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How to avoid IoT pilot purgatory

By and large, most industrial companies today have experimented with an IoT deployment on some level. For those that have seen success, deployment expansion and finding new ways of applying IoT data to solve business problems across the organization are top priorities. Unfortunately for others, their first go at an IoT deployment left little to be excited about. In fact, many that have launched a trial IoT initiative have found themselves in pilot purgatory, where the test project stagnates and becomes difficult to translate into a full deployment across their organization.

While businesses in the latter group will be tempted to cut their losses, they should reconsider throwing in the towel. Instead, they can seize the opportunity to learn where they went wrong and apply that knowledge to avoid repeating the same mistakes and implement a successful IoT project. To help with the evaluation process, I’ve identified the top reasons IoT pilots get stuck in purgatory based on my experiences with organizations across the industrial sector. These include:

Choosing a problem not worth solving

Many organizations make the mistake of viewing IoT as a technology initiative rather than a business initiative. When companies start randomly exploring the technology without identifying a specific business problem that they’re trying to solve, they tend get to the end of the pilot and find themselves asking the question, “Why did we do that?” In order to avoid questions like these when a project concludes, it’s important to make sure the initiative is in line with overall business goals and worthwhile to pursue.

Sign to look for: Companies that make plans to measure ROI typically have the clearest objectives, making each target easier to attain and in a faster amount of time. If you aren’t seeing a positive ROI in the first year, then you’ll need to learn how to course-correct quickly.

Building a pilot that doesn’t scale

Even if the target issue is worth solving, organizations can still run into trouble when it comes to effectively scaling their deployment. For example, they may have a great protype of 20 devices that they can easily pull data from and graph, but because it isn’t architected for growth, they can’t roll it out to their remaining 100,000 devices. Additionally, to better plan for IoT at scale, it’s important to consider who is supporting the deployment when it breaks and the steps that will follow the pilot.

Sign to look for: If you’re already planning to start from scratch and build something new once your pilot is over, then your IoT initiative is in danger of stalling. Plus, starting over is equivalent to throwing money — and time and resources — out the door. The goal of the pilot is to maximize resources and set the foundation for the full deployment — don’t waste all the effort that went into it or the insights it generated.

Lacking internal support and buy-in

A properly defined problem to solve and a scalable deployment won’t matter if it is unclear who is responsible for what. IoT is one of the most cross-functional types of initiatives a company can undertake, which means many different departments have to work together. Here, IT/OT convergence is important, but cooperation must extend well beyond just two areas. For example, because an IoT initiative involves proprietary and confidential data, it requires support and buy-in from the legal department to determine who the data belongs to and where it is being shared. For a successful deployment, there needs to be clear ownership, executive buy-in and everyone has to agree on a common goal.

Sign to look for: If you are unable to identify clear success metrics, then it may be a sign that your IoT initiative is headed for trouble. Without setting specific success metrics, there will be no way for others to grade the progress and outcome of a pilot.

Is it better to skip the pilot altogether?

In the early days, people defaulted to kicking off with a proof-of-concept project because it allowed them to take their idea and find out if it would work in a real business setting. However, IoT technology has been proven to work, creating less risk for those just starting out. So, skipping a pilot altogether is now a viable option. But to do so, an organization still needs to properly prepare for its IoT deployment, including:

  1. Thinking through the business objective;
  2. Building out the right teams; and
  3. Making the deployment a priority.

Foregoing a proof-of-concept can lead to cost-savings by avoiding the time and resources outlay necessary to re-architect a deployment or re-prove what other organizations have already proven.

Looking ahead to real IoT value

IoT is no longer a new concept. Only a few years ago, people were just trying to figure out how to define IoT, but now they are focusing on how to invest in it and apply it to a business setting. In the coming years, we will only see more connected devices that are generating more data, and businesses under more pressure to make sense of all the information collected. While it might be easy for organizations that have yet to see results to get discouraged, it would be a huge mistake to shy away from this technology.

If you are still contemplating launching an IoT initiative and waiting to take the plunge, now is the time. The technology has proven to provide businesses with real value and ROI. If you don’t start deploying a strategy now, you are at risk of falling behind and missing out on a key competitive advantage.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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