The IoT is a rare kind of phenomenon. It’s so potentially enabling, it’s almost like modern magic. Everyone can see how logically beneficial the application of the IoT can be. In a real way, it’s the culmination of 50 years of persistent tech development. Like an iPhone, everyone wants one, everyone is waiting for the new model; but with an iPhone, people can at least hide shamelessly behind social status or Apple addiction – that’s no biggie for a tech generation. With the IoT, every business wants those benefits, but many have no idea why and – worse – less idea how to implement it as a business aid, something that will save money, improve working lives and CX to boot.
As obvious as the theory of the IoT is, is as confused many enterprises are about how to extract its value and bring it down to demonstrable savings, improved performance, or higher growth for the company. Outfits like Computers In The City spend a lot of time in discussion taking clients’ IoT ambitions to their logical conclusion, only to encounter hope at the end, not a demonstrable ROI.
The “How can I get the IoT to benefit my business?” question is on everyone’s lips, and rightfully so. After all, the IoT is a melting pot of thrilling tech applications that – together – will enable a quantum leap forward. The globe is likely to look very, very different in a century’s time. Many businesses will need to develop their IoT case as they do business with others. All that awaits them if they jump onto the IoT without a clear idea of what they’re aiming at is wasted expenditure that will then make them hesitant to implement further.
The importance of an IoT use case definition for business
In a way, the IoT is presenting as the internet first did decades ago. For business, it’s a must-have: better get on board or you’ll be the laughingstock of your industry. It’s an unusual response from a supposedly calculating fraternity, and indicative of the fact that commerce and industry is still very much run by people, with human emotions. It’s the unknown possibilities that grab business’ attention so firmly, and the AIoT (the Artificial Intelligence of Things) is incredibly beguiling, it’s true. But organisations that want to avoid a costly learning curve should temper their approach, shifting from possibilities to valid application, or a genuine use case.
Just because everything seems possible looking into the IoT future, doesn’t mean it will be applicable to any particular company or even industry. Also, there seems to be tremendous confusion between IoT apps and the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). Service industries are often shopping for IoT solutions amongst industrial applications, and vice-versa. None of which is a terrible train smash, but it’s not cost-effective and is going to lead to years of debilitating caution after failed projects make people scared and disillusioned with the IoT’s promise.
This is not the fault of the IoT and its fundamental value, to be clear. Rather, it’s a product of the “hey, me too!” response from business towards the IoT. In order to glean real value, avoid a steep and costly learning curve, and look and feel smart about the IoT, businesses need to avoid certain emerging, recurring problems with IoT roll-out.
Having an ill-defined or all-encompassing scope is a recipe for tears. Companies too often fail to define the scope of IoT implementation and the rationale behind it. Alternatively, they define the scope as ‘everything’ which, although tempting, is incredibly wasteful and frankly lazy planning. It’s akin to buying everything on a supermarket shelf because you’re sure the product you wanted is in there somewhere. It’s a mistake that can make even massive multinationals grimace at the bill.
The tech is new, and it’s exciting to stumble across possible further refinements as you plan an implementation, but the IoT for many – if not most – will ideally be one step at a time. Gain advantages, run the system, enjoy the benefits. Better small but tight achievements than lots of inputs and nothing works as it should. An elephant is eaten one bite at a time. Those with the patience for measured application will enjoy managing effective budgets – they’ll get value for money spent – and be far better poised to roll on with implementation. Even if tech is new, it comes with a users’ manual, so scoping projects cannot now be seen as irrelevant. There is intel to work with to develop a detailed outline. Scoping is more critical than ever for successful IoT implementation.
Too many or no problem to fix is also often masked by the desire to ‘get on board.’ Many companies are looking at the IoT as a cure-all for everything imaginable. That’s immature – the IoT is not a magic wand, it’s a very savvy collation of humanity’s tech expertise to date. It’s a fair assumption and true that the IoT holds benefits for everyone, but that reality again can’t see everyone abandon clarity and planning to run headlong into the future!
