A look at the evolution of IoT and how businesses have used, are using and will be using it to their advantage.
The notion of Smart Manufacturing or Industry 4.0 became a popular topic after the international CeBIT fair of 2011, a mere six years ago but a lifetime in terms of technology maturation. By now, most of us understand, at least intuitively, what the Internet of Things (IoT) means. But in an industrial setting, what are some of the useful things we can do with the data being produced and transmitted by smart devices? That seems to be the predominant question asked by most of the customers that I encounter today. So, I feel it’s about time we discuss how to hone that competitive edge into something that’s really compelling.
A year or two ago I spoke at an IoT event about the use of data from smart devices for monitoring not only operational performance of production systems but determining how the business as a whole is impacted when your production systems or other processes fail. It was essentially a story about asset performance management and enterprise business process management.
At the time, the story did not resonate very well with my audience. Yes, there were or few who understood, but the attendees were predominately star-struck with in-memory databases and big data solutions that could deal with the deluge of data that the onset of IoT was expected to generate. IoT was solidly in the labs at the time, with hardware and software engineers demonstrating potential applications.
This year I went to that same IoT event and I was pleasantly surprised to see that IFS wasn’t the only company focusing on outcomes. In his keynote speech, Jerry Lee, Director of Product Marketing for Microsoft in the Netherlands, talked about how Microsoft is focused on companies being able to act on analytics. Other speakers at this event represented the construction company, BAM, greenhouse system builder, Hortilux and electronics firm, Philips, all of which have well-defined business cases for applying IoT technology where things are done better and at a lower cost.
Another example of a solid business case is one of our own customers, Anticimex, where connected rat traps enable more efficient routing of service engineers and the prediction of battery replacement. IoT is solidly out of the lab and the business has clearly taken ownership, coming up with practical applications.
There is also a lot of talk about the Industrial Internet of Things (i.e. manufacturing), but as mentioned, I’m seeing business cases in pest control, construction, agriculture and other managed services, too. Even though not all applications are equally advanced, the system of systems is starting to work; connecting data to analytics to business systems and starting to deliver real value.
Now that business at the operational level has come to grips with IoT, it’s time for the C-level to step up and drive transformation. Without a doubt, there is merit in reducing cost and being more efficient, but what will really move the needle in terms of top-line growth is the adoption of new products and services.
The notion of a product company starting to sell its products as a service is easy to understand, but the execution of this idea is by no means trivial. Technically, you need to understand the product, predict its failures and be confident that you can turn a profit by providing it as a service.
Financially, you’ll also need to re-engineer the balance sheet, as all these products now become your own assets. Plus, you’ll have to report on SLA compliance with your customers. If you’re not a product company but a service company, you’ll be in a position to learn about leading indicators to failure modes, the effects of climate and supplier performance for spare parts. All of these things are valuable and marketable, but they need more than the operations team to take them to market.
How to become a connected business
IoT-driven business requires data acquisition (communications and networking), analytics and business software to work in unison —and very few companies have all the skills in-house to do this on their own. Most companies seek partnerships, so too with IFS. Since launching the IFS IoT Business Connecter, we have been expanding our partner ecosystem so that our customers are supported for data acquisition, analytics and business transformation. To learn more and become a connected business yourself, please visit the IoT Business Connector webpage.
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