Be Smart with your IoT dollar

Be Smart with your IoT dollar

An exclusive article by Joseph Zulick, manager at MRO Electric and Supply.

Where should you invest in IoT? It’s easy to say just throw money at your weakest areas or go and spend money without knowing about the payback. If we want to be a good steward of our resources, we need to be smart with our resources and specifically your money!

Baseline, where are you? In what level does your IoT program currently reside? Think of this in terms of Dante’s Inferno, no wait, all of those rings are in hell and none of the IoT scenarios will get you banished to eternal damnation. Instead let’s look at this as rings that extend to prosperity. This is not quite Dante’s Paradiso or Heaven but let’s call it Paradise City.

4 stages of learning

In Zaid Dahhaj’s article1 he talks about the 4 stages of learning. In a similar view we can talk about the 4 circles of productivity.

Outermost ring is ignorance or as sometimes referred, “unconscious ignorance”. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can’t blame someone who has no idea of the information they should know already. Many companies run along blissfully ignorant as they slowly lose market share and fall further behind. The problem is today, it is too hard to keep up with companies who can out spend you. Continuous improvement and constant commitment are what it takes to stay in the game.

It seems like you can always find another company who can out spend you in your market. This means making better decisions on your resources and with your resources. This is also the most difficult circle to move past because so many of us believe we are experts in all areas. However, truth be told, all of us can use advice and wisdom from others. But recognizing we don’t know what we don’t know is a very complicated task. Awareness is the crucial aspect here. Can you hear that knocking in your engine? Sometimes you have trained yourself to ignore the sound, this happens in many plants.

The next ring, sometimes referred to as conscious incompetence. You are now aware of the problems. You’ve taken inventory of your needs. Moving past this ring is complicated, mainly because, I believe, this ring has 3 levels within the main ring. The first is that of “waste”. It seems like many companies in an effort to get on the train of Industry 4.0 are trying to outspend their competition. Million plus dollar ERP systems with integrated plug-ins are all the rage. Money can cover up a lot of ignorance and bad decisions. Eventually it comes time to pay. This is the ring where some might say is the most painful because you realize that people know what to do but still refuse to do what is needed. I’ve seen many companies go out of business in this ring.

This level is also that of the “slow and indecisive”. Often caught between 2 IoT solutions they hem and haw until the train has left the station. Paralyzed by fear of a bad decision and unable to progress, they know what needs to be done but never make the critical decisions that are required to move forward.

The next level are the “blamers”. They blame every other person, cause and effect in an effort to deflect blame from their IoT solutions or lack thereof.
No matter what ring you currently find yourself in today, the great thing is, nothing is written in stone at this point. It is getting close, but there’s still time.

You know your shortcomings and are making a conscious effort to correct them. This is an incredibly powerful moment when you are now being impactful and making a difference on the future of your company. This is also the execution phase. The problem in this stage is people become very invested in their solution and start to become emotionally attached to the solution and it can, at times, cloud their judgment. Stick to your metrix. Remember this is the foundation that all of your IoT will be built. The investment should provide you the greatest ROI for your time frame.

What are the Solutions? First establish your destination, 3-5 years, what should your IoT look like? Is it integrated? If so, to what extent? How hands off and automated should it be? Don’t pull out your Scrooge McDuck, this is a time for optimism and dreams!

If you’re currently satisfied with your ERP system, then integration with your existing system will be your concern. Every day, the issue many plants talk about is their need for the systems to talk to each other. You even see it in your home; does your smart speaker work with all types of voice systems and apps? Probably not. You need to make sure the same is true plant wide. How will I get information from my machines into the system where I need it?

Don’t build beyond your scale. Too often people don’t balance their infrastructure with their needed capacity. Imagine buying a building with 800 offices for a staff of 60. Be careful not to slip into scope creep.

Knowing the platform your system is programmed is very important when investing your money intelligently. If most of your systems use SQL server as their main system, excellent. Maybe you have several open platforms or IO interfaces. These are nice from a programming standpoint as long as you have a programmer. Maybe you want an out of the box system. Realize that most out of the box systems will have the limitation that you need to adapt to your platform.

Your solution may require multiple sources. Establish this path and the resources necessary to make the leap and don’t look at the long term as a destination but instead establish the milestones or stage gates. Break these down into smaller pieces that might be acceptable and have an ROI greater than the sum of the parts.

Expectations, where do you want to be?

Understand all of the parties needs and expectations. This needs to be not only the desired information but the format it needs to be in and the cost or value of the information.

What is information worth to you and your company? When you hear this you may be taken a back since you may only look at the information you gather currently. You may also look at the way you gather this data. Remember, even in the matrix there are gaffs; acknowledge yours and determine where you need to invest. This doesn’t automatically mean to back fill with information that has no value. Instead, determine what information you need, various ways to achieve this gathering and the costs of each, followed by the value of each. How do you put a dollar figure on a value? That’s related to the next 2 questions, what is it you’re gaining from this information? Second, what is the cost of not knowing this information? This tends to be the big impact.

The final ring is that of Unconscious Competence. This is the level where you are running on autopilot and you have moved to a level of Artificial Intelligence that is no longer requiring a conscious involvement. This is also where its ingrained into the process. This is where Automated Processing takes hold. Often in systems like Lean you find that the process is the most important structure. If your process isn’t solid it becomes apparent when they remove the key individual from the activity.

Don’t think this is the end, when was the last time you bought your last and final computer? You can’t think of your 5-year plan as an end all goal, it must be evolutionary as well as revolutionary. Apply smart technology that will give the greatest return on your investment.

Joseph Zulick is a manager at MRO Electric and Supply.

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