IoT is the Rubik’s Cube of business technology. Every company’s playing with it, a few are starting to nail it and many are stuck rotating through possible solutions that aren’t really panning out.
As with the confounding cube, learning the experts’ secret tricks will increase your chances of succeeding time after time.
The foundation of solving the IoT puzzle is this: Both the starting point and ultimate objective are the use case. A use case is a list of actions spelling out how a person and system(s) accomplish a particular goal.
At the outset of any IoT assignment, we invest ample time working through the use case with clients using this tripartite focus: people, systems and goals. Then we dig into our bag of tricks:
First, convene all the players. One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when they launch IoT initiatives is focusing too little on the people part of the use case. Every initiative should start with people. When you’ve identified the broad outlines of a use case — say, your company wants to better manage its truck fleet — get everyone involved in the room and ask them to share their dream scenarios for connectivity, insights and actions.
The fleet manager will want to know where the trucks are at a moment’s notice. The CEO will want to be able to tell how much money the fleet is making or losing. Maintenance will want to know what trucks need to be fixed when and where the parts are. Customers will want to know where their delivery is and when it will arrive. Drivers will want to know their schedule, performance versus their peers and how they’re faring on incentives. The CFO will want to know about extra capacity in the fleet. Customer service will want to know about breakdowns and ETAs for getting back on the road. The list gets long, which is a good thing: Potential uses equal potential business gains. You can prioritize later.
Second, create personas. The brainstorm is just the start. As you refine your IoT plan with your core team, create personas — fictional identities — for all the stakeholders, including those outside your organization, who would conceivably touch the things, data and insights in your IoT system, and who will take or feel the actions. Visually map personas to every use case you put on the drawing board. In the corporate truck fleet, that group would probably be the people mentioned above plus truck manufacturers, insurers, lawyers and logistics experts, for starters.
Third, be sure to span departments. Let’s say the truck fleet is owned by a city, and its fire department needs a big vehicle to block Elm Avenue commuter traffic during a fire. The best-placed available truck with an on-shift driver might be in public works, sanitation or parks and rec, or it might even be a school bus. Make sure your IoT use case spans all the departments, because an asset is an asset no matter whose name is on it.
Fourth, think of your IoT endeavors in terms of a platform first. You may not see it yet, but your business will have as many use cases as it has roles and functions inside the organization. That means you’re better off with an approach that is inclusive and flexible instead of narrow and tech-specific. Ideally, the goal is to create platforms for your things that can consume data in any form and share it via any device. Too often, companies handcuff themselves by building a project around one use case and one proprietary technology. The organization can’t extend, scale, modify or sustain the app, and not surprisingly, there’s negligible return on their investment.
Fifth, keep your eye on the KPI and the ROI. The ideal first IoT project is one with a high potential return on investment, but that’s simple enough to get done. Once you ace a simple project, you can go bolder and more complex. When you do choose a concept, apply numbers to everything, including expected cost, savings, revenue, operating efficiency, customer experience value and so forth. Every use case implies a set of quantifiable key performance indicators that will yield actionable insights. It’s critical to identify those KPIs.
Finally, plow your insights back into the business. In your early planning stages, your concept must show the data you capture being re-ingested by people inside the organization, either to drive the actions of a user or do something on the back end, for example, initiate a repair ticket. If you’re capturing data and not using it to make your people smarter and better at what they do, then it’s not a viable IoT use case.
These tricks — which admittedly smack of common sense — will help anyone more quickly solve the puzzle of IoT, whether you’re managing a smart truck fleet, factory, store chain, health care operation, workforce, energy grid or city.
And soon, as with the multicolored cube that used to be so perplexing, everyone will be getting it right.
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