How To Ensure Your IoT Project Succeeds – Implementation Challenges

September 11, 2017

Welcome to the fifth post in my series of seven chapters intended to help individuals and organisations on their journey to deploying a successful Internet of Things (IoT) transformation. The first chapter covered preparation, the second covered how to choose the right hardware, the third covered the Information Challenges and the fourth covered people challenges. This post covers the implementation challenges. If it’s helpful to go back to the beginning and read in sequence, you can start with an introduction to this series here, along with a list of the other topic areas you will need to assess on your journey.

 5.1 Solution Maturity/ stability

A solution that been developed and tested in the company R&D comfortable environment would most likely perform to expectation. The reality hits when the solution moves from the lab into the real world; this is when you start confronting problems you never thought of or anticipated. These problems may include the type or source of connections, extreme weather, rough physical environment, the strength of a signal, humidity and moist, latency, hacking, malicious tampering, accidental damage, sensor optimal reading environment or human error installation.

The market is littered with new IoT solutions at the various level of maturity. Whatever the maturity stage of the solution you pick, it is important to remember:

  1. Scaling and adopting the solution should take place only when such solution reached enterprise level and not still in beta release,
  2. carefully assess the impact on your business and customers if your solution provider did not survive the test of time, and
  3. go full steam ahead when the solution reached a level where it meets your needs and meeting your operational expectations.

Stay clear from what is known as “psychotic” solutions or devices (Psychotic a term I took from Michael Morton). A term to describe when sensors completely die or start acting erratically and sending false reading.  If you are faced with such solution, the cost to you is more than replacing the devices, it is the eroding trust, loss of buy-in, customer confidence and so on. Ensure your contract allows you a clean exit in case you find yourself dealing with a “psychotic” solution (or supplier).

5.2 Ease of deployment & Scalability

As you deploy an IoT pilot project, carefully analyze the different steps from concept all the way to being fully operational. Remember only in a real environment you will uncover how easy to deploy and how scalable this solution is.  Observe how it can cope with the unconditioned real world.  This is one of the major barriers and hidden cost in your journey.

It is one thing to test few devices and another to deploy thousands. Find out where it has been tested at scale by other customers and seek their input and feedback. Changing your mind after you deploy can prove very expensive! Sadly, the evidence (so far) proves that scale does not come easy.

Device management usually is one of the most challenging areas to investigate. Look at the time and operation cost of all devices you plan to deploy. Seek solutions that offer efficient ways of managing, monitoring, and ongoing device and customer support as this is critical and essential for your success.

Most of IoT solutions fail or have limited adoption because they are not easy to deploy and use. In addition, your Total cost of ownership (TCO) will most likely skyrocket due to the complexity and extra work you must put to get the solution operational. This, in turn, could render your ROI less attractive. Avoid such solutions!

Sensors can go offline and come back on for various reasons, they are exposed to many disruptions and interruptions. Many events would trigger sensors to send data. A lot of this data would be noise and should be ignored. Dealing with all kind of alerts can be a daunting task and present a serious challenge.

You need to have the confidence that the solution you choose will “tell” you promptly about the problems you need to know about and most likely before they happen, and not offer you a pile of raw data for you to sift through.

I have seen many customers swiftly and successfully implement a solution with few hundred devices and sensors in a relatively contained geography, only to stall when they move to scale. The business case will disappear as you factor in all the hidden cost I described above. Pay close attention to this, the outcome of not doing so is detrimental to your business. Never forget the fact we discussed before, IoT is part of a digital strategy and not a one time off project, it is a process and a journey. Like all journeys, they are often about people and processes more than they are about technology – seek a solution that caters for your processes and people.

5.3 Technical Integration

It is important to understand that IoT is NOT an isolated system and as I said repeatedly, it is surely not a bolt-on.  Further, it is important to understand that IoT cuts across various departments and systems. So, it needs to be integrated into your existing business processes, with people and systems. Not only you need seamless 2-way interaction between sensors in the field and your back-office software but also between your devices and other existing systems or between back-office software and other systems.

How easily does this solution integrate with your existing systems, is it interoperable or stand alone closed black box? Think beyond the scope of the solution and ensure it fits with your digitization strategy mentioned earlier. (Steer away from black box solutions and only invite open and collaborative players!)

Pay attention to the multiple platforms you have in-house, the numerous protocols involved and various APIs and assess the need for interactions between such systems including the new solution. In the next blog, I will talk about interoperability and standards that could help you manage such complexity. The major questions here to answer are, if such interaction is needed, can it happen, does the IoT solution allow you to integrate, how complex it is and who will do such integration and at what cost?

If your devices cannot communicate with existing enterprise systems and software and databases, then your IoT aspired solution would not be able to generate the total insight and value you seek to improve and transform your business. Any IoT solution you sign to, must integrate with your existing or newly adopted processes, systems and the wide range of devices and sensors that already exist. It cannot be detached from the rest because you will not get the full value. After all, IoT is meant to break the data silos and cut across boundaries, so make sure you always remember this.

Charbel Aoun is a Future Cities Catapult board member and a seasoned smart city and digital transformation professional.

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