The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is gaining momentum – both in terms of its adoption rate and its technological maturity. The manufacturing industry is helping lead this progress, and the companies and industries that have deployed data-harvesting sensors and analytics platforms are drawing the rewards of turning raw data into better business outcomes. With enterprise artificial intelligence investments on the rise, the IoT is really just getting started.
According to this McKinsey Global Institute report, the IoT may have an annual economic impact of more than $11.1 trillion by 2025, with significant growth in the manufacturing, smart cities, retail, and automotive segments. As with personal computers, the Internet, and smartphones, the IIoT is becoming a technological catalyst for business.
And yet, many businesses fumble IIoT adoption. Any type of disruption to existing operating practices presents a business challenge, even if the results are guaranteed to have real and measurable benefits. IIoT involves changing business processes, looking for new people skills, and developing incentives and KPIs. It also involves technologies at multiple stages of evolution, ranging from infancy to mature. However, many of the frequent missteps companies make are easily avoidable and dodging them can make or break an IIoT deployment.
While every deployment is unique, a few common mistakes affect several different industries and organizations. From self-inflicted obstacles to organizational inertia, here are three frequent IIoT deployment lessons learned – and three easy ways your organization can prepare for them.
1: Much more than a technology upgrade. Innovative technology is the cornerstone of IIoT but thinking of an IIoT deployment purely as a tech upgrade is a big mistake. Implementing a connected plant floor or a connected asset can radically transform a manufacturing business, driving better business outcomes through new insights and new revenue opportunities. Any technology solution is only worth its weight if it solves a business problem.
Otherwise, an IIoT deployment may be doomed before it starts. According to this Cisco survey, collaboration between business decision-makers and IT departments was the No.1 driver of a successful IoT project. Although an IoT deployment may work on a technological level, it may leave key business problems unsolved. According to the same Cisco survey, many IT departments consider a deployment a technological success, while business decision-makers at the same organization consider it a failure.
The better approach: When planning a deployment, begin with a simple question: What business problem do we need to solve? All the right stakeholders should be involved in coming up with the answer. The IT department and the engineering team are critical, but business decision-makers, sales and marketing teams, and C-level leaders are equally important to provide clear direction and define primary business needs.
2: Be proactive, not reactive. In many markets, there are two prominent types of players. There are the 8,000-pound gorillas, market leaders who have established successful ways of doing things. As such, they are risk-averse. They usually implement change only when there's new competition or a forward-looking management team.
Then there are the disruptors. These smaller, nimbler companies are more compelled to adopt technology aggressively — especially if it helps them compete with those gorillas. For the most part, these disruptors are the early IIoT adopters. As market leaders wait and watch, these challenger companies are actively exploring new ways to optimize business processes, transform data into insights, and gain fluency with groundbreaking IIoT applications.
As such, these nimbler companies are shrinking the gap. Doing nothing is turning into a competitive disadvantage for market leaders. The longer they wait, the further behind the curve they are when they deploy their own IIoT solutions. These disruptors may not even be your traditional competitors. Recently, the CEO of a large chemical-processing company told me, “If we find out a new competitor is innovating from outside our industry, it might already be too late for us to react.”
The better approach: Take a proactive approach to IIoT deployment. The focus of any IIoT project should be to improve and inform your own business processes, not react to what the competition is doing. Yes, an IIoT deployment can be intimidating, and it shouldn’t be rushed. That’s precisely the reason that a “trigger event” approach is so dangerous: It forces an organization to plan and deploy in a hurry as a competitive reaction, rather than tailor the deployment to its own timeline and needs.
3. Don’t try it alone. For a technologically savvy company, developing a data-harvesting infrastructure in-house may sound appealing, affordable, and fully customizable. In fact, it may actually work for simple pilots or single control scenarios. However, when it comes to a full-scale deployment, DIY solutions often run right into a brick wall – and they fall short of the IIoT’s true promise.
Developing algorithms, artificial intelligence, and predictive-analytics applications requires a dedicated team of experts -- one that can continue to refine these things over time. It may not be rocket science, but it's close! There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in the IIoT universe and developing custom applications for these systems requires deep expertise.
Furthermore, when deploying an IIoT solution, many organizations overlook the system’s ease of scalability, extensibility, the skills required for servicing a homebrew system, and applications beyond simple data capture. Turning data into actionable insight is the true promise of IIoT, and it’s quite a complicated endeavor.
The better approach: Enlist the help of a partner, not just a solutions provider. There simply is no turnkey solution now, so beware of any vendor that sells you a product and says good luck. You need to seek out a trusted and knowledgeable integration partner, one that can guide you through the hidden challenges of an IIoT deployment, customize the solution to your primary needs, and continue to develop your solution through active engagement.
Foresight is essential
Each of these lessons involves foresight. The first step of any IIoT deployment should be to identify the ultimate business outcomes. Otherwise, a deployment may be a technical victory but fall short of addressing the business problems it's supposed to solve.
Second, any external “trigger event” that prompts your organization to consider an IIoT deployment likely means you’ve waited too long. Instead, consider the benefits and improved outcomes a deployment can bring to your own operations.
Lastly, building a solution yourself or buying an off-the-shelf solution will lead to bigger challenges in the future. An experienced integration partner can guide your organization to success with a customized, actively supported solution – one that addresses all your needs.
Guneet Bedi is the General Manager, Americas, for relayr, which supplies enterprise middleware and IoT solutions for industrial organizations. Contact him at [email protected], or follow him at twitter.com/guneetIoT