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6 key questions to answer when setting up an IoT center of excellence

Feb 28, 20185 mins
Internet of Things

Businesses exploring a CoE for their organization commonly have the same questions. This is how I typically answer them.

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Adopting IoT technology is a significant, company-wide undertaking. It requires a large dedication of resources and budget across multiple departments. Rightfully, the C-level has expectations for their investments. But before you can get to the payoff, there is an inordinate amount of decisions to be made and changes to endure. Not the least of which will be to learn new technology, establish new processes and define new job descriptions.

But, because the result is so valuable to an organization’s bottom line – for example, greater yields of manufactured goods, extended life of decade’s old equipment, and more – tech leaders often compare the adoption of IoT technology to the early days of computers in business.   

From the very first step forward, IoT requires teams far and wide to work collaboratively together. These groups, coming from various technical and operations backgrounds, all have a vested interest in how IoT will work for them. It’s therefore important that each play a role and have the opportunity to answer key questions, such as: What is the objective? What is the approach? What does success look like? Because the groups of stakeholders come from fundamentally different worlds, businesses are opting to create a Center of Excellence (CoE) to help establish common ground from the beginning.

A CoE is a team or entity that provides leadership, best practices and support for a initiative or idea. They can be used to launch all sorts of efforts in business but are particularly beneficial in an IoT deployment because they provide a neutral territory to collaborate, ask questions, and sort through new developments.

Some of the best Centers of Excellence I’ve seen have an equal balance of IT and OT experts. Each has a clear understanding of the plan, where the deployment stands currently and where it is headed next. Because they can identify points of synergy, they work well together to keep stakeholders engaged and contributing. They also offer a safety net when teams experience setbacks and other challenges. Figuring out plan Bs and making adjustments will deliver better results faster and help reduce costs.

Businesses exploring a CoE for their organization commonly have the same questions. This is how I typically answer them:

1. When do I start my Center of Excellence?

A Center of Excellence is best created early in the process. In fact, they should be described as part of the overall technology plan because they will be key to supporting its progression. There is a common misconception that IoT technology doesn’t require much human involvement, but that is not true. SMEs are what get a program off the ground, keep it on track and make decisions about its future.

2. Is it ever too late to start one?

No. In fact, a good sign you need one is slow progress and or a growing division between groups.

3. Who should be involved?

You’re going to want to have a mix of experts across IT and operations. Each should have deep knowledge of their technology or business processes and objectives, respectively. Having this mix ensures representation of the two sides of the business and makes their knowledge readily available to all that need it. Also, don’t forget executive sponsorship, which can help clear roadblocks and unlock funding.

4. What should they be doing?

One of the most important responsibilities of the CoE is to help teams work through any challenges. And to do this, team members need to be readily available to chat through issues and bring in other experts to collaborate on a solution. This can be achieved through weekly meetings, as well as a central point of contact like an email alias. The CoE is also in the unique position of being a central hub of information, so they should be communicating progress at regular intervals to the larger group. They are also responsible for curating and disseminating resources that will help team members do their job.

5. What does it cost (or time commitment)?

The cost is primarily time. CoE members will need to dedicate a portion of every week to addressing incoming queries and handling concerns. While activity levels are higher in the beginning, they will lessen as the deployment matures.  

6. How do I know it’s working?

The CoE should do a quarterly survey to ensure they are serving the needs of the group and not missing any opportunities to help. With this feedback they can make the changes required to optimize the IoT experience for everyone involved.

Centers of Excellence can quickly align disparate groups to achieve a common goal. They help teams look at IoT as a means to enable business strategy, rather than just a narrow operational or tactical effort. Businesses will also be pleased to see accountability and a sense of ownership go up when members buy in.

Have you created an IoT CoE? Let me know how it’s working.


Dave McCarthy is a leading authority on industrial IoT. As vice president at Bsquare Corporation, he advises Fortune 1000 customers on how to integrate device and sensor data with their enterprise systems to improve business outcomes. Dave regularly speaks at technology conferences around the globe and recently delivered the keynote presentation at Internet of Things North America.

Dave earned an MBA with honors from Northeastern University.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Dave McCarthy and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.