The secrets to delivering successful IoT projects

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What can the enterprise and the OEM learn from the Mobile Network Operator?

Delivering successful IoT projects, a topic shrouded in mystery with many tales of getting left behind by the rapid rate of change and the promise of untold riches when you get it right. The pressure for organisation to dive in to IoT and move fast is mounting but doing so can be risky and it is leaving a graveyard of great ideas thwarted by complexity, complacency or lack of proper planning. In fact, Beecham Research recently released a report which suggests 58% of respondents considered their IoT projects to have either been mostly unsuccessful (40%) or not successful at all(18%)!

However, for enterprises and OEMs there is undoubtedly huge opportunity and the pace of IoT adoption is accelerating, Microsoft’s most recent IoT signals report suggests a staggering 94% of business will be using IoT by the end of 2021. Clearly organisations do need to move quickly to stay ahead of the curve. However, that doesn’t mean abandoning the basics.

So, how do we unravel the mystery of the successful IoT project and what can enterprises and OEMs do to increase their chances of delivering.

Well, who better to learn from than the connectivity providers themselves, the Mobile Network Operators. Working in collaboration with Forrester Research, we have gathered the thoughts, opinions and insights on IoT strategy from senior IoT personnel in the world’s top MNOs. We asked them about why IoT projects fail, the current status of ‘the IoT project’ and to share their recommendations for IoT success. If you want to read the full report it’s available here, but let me give you the highlights.  

As already mentioned, a lot of IoT projects to this point have failed. The reasons for failure are broad and even the operators aren’t immune but there appear to be some pretty simple lessons to be learned.

The first learning is that needing to move fast shouldn’t come at the cost of proper consideration of the most important question – why. Failure to give proper thought to why your business needs to adopt IoT and how it will help deliver on your strategic objectives is a fast track to ‘mostly unsuccessful’. Linked closely is the importance of engaging the right people in your organisation. IoT projects have the potential to deliver broad ranging benefits across the organisation but in order to do so effectively they must be based in understanding of these diverse requirements and they must be lead from the right place in the organisation, with the support of the right functions. There is a temptation for senior leaders to press on with IoT projects because ultimately, they are closest to the businesses long term strategy and best placed to understand how IoT can support that. Senior level buy in is a key contributing factor to successful IoT projects, but leaders should be sure to engage their teams from the start.

We all know technology plays a central role in any IoT project, that is a statement of the obvious. However, overemphasis on technology at the expense of everything else is another common stumbling block. IoT tech is cool, and it’s easy to get carried away in selecting the newest, shiniest thing and then adapting your objectives to make best use of the technical capabilities. Don’t get distracted. Your technology choices must fit your objectives, not the other way round. The report refers to the importance of ‘outcome based’ technology choices. What are you trying to achieve always comes first. This also provides an extra consideration when making those choices – can this technology flex and cope with the inevitable shifts in direction that are another inevitable part of fast moving, innovative, IoT projects.

This introduces the next closely linked consideration – security. We all know how complex IoT security can be, it extends from physical security to data security and adding more devices increases the attack surface meaning that as you scale your IoT projects, security becomes an increasing challenge. It’s important not to overlook it when at PoC stage or push it out to “tomorrows problem”. Choose solutions and suppliers carefully from the start and insure you have your end goal in mind because switching is much harder after you realise you have a problem.

Right, so if that is a glimpse into why successful IoT projects have been failing, what about where they are now. According to the MNOs, IoT projects are at the threshold of receiving a significant boost. The combination of new technologies expanding possibilities, connecting IoT projects to the bigger picture and increasing understanding of how and where IoT can deliver performance is pushing us towards a tipping point. This sentiment seems reflected across the industry and many are now starting to see success. The IoT Business Index 2020 produced by the Economist demonstrates the changing fortunes, with 65% of respondents agreeing that IoT is one of the most important parts of their organisations digital transformation strategy, an increase from 46% in the previous study. This link to digital transformation is a critical contributing factor to the improving fortunes of IoT projects because it directly answers the challenges we described earlier – the connection to a bigger vision rather than innovative projects in isolation.

The report also makes the case for cellular as an increasingly great choice for IoT connectivity with new technologies such as NB-IoT and 5G adding capabilities at both ends of the connectivity spectrum. These additional capabilities combining with new SIM technologies like eSIM and iSIM are making cellular a viable choice in more and more use cases and bringing with it the benefits of security, bandwidth and coverage inherent in cellular which other technologies just can’t provide. It would be wise for any business planning an IoT project to include cellular as an option for consideration. However, a note of caution that with more choice comes more complexity, so business must be careful to match the right technology to their requirements. We have put together an overview of the common cellular technologies because there is no one-size-fits-all so be sure to carefully match capabilities with requirements to achieve the desired outcomes.

It’s fair to say that although there are certainly challenges, the future for IoT looks exciting. So what are the secrets to success? Well, the report contains six recommendations which organisations can take forward into their IoT projects which I shall summarise here in three key themes:

  1. Any IoT project must address a clear, well defined and well considered business challenge and solving that challenge should contribute towards the business achieving it’s long term vision. If this connection can’t be made the project must go back to the drawing board.
  2. Don’t forget what IoT actually delivers – data! It’s easy to get distracted by the how and picking the coolest technology but don’t forget that the real value in IoT is the insights it can deliver via the additional data collected. What data do you need to collect, how are you going to use it to deliver on your objectives and will this data unlock any additional opportunities.
  3. Remember that your IoT project not only has to make it into production but also continue to operate effectively and deliver your desired outcome. This may seem obvious but getting past PoC is often an all consuming focus but it’s just the first step in what will hopefully be a long-term initiative and if that’s not the case it’s probably worth referring to point 1. This has serious implications when it comes to picking the partners and technologies you start your IoT journey with. Be sure to pick partners, products and technologies that don’t just get you through a PoC but can grow with you into full production and support your requirements as you continue to grow. It is also important to consider how prepared your business is to support the ongoing operational requirements, where they will fit into your processes and where you will need external support.

With that, I hope this has been helpful, I recommend you read the full report to get the inside track and I wish you luck on your journey to IoT success.

If you need some advice, whether it be picking the right connectivity technology or guidance on how to future proof your project, Pelion can help.

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