The IoT Insider: Become Future-Proof … By architecting for the unknown

Of all the habits I have explained so far, this one might throw your organization the biggest curve ball. Why? Because future-proofing by architecting for the unknown is a lot easier said than done. (Borrowing from businessman and author Stephen Covey, this is part of my continuing series on the seven “habits” that successful IoT projects have in common.)

Becoming future-proof sounds similar to something you would need a fortune teller for. If anyone can teach me how to become a fortune teller, then I would like to sign up for that training class! But I don’t believe that you have to be a fortune teller to be future-proof. Rather, it is more about acknowledging some hard facts about the pitfalls in your organization, and then trying to avoid stepping in them.

One way is by not becoming complacent when a new technology has been adopted. First-movers can gain twice as much in revenues as their laggard competitors, according to McKinsey. Technology adoption should not be seen as a series of one-off special projects but as a continuous, living organism that has to grow and adopt itself to the ever-faster changing requirements of your organization.

To stay sharp on this, you need to acknowledge that most organizations create an inside-out view of their needs. What do I  mean by that? Your organization probably has a good view of the needs it is longing to address—and you probably can articulate them. So, you draft an RFI (request for information) and you invite your suppliers in to tell them your needs. Then, they craft a solution by mapping your needs to their capabilities—which you then source through an RFP (request for proposal). Sound familiar? Read on.

If you take this approach, you will probably do what 95% of your competition is doing. As a result, you will end up with similar kinds of solutions, meaning that you will be able to compete with each other more or less on the same things. Granted, you may gain a temporary advantage, if you do things quickly and efficiently, but in the end you will have the same solution as everyone else.

Instead, you need to stand back and appreciate the outside-in view. Accept the fact that you don’t know the things you don’t know, and start actively listening for any unknown needs. Visit some analyst and industry conferences. Check out new trends: What does cloud mean to you? How do microservices fit in with your architecture? Should you adopt blockchain? What does DevOps mean to your organization?

Shouldn’t you listen to your suppliers? Yes, but when you invite them in, ask for a needs assessment and also request their point of view. Ask them what they think are the brightest examples in other (adjacent) industries. What are they are seeing in other regions? Ask them about their “lighthouse” projects and why they think they are lighthouse projects. Get an understanding of why those companies embarked on those lighthouse projects. 

Being future-proof is first and foremost a state of mind that makes architecting for the unknown look easier. You won’t need a crystal ball after all!


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