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Ten small steps to make your big IoT dream a reality

“Dream big, start small.” This may sound like a clichéd phrase from a motivational poster, but it’s actually a very valuable piece of advice for enterprises to heed when deploying Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives.

By now, we all know that IoT has the power to drive digital transformations across industries by creating new value propositions, business models, services and markets. However, as I speak with frontline business and operations managers from enterprises around the world, I’ve found that many are still unsure how and where to begin their IoT journeys. They have big ideas and aspirations, but often struggle to see their project through. In fact, 60 per cent of IoT initiatives don’t move past the proof of concept stage, and just 26 per cent of organisations consider their IoT initiative a success.

Whether you’re embarking on your first or fiftieth IoT project, you need to do some careful planning to yield tangible results. Often that means starting with the low-hanging fruit – realising some quick successes with a fast ROI and then scaling your projects into additional areas of the business for more ambitious results.

Condensed from my interactive book, “Building the Internet of Things – a Project Workbook” here are the 10 steps I recommend organisations take to maximise the chances of success with their IoT projects. Some of these might seem basic and common sense. However, based on my experience with dozens of IoT implementations across industries, I have discovered that these guidelines are often overlooked. 

Identify your IoT project vision: First start small, but never lose sight of your end goals. IoT is a technology tool, and your IoT project is a means to an end. Therefore, you must first clearly define your business-oriented “why.” Why do you want to implement IoT, and what business goals do you plan to achieve? Here, consult cross-functional teams for input and to help secure buy-in from your higher-ups. If you skip this step, you will end up fragmenting your efforts on one-off projects, rather than creating a foundation for true digital transformation across your organisation.Define your use case: What is the specific business problem you want to solve? I recommend starting with one of four “fast paths” to IoT payback that focus on improving existing processes and thus reducing costs: connected operations (linking devices, sensors and meters to a network); remote operations (monitoring, control and asset management); predictive analytics (identifying and understanding where to take action); and preventative maintenance (increasing uptime and productive hours). Further down the road, you can start leveraging IoT to generate new revenue streams, business models and value propositions, as well as map out new go-to-market strategies, market disruptions and more.Determine your skill requirements. People, not just the technology itself, determine the success of your IoT journey. Therefore, evaluate the readiness of your team and its skillsets to support your IoT initiative. Large IoT projects require people with soft-skills – not just technical knowledge– to build trusted relationships and virtual teams across departments and functions, listen and communicate, as well as secure buy-ins and on-going support and sponsorship from peers, executives and partners.Benchmark your organisation against your industry peers: This step will help establish metrics you can use to validate your project and determine how far you’ve come upon its completion. I suggest benchmarking your organisation in the following areas: IT and OT convergence (not only at a technology level, but also organisational, architectural and business process); innovation environments (your workforce’s capabilities and appetite for innovation); partner ecosystems; customer relationships; and level of IoT experience. Use the results to identify gaps you need to address prior to starting the project.Assess your technological readiness: Consider whether you’ll be able to connect and access all data and, at least, major functions of IT and OT groups via open and interoperable technology stack. Do you need to integrate islands of data? Do you have plans to consolidate networks onto IP? Rest assured that you don’t necessarily need to overhaul your legacy system from the start, especially if you are starting small. You can begin by connecting existing systems within your organisation, then gradually introduce other elements of flexible frameworks.Assess your cultural readiness: From the C-Suite to your workforce and across your partners ecosystem, your organisation must be ready and willing to support your project. Here, it’s important to assess how well key functions tend to work together, how well they communicate with each other as well as with key stakeholders (including customers), what changes to the culture your initiative will require and what changes it will bring.Develop the value proposition for your business case: As you prepare your organisation for IoT’s required cultural change, IT managers will want to know the expected ROI of your project. Do your best to estimate a hard number, considering patterns of payback where IoT delivers the greatest value (see step 4), while taking into account the cost of new technology, human capital, device connections and cultural change.Identify and connect devices, technologies and system: This critical step involves creating your project’s blueprint. Define your technology framework and how it needs to integrate with your existing systems and with the business processes. Make sure that your framework is not applicable only to your first project, but that it can also scale across your organisation down the road and is flexible enough to integrate future technologies.Address security: Take a rational, risk-based, architectural approach to IoT security. Partner with your Chief Information Security Officer to create a unified and policy-based security architecture that is imbedded into every aspect of your technology stack and workflow. Develop a plan for how you’ll handle security incidents before, during and after an attack. Leverage industry best practices and tools (don’t reinvent the wheel) such as device and traffic segmentation to safeguard your infrastructure from end to end. In addition, implement processes and checks to ensure the accuracy and validity of your IoT data flows. Identify the data you plan to capture and apply the appropriate business rules or logic needed to process or analyse it for meaningful results.Measure Success: As you put your plan into gear, measure your successes (and even failures) along the way. Refer back to your baseline metrics established during the benchmarking step; identify what worked, and where you need to improve. Once you realise results – big or small – look for ways to replicate and scale your initiatives across other areas of your business.

Now get out there and make your big IoT dream a reality – no matter how small you start.

Maciej Kranz, VP of Strategic Innovation, CiscoImage Credit: Melpomene / Shutterstock

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