Recently, I was a panelist at an Internet of Things (IoT) conference. (We called it the “BS panel” as we spent our 40 minutes calling BS on various myths or common misconceptions about IoT.) We were in a room with a lot of companies that were trying to get their hands around this thing called IoT, along with a few that had done something and a bunch that had actual projects in the works.
We had lots of different questions, on everything from sensors to big data, and yet we seemed to keep coming back to one basic question. “How do we get started?”
IoT in the Enterprise: How to Get Started
Interestingly enough, many of these companies asked the same question when it came to mobile technology, and some had been burnt by handing out devices with no rhyme or reason for employees. They wondered why they didn’t get the promised productivity boost that 87 percent of IBM employees experienced via the company’s Mobility Initiative. It didn’t matter the industry, they were all stuck in the same mode to start.
The secret that many of these companies missed in mobile is the same thing they are missing in IoT. They spend so much time focusing on saving money or driving productivity that they aren’t looking at their users, processes and workflows. They broke the cardinal rule of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Instead of figuring out what made sense for themselves, they wanted to keep pace with their competition.
The real secret to being successful with new technology, like mobile or IoT, is to find a use case that makes sense. Here’s how to understand the use case and fit it into the business processes.
Step 1. Build the Process Case
I like to talk about the “FUN principle” (Focus on the Users’ Needs), but in this case we’re talking about focusing on the processes (but the FUP principle doesn’t sound as good). Look around at where you have people doing manual tasks, especially where measurements are used and taken. Think about what would happen if you were to monitor those processes and automate the actions to be taken:
- Could you respond faster than the current process?
- Can you remove the human from part or all of the equation to let them focus on other things?
- Can you make better decisions so you can be more efficient?
The thing to understand about IoT is that it’s not about how many sensors you deploy, how much data you collect or how fast you analyze it. IoT is about being able to make decisions and take action, hopefully in an automated way.
Putting sensors on everything and everyone–but not knowing what data to collect–doesn’t work. Collecting all the data–but not knowing what to analyze and what you should be looking for–doesn’t work. Half the battle is figuring out what the right questions to ask are.
Asking the right questions and getting answers–but not being able to make a decision–doesn’t work. When you can make those decisions while understanding the context around them, and then act on them, you have started on the path to success. When you can automate those actions, you have successfully moved the IoT ball forward.
It’s not about replacing people, process or things but reinventing how all those pieces work together to create a better, more efficient system.
Step 2. Involve Users Early
Once you get the first process case done, it becomes easier to find the patterns, grow the use cases and link them together. Your users will get involved, as this will invariably make their lives easier.
It’s important to realize the asset that your employees are. They have the institutional knowledge that a data scientist won’t have. They will be the ones that help frame the right questions to be asked.
These are the people on a manufacturing line who can tell when a machine is having an issue by just the subtle sounds that it makes. They understand the nuances of the assembly line, how things are being put together and have already figured out how to optimize their own work.
They innately understand the context of what is going on and make those decisions and act. They will become the blocks that you build your process cases from and your champions moving forward in IoT.
In the end, it’s not about doing IoT for IoT’s sake but to gain the efficiencies of automating good, contextual decisions into actions. It’s not about replacing people, process or things but reinventing how all those pieces work together to create a better, more efficient system. IoT is about driving your business forward by automating contextual decisions made at the right time and in the right place.