November 2, 2015
The media and bloggers talk about the IoT (Internet of Things) as if it's something new, but it actually isn't. The technology behind the IoT has been around for quite awhile. What is new is the incredibly low cost of connected devices, meaning that what was once relegated to tasks that were high-value or extremely important can now be leveraged for low-cost, less critical work.
There are two ways businesses can utilize the IoT to their advantage, and many businesses will inevitably engage in both: using connected devices to improve internal operations and using connected devices to engage with their customers. Before you decide to undertake an IoT initiative in your organization, you need to determine what your goals are for the project. It's far better to take your time and carefully develop an IoT strategy than to delve in and make costly mistakes. Here are the questions to ask before revving up such a project.
What Data Do You Need to Collect?
Start by asking what your organization most needs to know. Then follow up by developing sensors that can find out the answers.
A look around manufacturing and logistics businesses gives you a great perspective on what IoT technology can do. Manufacturers use connected devices to monitor processes to help identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the systems. Logistics companies use connected devices to monitor things like the effects of extreme temperatures on cargo or routing issues like traffic congestion. These often give other businesses ideas about how this technology can be used in their respective industries. What do you need to be able to track or monitor? What processes need improvements? Don't look for "ways to use the IoT". Instead, look for problems that need solutions, and then decide how the IoT can help.
How is the Best Way to Collect the Data?
Users are woefully negligent when it comes to remembering to enter data and entering it accurately. The most successful IoT devices are those that require little or no input from the user. When planning your IoT devices, plan for devices that can do all of the data collection or as much of it as possible without human intervention. For example, logistics companies are abandoning handwritten log books in lieu of digital logs that are kept by the trucks instead of the drivers. Unlike the humans, the digital logs don't forget or try to fudge the facts. Consider this when developing your own IoT initiatives.
What Infrastructure & Security Do You Need to Transmit and Store the Data?
You will need to talk to IT experts to determine what infrastructure you need in place to support your IoT initiative. This includes networking capabilities, storage capacity, and security.
Aside from how to leverage the IoT, you'll need to determine how to make it technologically impossible. This is where you will need to bring in your IT experts. Since these devices are connected, there is always a potential for hacking. You need strong network monitoring capabilities to assure that the data arrives safely at its destination. How will it be stored, analyzed, and secured after that? Some data requires real-time analysis to be of any use, while other data needs to be collected over time and analyzed for historical meaning or to identify trends. There are several ways to handle the incoming data. Some organizations choose a data lake, where they can store large volumes of unstructured data, and other organizations opt for Hadoop or another big data analytics platform. If the data is subject to personal privacy protection laws, HIPAA, or other regulations, the databases will need to be designed for the adequate safeguarding.
Is Your Organization Prepared to Make the Changes Indicated by the Data?
Finally, there is no point in initiating an IoT project if the organization isn't ready to make changes based on what the data indicates. For example, if the data points to inefficient processes, are you ready and willing to change those processes? Will there be reluctance to change at the manager level, or perhaps at the worker level? Sometimes the data doesn't say what people want it to, and the real challenge isn't how to utilize the IoT but instead how you're going to go about making changes as indicated by the data.
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