Good Habits Light the Way to IoT Innovation

In my last article, I discussed how the Internet of Things market is showing early signs of maturity, but that many projects still can stumble. I identified seven “habits” that successful projects have in common, which, when used together, are powerful enough to set your IoT project on the right path.

I described habit 1, lead with use cases, which has proven to be a very effective way of modeling software systems. Let’s now consider habits 2 and 3.

Habit 2: Working in Multi-Disciplinary Teams

Remember this joke: How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is: “None, that’s a hardware problem.”

Well, with the arrival of IoT, this joke can be binned. Technically, IoT stands for Internet of Things—but it really means the merger of operational technology and information technology. (I love the fact that the acronym literally shows the coming together of IT and OT).

IoT projects, for many companies, trigger an epiphany in their understanding of digital transformation. As such, many of the IoT projects they embark upon function as lighthouse projects, illuminating the path to the future for customers and employees alike.

With all the stakeholders in the room, and the high hopes accumulated, these projects are not the easiest to run. But that is not the only reason; IoT projects are hairy beasts for several reasons:

  • They tend to cross boundaries, inside as well as outside the organization.
  • They tend to touch a lot of different technologies, from hardware (sensors, devices) to telecommunications (networks) and software (security and integration).

A side effect is that the IoT projects have an impact on people and departments across the chain. So, is there a way to handle these challenges?

When you start your projects, make sure that you have the right mix between the different capabilities, as well as IoT platform developers, and make sure you have engineers to tackle the hardware-related problems (device integration). You also need architects to figure out how to design a scalable platform that can integrate into the larger IT landscape and UX (user experience) designers who can build appropriate dashboards and user interfaces.

If the project is to be commercially viable, make sure marketing and sales are involved to come up with pricing schemes and ideas on how to pitch the unique value early in the process—and make sure that those pricing schemes can be measured in the platform. This may sound strange, but as IoT projects will be chartered to disrupt the competitors in the market, there might be whole new business models that need to be supported.

Your company might be thinking of renting your goods out on a per-usage basis, where previously they would have sold at a one-off price. You can imagine that if you are going to charge customers based on real usage that—besides measuring the consumption—there would be all kinds of additional billing processes to create.

Finally, if there is a component of intelligence, such as predictive maintenance, make sure you have a data scientist who can validate that the data that is collected can be analyzed and taken into account appropriately.

Getting all these teams on board and keeping them there is a challenge in itself.

Habit 3: Put the Platform at the Heart

As a kid I loved the story of the Three Little Pigs. In case you don’t know, it is a fable about three pigs who build three houses of different materials. “The big bad wolf” blows down the first two pigs’ houses, made of straw and sticks, respectively, but is unable to destroy the third pig’s house, which is made of bricks.

Interestingly, many discussions that I have with prospects about applications versus platforms, in the realm of IoT, remind me of this tale. This is because the platform-versus-application discussion often favors opportunistically short-term quick gains over long-term needs.

The arguments given in favor of applications are often the same. “If the application is exactly tailored to address this specific need, why build it ourselves?” Or: “Why take the development risk?” Another argument heard often is: “We have been delaying this too long; I need it now—not next year.” Even worse: “If IT steps in, they hinder innovation.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with the arguments (except maybe for the latter). However, an issue arises if there is no strategy within the company to bring all those solutions together and bind them. If the business side buys applications, and then leaves them to IT to organize and support, support costs will explode. And not only that; while parts of the organization benefit from the application, the organization as a whole could suffer security and reliability risks, difficulties in orchestration, an inability to upgrade assets or devices due to lock-in with application vendors, and much more.

While one platform might require the most effort in the beginning, the advantages in the long term may be undeniable for the organization. So, is it possible to overcome some of the obstacles mentioned before and justify starting with an IoT platform?

The first suggestion is to consider a staged approach. Take a cloud-based platform initially, but consider one that can grow to a PaaS (platform as a a service) or beyond if complexity increases. It will help accelerate the development in the beginning, allowing you to reduce risk and get some first findings—if the ideas that you started with are the right ones. This lets you get the confidence and buy-in from management for the more advanced solutions.

And, second, refuse the creation of a business case per solution; to place a tab on the cost and value of such innovation is nearly impossible, as the impact of IoT on the changing business models is often not understood enough. Instead, tie the introduction of an IoT platform to the digital transformation program and assure executive sponsorship.

To conclude, don’t forget that any application that you can buy can also be purchased by your competitor. If you do that and build your IoT strategy with straw or sticks, I am sure that your competition will stand on your doorstep on an early morning and try to huff and puff your organization away. Be safe and build your IoT strategy from bricks; build it on top of an IoT platform.

In my next article, I will discuss habit 4, Work Backward, and habit 5, Be Obsessed with Data.


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