Honour the Cornerstones to Cross the Chasm in IoT –  From PoC to Production  Roll Out .

While we are all submerged with data on IoT and the kind of disrupting impact IoT would be bringing with it in the coming years the ground realities are sobering .

To bring home the points as per reports from reputable sources like IoT World and  IoT Analytics show that approximately 7,700 Enterprise IoT projects have been initiated in the since early 2013  – with a large number of projects still in pilot / development phase of the lifecycle. Out of that more that 40 % of the projects (3000) have been initiated in 2016.The key point here is 75% of the projects have not gone beyond the Proof of Concept stage and possibly have been abandoned. This sort of negates the hype on IoT .

There seem to be a handful of projects which are deemed as successful and have gone mainstream. For example, connecting remote industrial equipment (e.g., Rio Tinto’s self-driving trucks in the mining industry) or smart irrigation systems in a Smart City (e.g., Barcelona’s Smart City Initiative) are examples of successes few and far .

While we may argue that the history is still young with a data being collected for the last 3 years  it is imperative to harvest the lessons learnt and utilize them as we embark on ambitious projects and keep the nay sayings at bay .

If we have to “ Cross the Chasm “ we need to understand the why , what and how .

  1. Why are IoT Projects different from other projects in the IT world ?
  2. What are the phases of a typical IoT project  and hurdles to go past ?
  3. How to address these challenges early on ?

1. Why are IoT Projects different from other projects in the IT world ?

a. Multiple technology layers call for multiple skill sets .

On a high level there are 5 major layers of an IoT solution including one cross-layer: Device, Communication, Cloud Services, Applications, and Security.

Developing end-to-end IoT Solutions involves multiple layers that need to work in symphony across disparate technologies. It can be a quite a  struggle to craft viable business plans and implement, integrate, and manage a mix of different and complex IoT technologies, endpoints, platforms, back-end systems and data.

A typical IoT team skill sets will range in the following areas – embedded systems , cloud architecture,  application enablement , data analysis , security design  and base end system integration .One can observe the diversity in competency required .

b. Security and Privacy concerns limit the  business use case driven projects .

In a recent report on IoT based projects, Gartner mentions, “The lack of a compelling business case is a major impediment to growth for enterprises. It remains almost as big an issue as security and privacy. We believe that this is not so much because of a lack of a business case rather that the business cases have yet to be discovered.” This discovery could be muted with the overwhelming issue of security and privacy. This type of concern may not be there in other IT projects given that the exposure to the outside world is a controlled and measured one.

2 .What are steps one goes through in an IoT project and the hurdles that need to be acknowledged and addressed to take the projects to production?

To get the best Return on Investment (ROI) from an IoT initiative, the following 5-step-process has proven as a suitable framework for IoT projects. The steps which are followed would typically be :

  • Business Case Development
  • Build vs. Buy Decision
  • Proof of Concept
  • Initial Pilot Rollout
  • Production  Deployment

a. Business Case Development ( the selection of right use case is critical )

IoT world can be simplistically split into the B2C and the B2B . In the coming years we would see the B2C world would be dominated by the the triumvirate of Apple , Google and Amazon who have the direct access to the consumer in multiple ways . This blog would limit itself to the enterprise (B2B) .Typically; the business case for IoT is handled by a cross-functional team ( business development , leadership and technology ) .It can be a fairly straightforward process if each one takes the roles and responsibilities designated to them . But companies often suffer from insufficient collaboration across the disciplines involved, reversal of roles or a plain lack of focus when it comes to defining the returns of investment .

b.Build vs. Buy Decisions ( it would depend on the budgets allocated and the overall strategy )

As the area is new and evolving approaches could be of two types . In organizations which have got wedded to particular vendor partners they may want to “try out “ Iot business use case on a  the vendor platform. For example is an enterprise is on SAP the business use case could be tried out with SAP . However in enterprises where IoT is under the Center of Excellence ( CoE ) or the Innovation Council with a distinct budget allocated , the approach may be to work on Open source development platforms to “play with “ till a solution of sort emerges.

c. Proof of Concept ( Moving from –“you do not know what you do not know to now you know what you do not know” )

This is an important phase which could decide on Go-No Go for the project The PoC phase is designed to validate a few key points, not every single detail. The best practice has been to just start with 1-5 scenarios or feature designs that matter the most to the customer’s business. In this phase we move from “you do not know what you do not know” to now you know what you do not know “ . Achieving a proof of concept in a specified period of time  can be crucial to sustain top-level management support.

d.Initial Pilot Rollout ( dealing with multiple scenarios while discovering surprises )

Once the concept is proven, it is  time to evolve the scenarios and be ready for surprises on the field . The  IoT solution can be integrated into the broader organization. A big challenge at this stage involves the training of a select group of enthusiastic employees to use the system and preferably at a client location.

e. Production Roll Out

At this point, as the IoT solution is deployed to thousands of devices the manageability and scalability and interoperability with security of the overall systems becomes a key aspect of the overall success.

3.How do we address the challenges early on ?

Crossing the chasm from PoC to Production deployment is something which is key to defining the success . As pointed out 75% of the IoT projects are languishing at PoC stage and have now seen a roll out of sorts .

Now that we are 3 years into having projects in IoT being identified in the enterprise world what are the lessons learnt and how can we “Cross the Chasm”.

a.Choosing the Right Business Use Case :

Gartner’s survey of organizations that have already implemented IoT shows that it has been largely Business Use cases around  internal operations  relating to —improved efficiency, cost savings and enhanced asset utilization—versus the external IoT benefits of enhancing customer experience or increasing revenue would be low hanging and potentially easy to manage with success . Reasons are not hard to find as the case would be in a controlled environment with less security risks and integration challenges.  Two examples  in the B2B world would be connected asset management and connected logistics . BCG has come up with a good research (Winning IoT Jan 2017 ) on this topic as can be read .

b.Managing IoT Security effectively

In September 2016, the world witnessed its largest ever IoT botnet attack through Mirai and more recently Wannacry is another sorry examples of the vulnerabilities we are exposed to caused by  the swathe of poorly protected IoT devices.

Knowing the possible threat ( STRIDES Threats Model ) and addressing the same would be the best way to make a robust beginning .

c.Minimizing  Interoperability Issues.

Given that the IoT architecture is a multilayered one , the issue of interoperability has to be tackled at the Device to Device layer , Device to Server layer and Server to Server Layer .

Device to Device ( Physical )   layer – how bits are transmitted/received over the medium. What radio technologies are supported? For example,  Bluetooth, WiFi, 802.15.4, Cellular, variations of LPWAN or alternatively Ethernet.

Device to Server (Networking) layer –   how the data packets are securely transported from device to cloud. What technologies are required to route data through your networks?

Server to Server (Application ) layer – how the data is taken in and used in your applications. Which open lightweight protocols are supported? For example, MQTT, AMQP, CoAP, Restful HTML, DDS or web-sockets optimized for bursts of small amounts of data.

Integrating manageability functionalities will give the benefit of bringing in scalability to the solution.

Protocol translation at the development stage would play an important role in building interoperability.

Conclusion:

These are early days of IoT projects, the enthusiasm is high, the technology layers are evolving. To accelerate the pace of the evolution and to be cautiously optimistic in our approach it is imperative that we look at these cornerstones which have been gleaned through the leanings of the early adopters. Let us learn from these and prepare well to succeed emphatically.

 

 

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