The first step to starting an enterprise IoT project

Identify your enterprise IoT project’s vision and path.

wireless network - internet of things edge [IoT] - edge computing
Thinkstock

At long last, the Internet of Things (IoT) is moving beyond the hype and initial deployment cycle and entering a phase where we are now seeing many successful enterprise implementations. Thousands of businesses across all industries have begun to experience the operational benefits and new value propositions delivered by the IoT. But, as I speak with customers, partners and industry leaders around the world, I still hear many frontline business and operations managers say that they are unsure how, exactly, to begin their IoT initiatives. Often, they have an idea for how they would like to use IoT in their business but are not aware of all the considerations they should think through before beginning, or how to create their project plan and measure the impact.

As a result, I wrote industry’s first project guide to complement my first book, “Building the Internet of Things.” The new workbook reveals key the operational and organizational elements businesses should consider to determine and deploy successful IoT use cases. Through interactive questions, experiences, scorecards, an ROI calculator and more, IoT champions can learn proven steps to evaluate the readiness of their technology and team, create a project blueprint and pull together all the varied pieces for a successful implementation

I’d like to share some of the steps from that workbook here. This article is the first in a two-part series that will walk you through a process of getting started on your IoT journey – whether it’s your first IoT project, next implementation, or perhaps your most ambitious IoT venture to date.

Phase 1: Identifying your IoT vision and path to value

The first step in a successful IoT deployment is to identify your project vision and the path to achieve rapid ROI and value. This phase will help you get an idea of what your first IoT project could entail and will help you clarify how to get started. Unfortunately, I commonly see business decision-makers bypassing this step. Too often, they think they already know what they want, but later find their IoT projects floundering because they haven’t clearly outlined the big-picture vision and the fast path to value. It is no wonder that 60 percent of IoT initiatives stall at the proof of concept stage and only 26 percent of companies have an IoT initiative that they considered a complete success.

Ultimately, IoT is a technology tool enabling organizations to digitally transform themselves. With that in mind, you must begin with an understanding of where you’re headed as an organization and then use the IoT project as the means to that end. Without that clarity, you can end up implementing technology without really knowing why, or what you’re trying to accomplish. This will fragment your efforts on one-off projects rather than creating a clear roadmap that will take your organization to your desired destination. 

To identify the vision for your IoT initiative, begin by asking yourself and a cross-functional team of individuals in your organization the following questions. As you answer these questions, be as specific as possible to individualize the future IoT project to your company’s operations. No two organization are alike, and you’ll need to take into account your company’s unique situation, including company culture and your organization’s needs.

Questions to clarify your IoT vision

  1. Where do you see opportunities to automate business operations?
  2. What is the specific business problem your organization wants to solve?
  3. What IoT component best addresses this project? Options could include connected operations, remote operations, predictive analytics, preventative maintenance, metering and measurement, IoT as a service, remotely controlled machines and equipment, industrial control zones, smart environments and many others.
  4. Have you identified cross-functional team leaders and partners to co-implement the IoT solution?
  5. What specific project and location do you have in mind for your use case?
  6. Can you describe in plain terms the project scope, IoT solution and business problem it solves?
  7. Can this starter project eventually be scaled and optimized across the enterprise?

Your answers to these questions will help shape your vision and determine your IoT readiness to move toward it. You may find that you need to better crystalize your initial thoughts on how your IoT project should look, or you may find that you need to build more consensus from your cross-functional team leads. Once you have a well-defined vision for your IoT project, ask yourself what could make it even clearer and garner even more buy-in from the broader team.

Define your business use case

The next step is to establish the essentials of your business use case. Ask yourself and your team where you would like to see payback from this IoT initiative. Four of the fastest paths to IoT ROI for businesses are:

  • Connected operations: Joining/linking devices, sensors and meters to a network
  • Remote operations: Monitoring, control, asset management
  • Predictive analytics: Identify, understand and immediately take best actions
  • Preventative maintenance: Increase uptime and productive hours

Other paths to payback can include revenue generation, new business models, go-to-market strategies, cost reduction, improved efficiency and many others. Once you have identified where you would most like to see payback, ask yourself what business tasks would create this payback… is it connected operations, monitoring, smart environments, or something else?

This exercise will help you determine just how well prepared your proposed business use case really is. If you’re struggling with this step, you may want to socialize your proposal around the organization and get more group input and agreement. If after this exercise you have identified a clear business case with payback goals and pathways, you are well on your way to starting a successful IoT initiative.

Determine your IoT project skills requirement

A successful IoT project involves much more than just technology. Many forget at the outset to evaluate the skill and data requirements their organization will need to ensure strong security, privacy, ownership and integration of new IoT technologies. Before beginning your IoT project, ask:

  1. Do you know what IoT skill levels your team needs for this project?
  2. Have you taken steps to update the IoT skill level of your team?
  3. Does the team have a thorough grounding in security? If not, do not bother proceeding any further on your IoT project until they do.
  4. Does the team possess the requisite partner recruitment and management skills? Large IoT initiatives require people with diplomatic and political skills.
  5. Does your team possess the requisite project management skills? Complex IoT projects with lots of money invested in them and high expectations for success will require a disciplined and recognized leader who can enforce schedules, deadlines and ensure that interim deliverables are met.
  6. Does the team possess the requisite skills for managing sponsors and stakeholders? Again, this requires diplomatic and political skills.

If your team does not have the necessary skill sets, you’ll need to ensure that you have a plan in place to cover training for IoT concepts and practices, project management and measurement, as well as recruiting and managing the participation and expectations of your partners, sponsors and stakeholders. Even if you feel confident that your project team has what it takes, keep in mind that you can never have too much expertise, so you should continually revisit these questions as your project team grows and your IoT project evolves.

Phase 2: Research and plan

In the next part of this series, I’ll discuss the research and planning phase. You’ll learn how to benchmark yourself against your industry peers, assess your technology and cultural readiness, and develop the value proposition for your business use case. In the meantime, you can always read more and access the interactive assessment exercises as well as a ROI calculator for your IoT initiative here.

The IoT concept is real, proven and here to stay. The dynamics of IoT projects, however, vary by industry and use case. As a result, IoT is neither one market nor one opportunity. Rather, it’s a series of opportunities across different vertical markets, each with myriad business cases, time frames and payoffs. I also hope you let me know whether this series helps your organization find the right fit and begin its journey to IoT success and digital transformation.

Now is the time to start or start to expand!

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Now read: Getting grounded in IoT