On the 30th of July Transforma Insights ran a webinar entitled ‘7 ways to harness AI, IoT and other disruptive technologies for competitive advantage’ based on an extensive set of analysis that we have been doing recently of hundreds of real-world examples of new technology deployments. In this article, I highlight some of the key findings, with particular reference to IoT.
In recent years companies and markets have been turned upside down by new technological developments at a fast pace than ever before. Across retail, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and many others there is change at a pace that has never been seen before. The impact of COVID-19 should also not be underestimated. It provides a massive stimulus for technology adoption for instance in supply chain, automated manufacturing or COVID-specific use cases like contact tracing. Like never before companies are on the cusp of rolling out IoT in new and imaginative ways. But the track record is not good. We’ve been here before. Back in 2010 there was talk of 50 billion connected devices and transformational business models, but since then adoption has been slow and has tended to focus on low-hanging fruit (a subject I’ve covered in a previous article).
In the webinar, using examples as diverse as South Korean smart grid roll-outs and Norwegian dairy farming, we did what every company should do: learn the lessons of other peoples’ deployments to understand best practice. We identified seven key strategic actions companies can take to ensure that their adoption of IoT (and other disruptive technologies) is optimised.
Here are the key points:
- Have a thorough and systematic approach to horizon scanning. Technical, commercial and regulatory disruption is creating challenges for every sector and you need to be aware of what’s coming. It’s critical to not only consider the direct impact of a new technology but also give mind to the secondary effects. Don’t focus exclusively on the narrow set of technologies you might use, but think about impact on the wider ecosystem and adjacent spaces. Having a good understanding of what’s coming and your competitor’s plans will help your decision-making process about what to do with your own product lines.
- Have a prioritised list of projects which is constantly updated. You need a structured approach to selecting and prioritising which of the many potential IoT projects you may pursue. First filter based on viability and then rank based on attractiveness and fit for the business. Next look at timelines and dependencies. Last, and critically, you need to feed back what you learn into the planning process. As an example, you may have chosen to implement a particular IoT platform which might make certain projects more appropriate to pursue.
- Your team structure needs to match the project. Just as projects are diverse, so are the skills needed to implement them. In the webinar we looked at the difference between a smart farming use case and a smart meter solution. They need radically different skills. In some cases it’s an completely novel and customised deployment and there’s a substantial discovery and ideation phase. In others it’s just a functional roll-out of a fully formed pre-existing solution. Pick your project team according to the project.
- Be flexible as you implement. The key characteristic here is ‘agility’. During deployment of the specific project you should constantly feed back into the overarching planning process and make any changes so they are keeping with that overall strategic plan. You do not want project teams to solve their own problems because it risks creating silos of technological development.
- Begin with the operational blockage. Most companies when trialling and deploying IoT focus predominantly on the technical issues. This leads to repeated proofs-of-concept. More important is to focus on the process you want to change. Also be sure to consider technical and commercial elements in parallel.
- Keep security at the front of you mind. Security is a problem that is referred to again and again when deploying IoT. There are many high profile examples of failures. You need to consider security from the start of your project and constantly review and iterate. You also need to ensure you aren’t just thinking of security in isolation but considering the trade off with commercial factors such as profitability or churn, and with other aspects of ‘Trustworthiness’ such as reliability or privacy.
- You will need to change many aspects of what you do. Slow IoT adoption is often due to a lack of consideration of the requirements to make substantial changes to internal processes, people and systems. Any sufficiently important IoT implementation should require you to make changes to business process, business model, finance, people, partners, systems and culture. It also needs a robust approach to change management.
IoT represents a huge opportunity. But it requires a co-ordinated approach to identifying technology trends, selecting projects, managing implementation and adopting the internal changes required.