with things like radar, which are still a growing part of our portfolio, you might lose sight on the things that are paying the bills.  

But if you're not investing in the other ones as well, then you're growing stagnate because you're only playing in that one space. So we try to strike a balance. What's the right amount of our budget that we should spend on protection and maintaining our portfolio? And then what's the amount for growing it? For sure a lot more goes to protection and maintaining. You wouldn't just do 50/50 because you’d be spending too much on the emerging stuff. But instead, why don't we start to invest in some small things to grow percentage wise, at least, to grow that space.  

From an Axis perspective, we don't expect within the first year that it will return all of its investment. In fact, we want to make sure that this grows, we want to put enough capital upfront, initially, that our main goal is long-term growth and long-term success. So we don't put pressure on our product managers and say within two years if we don't see immediate ROI, we're shutting this whole thing down.

For sure the bill comes due, but they have a lot longer of a runway to prove the market, grow the adoption. If we see those indicators, then the money and all the other stuff will come and that makes it a lot easier for them to understand at what level should we be investing in.  


How much product development is driven by what the competitors are doing? 

From our general perspective — and it has served us well — if you get stuck following other people, you're always going to be following. So we really focus on what can we do and how can we lead, and what are the problems we're trying to solve. We are less focused on what's going around in our competition. But for sure, we're not blind to the fact when something is out there and someone's doing it really well, that comes back to us through feedback. 

I'll give an example. We weren't the first to market with multi sensors. We were listening and hearing what's the right use case and what's working, what's not working. And we didn't see the solutions where we felt it was the right time for us to get in. Because what we saw that was offered on the market and what people were asking for weren't jiving in the way that we thought we had the solution.  

So we continue to listen and work with our customers and figure out what's the right way for us to do it. To then come out and now be a leader in that space a few years later is why we spend less time focusing on what our competitors do. Again, we're not blind to the industry. But we really focus on what our customers are asking for. Our job is to focus on what we're doing and keep doing our homework. 


What upcoming trends or shifts in the security industry do you anticipate, and how are they influencing your product roadmap for the next year or two?

It's an interesting time within our industry. We are hitting an evolutionary period. The first of many stages within the industry was just getting cameras up to see stuff. And then it was to move over to the IP world. And now it's being able to add AI and the cloud in this super intelligent world. It all really changes what is surveillance, what is security and what are cameras. It’s about making a smarter, safer world. It's also about connectivity. It's about working with different providers, people who are doing new things differently, and making sure that data can flow both freely, but also securely. So the free flow of data is as frightening as the need to have that free flow of data. Security is an important factor, but for sure that drive to have open interconnection is necessary. It's about connecting it to different servers, different systems, different cloud offerings, however the customer might want it.  

The next logical step, with intelligence, is really more custom and tailored systems that help with surveillance and security, but also help with the [end user’s] business in general. These organizations have desires they are trying to achieve to be efficient or optimize what they do. We are entering that stage where cameras and other devices can provide that in a way they never could before. 

And then the last would be IoT, which comes back to interconnected devices. But it's also the breadth of devices and how that is adding intelligence. For example, we've always had cameras  over highways and transit. But now they're talking about different sensors to detect if there's been a car accident, or is there snow on the road at this specific point, or maybe flooding in some environments. All these different environmental sensors are opening up a whole new world of bringing in information in ways [security integrators] can now diversify what they're offering to their customers. 


Can you share some challenges or lessons learned from past product development projects that have shaped your current approach?

 If you were to ask that question to all the different people in Axis you'll probably get a different answer from each of us. But a few jump to mind. One was the importance of not just listening to the pain points, but also the benefits. We had a fisheye camera back in the day and we just kept hearing this one [negative] feedback, so we focused on that when we came out with the second generation. But we weren't paying attention to something in particular that people were liking with the first generation because no one was complaining. Everything was fine. They were silent on it. But the second generation had removed that particular feature, unfortunately, from a physical component perspective. Immediately it was like the sky is falling, we heard all these pain points. 

We had been asking, ‘What can we do better? How can this work better?’ And so they're going to give you feedback on what to improve. But we forgot to ask, ‘What are the things that you're liking? What are the things that are making this an attractive product?’ 

It seems so simple now, but it was that aha moment. You can get stuck in the feedback loop, the constructive criticism area. That's essentially where new opportunities are, but if you lose sight on what people are happy with, then you run into a challenge where you might remove something that was essential. So we realized it's good to get the feedback, but it's also good to know why is it succeeding. It's a good lesson for anybody who comes into this role.