Observations from IoT World Summit 2017

The Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

IoT Conference
Mike Serrano

Technologists, visionaries, and experts from all sectors of the economy recently converged on Santa Clara, California for the “World’s Largest IoT Conference”.  What made this conference unique is that it wasn’t about the role that 5G, NB-IoT or other wireless protocols will play in enabling IoT, but rather it was about what people and organizations are doing and planning for with IoT. It’s not every day that you get to hear executives from Coca-Cola, GE, LVMH, iRobot, Google, Facebook and others speaking on the status of IoT.

Moving from keynotes to breakout sessions, one thing was very clear:  IoT means everything to everyone, from monitoring jet engines, pipelines and power generation to vacuums and thermostats. The second thing that was very clear was, with the exception of some work in industrial IoT, the reality falls far short of the hype.

Most of the companies for whom the promise of IoT holds the greatest promise were not born as digital companies. Even industrial IoT companies, whose devices have built-in sensor technology, lack the DNA of rapid adoption of technological change. Sometimes the primary challenge is just getting started. Determining where to start will have a significant impact on the potential success or failure of IoT.  While the greatest benefit may be to “boil the ocean”, it also entails the greatest risk since organizations must successfully build the IoT infrastructure as well as transition its people and processes to a digital mindset. So, often, the alternative is to undertake a small, “science fair project”. Unfortunately, these tend to lack organizational commitment further increasing the risk of failure.

Words of Wisdom for IoT Project Teams: Focus on Your Unique Data

To increase the probability of success, the speakers offered a consistent message. If project teams focus on improving worker safety or reducing risks that are unique challenges to the business, the project team will increase the probability of success and sustained organizational commitment. To do this, teams need to understand the unique data that the business holds but will only be able to access and act upon with an IoT infrastructure.

Once an organization understands the unique data that exists within an IoT network, the project team needs to understand that successful IoT is about leveraging an ecosystem – cloud, network, fog, security, assurance, ISVs, and system integrators – to unlock the data. Teams should not attempt to build every component as most organizations lack the competency to make every aspect function together. Rather, teams need to focus on their unique environments and challenges and leverage the IoT ecosystem to make it work.

Of course, this still doesn’t really help narrow down options because most likely there will be multiple IoT options available. For this, there was uniform agreement on the importance of the business case. The beauty of the business case is that it allows teams to evaluate costs and benefits of multiple options before committing money and resources. In addition, it allows management to understand the investment, commitments, and expected outcomes from pursing an IoT project. Ultimately, the objective of the business case should be to prove out that the project either generates revenue or reduces cost. Teams need to remember that it is easiest to pivot strategy during the business case phase.

As IoT projects move from the business case phase to proof of concept (PoC), companies need to understand that IoT is a journey not a destination. IoT teams need to focus on enhancing their core competencies, be it fluid movement, power generation, transportation systems, or whatever. How can they become more efficient, more productive, or open up new business models? Teams should not get lost in trying to engineer all the complexities that will be part of the IoT infrastructure. The Internet of Things is built on an ecosystem of partnerships and collaboration. Teams who may not have grown up as digital companies need to embrace a digital mindset.