Applying analytics to turn sensor data into actionable insight sounds simple enough. In reality though, it is highly complex – and the success of Internet of Things (IoT) projects depends on adopting the right approach.
According to a recent study by Computerwoche and CIO, half of all German companies are already engaging with IoT. And it’s not happening in just a handful of industries either. In fact, there is not a single industry sector where you could not at least envision some use of sensors.
The potential applications could hardly be more diverse. Winegrowers in Germany’s Mosel Valley use sensors buried in the soil to monitor the growing conditions and health of their vines. Düsseldorf Airport uses them to check that the concrete bridge about 120 trucks cross daily to deliver kerosene is in good repair.
These two examples illustrate the essence of IoT: monitoring complex outcomes as they happen and consolidating the information gathered to predict long-term trends.
Enabling New Business Models
What might initially sound straightforward is actually a highly complex task – more complex than most other IT projects, especially in the industrial sector. While industrial machines and installations of all kinds are obvious places to deploy sensors, gaining actionable insight from the data they collect is often a Herculean task, as industrial companies still work with a vast array of different systems, protocols, and data standards.
IoT projects aim to change the business model as well as processes and structures. For example, Kaiserwetter, which provides technical and commercial asset management services for wind and solar parks, has added data-as-a-service (DaaS) to its business portfolio as a result of its “ARISTOTELES” IoT solution. To implement this solution, Kaiserwetter deployed SAP Cloud Platform and SAP IoT Application Enablement. Using the data collected from the wind and solar assets it manages, Kaiserwetter can now help investors and organizations, such as the World Bank, make better, lower-risk investment decisions.
How should companies approach an IoT project to get results within a reasonable time frame?
Eight Practice-Tested Tips for IoT Projects
1. Define the purpose
IoT encompasses a wide range of technologies and a variety of different measures for optimizing processes and business models. The project stakeholders need to be clear about precisely which ones they want to use and, more importantly, why. In effect, the project needs a business model.
2. Pick the right platform
IoT platforms provide standardized central functions, including data management and standardization, connectivity, interfaces, and security solutions. There are currently more than 500 offered, and they vary considerably in both functionality and cost. Your choice should be dictated by your business model.
3. Don’t ask too much of the organization
If your company is tackling its first IoT project, it makes sense to go for standard technologies to achieve a fast, manageable solution rather than strive for the ultimate visionary innovation goal from the get-go and put the organization under undue pressure.
4. Select the right partner
Go for a service provider with experience in similar projects in your specific sector. A wrong move here could cost time and money.
5. Extend the business model with in-house developments
IoT projects in particular offer scope for experimenting and improving or extending a company’s business model to gain an edge over competitors (see ARISTOTELES). But, that can’t happen without some degree of in-house development.
6. Appoint a strong project manager
IoT projects involve several departments, if not the entire company, which is why they must be led by a dedicated, full-time project manager who is not head of a department or the CIO. That person must have a clear mandate from management for this complex, potentially conflict-prone, interdisciplinary task.
7. Take an agile approach to get everyone on board
The most effective way for project managers to overcome user resistance and anxiety is to take an agile, design-thinking approach. Use workshops to enable stakeholders to understand and learn about the project together and to report on interim results so that everyone feels involved.
8. Take security particularly seriously
The fact that many customers give little thought to how secure their data is as long as the price, functions, and usability are right should not, under any circumstances, tempt stakeholders to adopt a similarly relaxed attitude. If hackers do breach IoT systems, they usually cause devastating financial and image damage that is extremely difficult to repair.
One last recommendation: Start with something that users will readily buy into and has explainable benefits. And – however clichéd the phrase may be – always remember: “the journey is the reward.”