Where there are myriad issues that could use intervention, bunging IoT solutions in as a salve for all is only going to cost wasted money. Worse, it might not solve anything at all. The IoT may very well resolve a host of inefficiencies and persistent issues for a great many companies, but the target needs to be identified and a route towards a cost-effective resolution planned and agreed upon.
Likewise, ‘doing things in a new way’ must be driven by consumer or B2B expectations (which are directly linked to better business and higher profits) or a demonstrable improvement in processes brought about by new tech. Many companies have no burning issue for the IoT to address. Those are the ones that will slowly IoT-ise through business with others, and that’s OK. Starting small is starting smart, and thinking (or hoping) that the IoT can magically make all problems disappear is itself a problem.
No skills transfer and no ownership of the IoT is another divide between those companies that will successfully implement IoT solutions, and the rest. While it’s undeniably better to outsource IoT implementation to those who are making a focal point of it as a business model, it’s as undeniably futile if there is no internal up-skilling or preparedness to manage the system. At some point, IoT specialists are going to hand systems over as completed and ready for maintenance and future soft development only. Who or how many in the company are going to be able to run that?
Similarly, and possibly because the IoT is a visible collation of known (though evolving) tech, many companies – especially large corporations with millions to spend – insist on developing their IoT internally. Lovely, if you’re IBM. Everyone else should get outside help. Indeed, the ideal is outsourced expertise that understands the need for in-house development one day taking over. A mix of external consultants and internal skills makes for the best IoT roll-out. Developing some technology internally while trading on the huge ecosystem of hardware and app platforms available in the world today is smart business, especially when it comes to the IoT.
The human face of IoT implementation
Other issues that surround humans implementing the IoT for commercial gain are many, but the most debilitating ones centre on the fear of failure. When IT staff know they’re going to be in the firing line if their IoT implementation fails, a flurry of ill-defined ‘get out of jail free’ cards are often tossed into the project mix. No one likes to step up for a project that has a high ‘unknown’ content (and thus a high likelihood of failure). With the IoT, an egalitarian spirit of discovery is required. Take the available information, look at current applications – make contact and take the time to visit similar successful installations – and, again, set clear deliverables.
If a project far exceeds expectations, fantastic. But it’s unfair on staff to expect seamless roll-out without this kind of good old-fashioned popping in at the neighbours (and exhaustive online research). It’s another reason for the hazy, catch-all approach by business to the IoT at times, and that goes nowhere fast.
With the IoT, companies need to find the middle way – a mix of outsourcing and internal skills – and a modest yet definite expectation of deliverables. Ideally, plan for quick wins that demonstrate money well spent and enhanced productivity or, in the case of the service industry, better CX. Critical to a smooth but swift roll-out of the IoT that actually benefits companies, are those in-house skills. Let there be one leader per project – just because outcomes might be relatively unknown doesn’t mean that everyone is entitled to comment and redirect.
Business fitness is also not determined by getting results ‘next week.’ Fit businesses never take their eye of the ultimate litmus test – did it pay us to do this, in real terms? Pace is often a mask for heading nowhere fast. As enabling as the IoT is, the implementation of its lightning abilities should be measured and correct. Not necessarily fast, but rather profitable at the end of it all.
The IoT might very well demand deviations from the conventional roadmap – even for IT and IT support companies – but it cannot demand an abandonment of fundamental business principles and common sense. IoT implementation can follow the same logical pursuit of enhanced profitability as any other new tech should be able to demonstrate. Business simply needs to wipe the starlight from its eyes and remember: the celebrity is here to perform for your pleasure. Don’t gush, don’t fawn, and don’t ever imagine that the IoT is a license to throw dollars at something in perpetuity.
Smart IoT begins with small, smart and evaluated application. The potential is there, but it’s business savvy that will bring it to fruition.