Internet of Things adoption continues to tick upward, but something is not right in IoT land. Narratives vary about the nature of the problem. One challenge is that many projects remain perennially stuck in the proof of concept stage or earlier. A January 2018 World Economic Forum report indicated “41 percent [of organizations] are still piloting solutions at a single site or business unit, and the remaining 30 percent have yet to or are about to start the journey.” In a similar vein, a 2017 Cisco study suggested that close to three-quarters of IoT projects are failing — or, put differently, only a quarter were completely successful. A total of 60 percent remained stuck in the POC stage, according to that research.
James Brehm, who heads up the consulting firm James Brehm & Associates, doesn’t beat around the bush when assessing the current state of the IoT market. “The failure rate of IoT right now is higher than anything I’ve ever seen in my business life — over the past 23 years,” Brehm said.
1. Lack of Leadership and Support
A common problem for the overall IoT market is a lack of solid leadership, which can prove challenging given the wide scope of workers, organizations and considerations that can be involved in a single enterprise-scale IoT project. “The mandate needs to come from the top levels of management,” said Brehm, who is speaking and moderating panels related to IoT at Sensors Expo. While the topic of management may seem fairly straightforward, it is an easy subject to overestimate. “You may get the buy-in from the CTO and the CEO and everything may seem to be going well, but you forgot about getting support from the board,” Brehm said. “And your company has a third bumpy quarter in a row while you’re trying to transform the whole company using IoT. The board decides to throw out the CEO and you derail the whole thing.”
2. A Temptation to Build on a Shaky Foundation
Another familiar hurdle is that enterprise and industrial companies, when addressing various technical options and hurdles of an IoT project, can lose sight of ensuring the project delivers a solid ROI. A related problem is that the organization, failing to identify that its operational processes are flawed, seeks to transform its business with IoT. “But you can’t fix a bad process with good technology,” Brehm warned.
Budgetary and resource constraints can also cause chaos. “Let’s say I’m a CIO of a toy manufacturer and I am struggling to update my firewalls properly. And then I get an assignment to integrate IoT functionality into a talking baby doll or board game.” Such an executive would face an uphill battle in that IoT deployment and would not only be ill-equipped to use IoT to transform that company’s business but also could put the company at a heightened cybersecurity risk.
3. Lack of a Solid IoT Vision
An organization can be skilled at project management and navigating the cultural hurdles that accompany enterprise IoT initiatives and still have limited success with their projects. One reason why is that they often have an unclear sense of why they are deploying IoT in the first place. Alternately, they might set their sights too low for their IoT project. There are only three core reasons why any company should launch an IoT project as Brehm put it: “To make money, save money or to stay out of jail — that is: to use IoT for compliance purposes.” An example of the latter is the need for trucking companies to comply with the recent electronic logging device (ELD) mandate.
Too often, companies will focus on only one of those objectives. For instance, they could concentrate on deploying IoT to comply with the ELD mandate, but not investigate leveraging that technology to gain efficiencies.
“If you can double up on any of those reasons — meaning if you can figure out a way to save money and turn it into a new revenue stream, that’s a home run,” Brehm said. “Let’s say you can monetize a Band-Aid, which means you’re staying out of jail for being complaint and you are monetizing that Band-Aid to create new revenue streams.”
“Most companies deploy IoT for one purpose only,” Brehm said. But whenever possible, organizations should aspire to have the right leadership to launch IoT projects that tick more than one box. It can also happen that your IoT project can be a trifecta of making money, saving money and also helping with compliance. “When that happens, it can be like winning at the racetrack,” he added.