February 12, 2019
By Steve Latham, founder and CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies
It’s easy to underestimate the Internet of Things by focusing on its literal definition – creating a network of devices that exchange data via the Internet. That makes the IoT sound like a straightforward IT project. Deploy a network of smart sensors in the warehouse or on the manufacturing floor, for example, or incorporate the ability for your consumer devices to “phone home” wirelessly with customer behavioral insights. It’s like asking the IT department to upgrade your organization’s ERP software; a little implementation time and some additional training for the global operations team, and you’re done.
But there’s a lot more to an effective IoT deployment than that, especially in Global Operations in the supply chain and in manufacturing. The Internet of Things can’t function on its own – success requires building an understanding of the IoT into every aspect of your business strategy and processes.
Stay Focused on Your Core Business
This might sound self-evident, but remember that the Internet of Things is an enabling technology, not a solution in its own right. (To be honest, the IoT can, in fact, take on an outsized role in your business. The availability of connected devices and enormous amounts of data can sometimes encourage companies to reimagine their mission statement and spin off into entirely new markets.) But don’t get ahead of yourself; the IoT works best when it’s applied to your core competency and implemented to solve specific problems that affect efficiency and profitability.
It’s More Than Just a Tech Upgrade
You might think that common sense dictates taking a measured approach to your IoT implementation, deploying it as a pilot program in just one or two aspects of the business which seem to have the best chance for payoff. But there’s a lot of value in taking a more aggressive posture; one small deployment is unlikely to move the needle for your business and it can be hard to measure a ROI from just a pilot program. Instead, consider developing a portfolio of real business use cases, and implement a number of them at once.
There are a lot of reasons why this is a good idea. Widespread implementation, for example, helps to create a cultural shift in the organization, making everyone understand that they should leverage the new sea of data to make informed decisions. And when it’s clear that the IoT isn’t a flash-in-the-pan, one-off trial, it encourages people at every level and across the company to embrace the advantages that the IoT offers.
As one small example, consider the way Coca-Cola instrumented its vending machines, poising the company on the bleeding edge of the IoT revolution. While these smart point of sales (POS) devices were essential to supply chain and inventory management, the company quickly discovered other uses for the IoT data as well – like the ability to offer cashless payments and a loyalty program for customers. And most intriguingly, Coca-Cola gleaned customer data to determine what flavors were most popular and invented new flavors based on observing which existing flavors customers were already mixing on their own.
Finally, remember that the IoT isn’t just something that falls within the domain of the IT department – when implemented properly, it should have pervasive impact across the business. In other words, IoT isn’t something just for the CTO’s strategic plans; the CIO needs to understand how the IoT affects processes and procedures, and react accordingly.
Consider the case of “connected cows” described by Microsoft’s Joseph Sirosh in a recent keynote address (the video runs about 8 minutes and is both informative and charming). The problem a farm was trying to solve? Accurately detecting when its cows went into heat. The solution? Strapping simple wirelessly connected pedometers to the legs of its herd. It turns out that nocturnal cow activity is a highly accurate indicator of estrus (and that’s a bit of livestock trivia you can now use at a dinner party).
Problem solved… sort of. But as we’ve been saying throughout this post, IoT is more than just installing some sensors and software—whether it is on a cow or on your manufacturing line. The farmers at the heart of this project had to develop efficient 24/7 processes to monitor data from the cows and to take action when windows opened. On its own, the technology did little more than track cow steps. It took a lot of people throughout the organization to embrace the change to make it a success.
How will you utilize IoT this year in your operations? Have you already? 2019 might be the year to consider what IoT can do!
About the Author:
Steve Latham is the founder and CEO of Banyan Hills Technologies. He is a forward-thinking technology entrepreneur with a history of building successful hardware and software solutions for Fortune 500 companies and small private firms. With more than 20 years of experience in the field of technology, he is regarded as an expert in cloud-based software and the Internet of Things.