It seems like every industrial company is at some stage of planning for or deploying industrial Internet of Things (IoT) technology. According to a survey of IoT decision makers and influencers in the manufacturing, oil, and gas, and transportation industries by Bsquare for their 2017 Annual IoT Maturity Survey, 86 percent of participants had adopted IoT solutions. Almost all believed that the technology will provide a significant or tremendous impact on their industry.
Yet, while there is certainly good news on the IoT front, you can also find plenty of articles suggesting that IoT adoption is proceeding slower than many expected. A 2017 Cisco study found that 60 percent of IoT initiatives stall at the Proof of Concept stage and only 26 percent of companies considered their IoT initiatives a complete success.
The difference in those two surveys may result from who was surveyed. For their report, Bsquare surveyed “experienced, senior-level IoT decision makers” in select industries with a well-defined IoT value proposition, while the Cisco report was based on a broader survey of IT and business decision makers.
Still, there is no denying the complexity of deploying IoT broadly. It requires installing sensors or replacing legacy equipment with IoT-enabled equipment, as well as an implementation of software to support sensor management, data collection and visualization and, in some cases, machine learning. Plus, many organizations will need to address the skill gap that currently exists in the areas of IoT implementation and management.
All of that makes the move from small pilot programs, where conditions and unexpected consequences can be carefully managed, to broad deployments one of the most significant challenges we face as an industry.
If you are coming off a successful pilot, you have proven the technology based on your use case and have the opportunity to build on that momentum to make a significant, positive impact on your business. Capitalizing on that opportunity starts with conducting a thorough capability and needs assessment across functional departments. Based on this assessment, you’ll need to assemble a dedicated cross-functional team to plan for and manage the deployment.
There are two factors I want to emphasize in regard to that team. First, collaboration across the business, particularly IT and OT personnel, along with engaged executive sponsorship, is crucial to a successful deployment. Second, don’t hesitate to bring in consultants and partners as needed. As the Cisco survey found, “organizations with the most successful IoT initiatives leverage ecosystem partnerships most widely. They use partners at every phase, from strategic planning to data analytics after rollout.”
One of the first questions this team must address is, what exactly does scale look like for our organization? Be clear and set expectations with executive sponsors and division leaders on what success looks like and what is required to achieve it.
This is where an IoT planning framework becomes a powerful tool. There is the experience to be gained from other adopters, but there is no off-the-shelf plan you can plug into your organization. The framework I’ve found most effective is one built around the five core components of an IoT solution. These include:
The “things” that will generate data.
How those things will be connected to the internet.
How data from those things will be collected.
Where that data will go.
Who is responsible for managing the data.
It sounds simple, but this framework can impose the necessary discipline to minimize unexpected consequences, ensure consistent collaboration and support the successful transition from limited to broad deployment.
Once you have your team and framework, it’s time to begin planning the deployment. In terms of the things that will be generating data, you need to gain an understanding of their shape, operating specifications, and environmental limits. Where do sensors currently exist and where do they need to be added? For sensors that need to be added, is the most economical choice to retrofit legacy equipment or replace that equipment if it is already approaching the end of its functional life? Carefully analyzing the specific requirements of your things during the planning stage can save huge amounts of time and hassle later in the process.
The same is also true for connecting things and collecting data. This is one of the areas where collaboration between IT and OT personnel is essential. Identify exactly who from each group will be required to support the installation and commissioning and the time commitment required. Also, develop contingency plans for addressing equipment failure so you can react to those situations, if they occur, in a controlled manner that minimizes consequences.
Another important consideration is opening communication channels with on-site personnel. If they aren’t on board with the plan, the chances for success are diminished. As with any new technology, you may face resistance and skepticism, and this should be addressed early in the process.
When you’re ready to begin the deployment, the same framework used for planning can be employed. In terms of things, the challenge shifts from defining requirements to managing logistics. Who is responsible for ensuring the sensors, equipment and other technology required to support the deployment get where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there? The complexity of this task should not be underestimated, particularly for multi-site deployments.
This same challenge extends to the human resources required to support the “connect” and “collect” functions of the framework. Do you have the installation resources lined up, contracts in place and wiring diagrams harmonized?
Deployment is also an additional opportunity to connect with on-site resources to reinforce the why behind the new technology. Again, human factors play a key role in the success of IoT and should be addressed at every stage. Finally, take the time to practice the contingency plans you developed during the pre-deployment phase.
As you move into the post-deployment, this framework allows you to address key questions associated with system health monitoring, the integrity of data collection and nternet connectivity systems and who is responsible for each, how results are reported to various stakeholders and who makes decisions about changes to the system.
The challenge of moving from a successful pilot program to a broad deployment can be daunting and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. But, if you have identified high-value use cases it is one that must be addressed. Developing a deployment framework that considers things, connectivity, collection, learnings and action at each stage can help impose discipline across the process and increase the likelihood of success.
This post was written by Jeff Smith, business development manager, Internet of Things.
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