The Internet of Things, IoT, attracts most technologies. Gadgets, networks and security have been the subject of discussions and technology pilots, and a way of demonstrating excellence. But it is an area that has failed to make its mark in the way that many people had predicted. The number of connected items in the world is a few billion less than had been expected. So why is this the case? Stefan Palm reflects on the Internet of Things and shares his views on why there has been ‘carelessness’ and why IoT has not become as big as we first thought.
If you had information about the status of everything in your environment, which challenge would you then address?
“Ask a silly question and you’ll get a silly answer,” as the old expression goes. And when you’re working on new technologies, you need to be quite careful about the language you use. If you are at an established organisation and start talking about how easy it is to connect gadgets, you can easily end up having technical discussions (we have tried this before) and then you have to bring the financial department in to explain to them why it is going to cost so much.
In purely technical terms, it has never been easier to build a gadget and connect it. If you use one of the major cloud providers, and some of the ready-made hardware platforms, it is only your own imagination that can limit the kind of sensor you can use.
However, there are two areas where companies have shown carelessness. Both are bad by themselves, but a combination of the two is disastrous for most projects.
1) The objective, or the reason why.
‘Just because we can’ is quite a poor answer. The best approach is to start with a business-related challenge and an insight that you are missing data. IoT can then enable you to obtain this data, which will help you tackle the business challenge. When this is the case, dialogue about the cost of the solution can normally be set against profit/revenue/savings.
But sometimes the objective can also be ‘to learn’, i.e. we currently do not have the knowledge of the opportunities and insights that can be created. If you do not have focus, you collect as much information as possible from a limited number of systems so that you can analyse data and create insights. But this objective is also clear for people who focus on costs.
2) Managing the solution over time.
If you are careless about managing the solution over time, it will be more serious than point 1. As it is so easy to get the technology up and running today, you could be seen as being reactionary if you question the organisation’s ability to manage this technology over time. If you currently work for an operational organisation, you might now be thinking of the word ‘administration’. But I prefer to call this process ‘optimisation’. The only thing we know for sure is that the solution we have built will change over time, depending on changes to the surrounding world and the underlying platforms. Just like all other IT-based solutions, you need to optimise an IoT solution in terms of performance, cost, security and accessibility. IoT adds a layer of complexity, as it normally involves hardware that is not managed by existing support channels (usually IT).
If you have not discussed at an early stage the process and the organisation that will work with optimisation, there will be at least one person who will question the solution; the person with the money. Managing the solution over time is almost always more expensive than developing the solution, so it is a good idea to have this cost included in the calculation from the start.
Inability to scale up
It is this second problem that has been identified as the main reason why IoT solutions have not taken off on the market in the way that had been predicted. An inability to scale up/out solutions in production appears at the top of the list of the challenges facing IoT solutions. It is therefore not entirely a bad thing to consider ‘design for operations’ at an extremely early stage of the development process. However, there is a risk that this dialogue will also become a technology/tools issue; for example, which tool we should use for monitoring. Instead, the primary dialogue should be about who will do the job; they can then choose the tools themselves. You should also spend time thinking about what your core operations are. Is it really important for our organisation to be able to manage these gadgets? Or should we focus our resources on analysing data and creating business value?
Finally, you should remember to work with a partner, like Softronic, who can complement your operations with knowledge and services.
Blog post written by Stefan Palm for Softronic AB.