Designing a stable ecosystem using the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of today's technology buzz words that you need to clearly understand along with its relationship to your industry and business concepts. The best way to do that is to consider some important questions like the ones below.
  • Do I really need an IoT solution for my business?
  • Are my customers willing to pay for this implementation on a digital footprint?
  • Will I really achieve direct cost savings and operational benefits by connecting my objects?
  • Do I have a solution partner who can, with one contract and one price, offer secure, global connectivity in the countries where my machines are located?
  • Can the service provider offer good sustainable roaming and a multi-vendor service agreement and drive my digital journey end to end?
  • What about the number of SIM cards, data storage, SMS volume, reports and scalable platforms?
  • Does the provider offer in-sales and 24/7 after-sales service?

The answers to all of the above and many more similar questions are key in implementing IoT in your organization. Below, I discuss some best practices from businesses that have already successfully executed and implemented their IoT projects.

1. Fine tune your business model with a global IoT service provider

In any project of this sort, the Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Enterprises (IoE) service provider should be involved in the development of the business model from the beginning. The business model itself will put demands on the IoT platform or might envisage processes that do not fit into the structure of the platform, so good communication is a must from the start. Thus, companies can immediately benefit from the know-how and advice of an IoT service provider. A competent IoT provider will be able to integrate all of the implications of the services your business wants to offer into a scalable IoT platform and will develop the right tools for it. The practical expertise that an experienced IoT partner brings beats any theory on the matter. What is important is having a partner that not only knows about IoE in theory, but can directly contribute experience from previous projects.

There are often unforeseen challenges in the implementation of IoT projects. Therefore, it's best to work with experts who have already solved such or similar problems in the past. Contrary to what you might think, the Internet of Things has no "one-fits-all" solutions. The technologies must fit the applications exactly. It is essential that the IoT provider is well versed in the specific tasks and requirements in the market, industry or project environment. Experience with proven technologies and standards is also important in ensuring that any new development works well in the day-to-day business. Therefore, it is vital that care is taken in the selection of a service provider with specialist and domain knowledge.

2. Clearly predefine internal and external benefits

IoT is not a product; it's a process that includes both new technologies and a wealth of process and business model optimization measures. It is, therefore, very important to determine in advance the internal and external benefits that you want to achieve. Based on these findings, you can develop a business model or adapt the existing one with regard to IoT. In this way, you can determine how, with which architecture and with which technology the IoT data flow can be managed. For example, if a company wants to make quick money with its new IoT solution, it should be careful to define simple services based on the needs of its end users that can be invoiced quickly. Thus, the IoT solution quickly pays for itself, and importantly, the company learns early on about its target market and can target its services. The prerequisite for this is an IoT platform that can be adapted and commissioned with little effort and does not require large investments to support new, complex services.

3. Start small, then expand on proof-of-concepts

The investment in a complex IoT project pays for itself during ongoing operation. Therefore, start small and gradually expand the IoT platform. For example, in terms of services with machine predictive maintenance, collecting environmental data to assess the machine state, or in the connected cars space, e-call and telematics services. My tip: start with forecasting services that are simple and easy for your end customers to use. The selection of technologies should be geared to the process-oriented challenges of the end customer. Substantial focus should be on the ease of use. A platform can be economical, but in practice, it will ultimately fail if the relevant users are not willing or able to embrace it. Important in this context is a "test or proof of concept," with which not only the technological, but also the economic, feasibility is checked. Three questions need to be answered when the development of an IoT solution begins:

  • Is the project going in the right direction and are there any visible risks?
  • Can our internal processes keep pace with IoT development?
  • Does the end customer really receive the hoped-for added value?

Only when these questions can be answered with a big "yes," should you think about expanding the IoT project.

4. Consider standard protocols instead of strong innovations

In almost all IoT projects, users expect one thing above all else: rapid integration and rapid rollout. My tip: it is better to implement a basic service well than to fail at implementing an innovative one. Standalone innovations are not always the measure of all things, but co-innovations can do magic. Orient yourself first with standard technologies instead of technologies that hinder you, because they are not needed at the beginning of the IoT implementation. Think of your target group, i.e., your customers and employees, who have to make friends with the new system. Proven standard technologies minimize integration risk, accelerate the project and create added value that end customers pay for.

5. A good IoT project management definition is a must for smooth delivery and implementation

IoT projects are cross-sectional projects because they are not only managed by the technology, development or service departments, but involve all areas of the business. This requires a project manager with a clear mandate from management, who keeps the strings in his hand and controls the implementation of IoT across the company. The implementation of IoT and Industry 4.0 projects is thus a management (CTO or CDO) task. New customers, new business models and employees must be brought together from the beginning. Emotions also play an important role here. Leaders must relieve employees of the fear of being replaced by new technologies and thus becoming superfluous, and they must credibly communicate what new opportunities will arise through IoT.

6. An IoT solution with a human touch is a must; artificial intelligence is badly misunderstood

Just because a new technology or system was introduced as part of the IoT changeover, it does not mean that you should rely on artificial intelligence alone. Recorded data streams must continue to be monitored and understood and, above all, interpreted by your employees. It is important that the machine intelligence of the IoT platform and human know-how are coupled. Otherwise, an IoT project misses its purpose and loses the potential to transform a forward-looking business. The combination of artificial intelligence, in the form of machine learning with rule-based approaches that are based on expert knowledge of end customers, has proved its worth.

7. Evaluate IoT project safety risks

Of course, so-called "incidents" also occur in the IoT area; for example, IoT devices are not connected due to weak signals leading to data losses, or they are attacked in order to exploit weak points and access gates, paralyze servers or steal data. For IoT projects, security should be a top priority for users, who are directly responsible. Infrastructure, servers and cloud platforms, including all updates, must be sustainably secured to minimize attack surfaces. The greater the number of self-sufficient IoT devices, the greater the risk of security vulnerabilities. The simpler the infrastructure, the levels of firewalls and the fewer interfaces the provider defines, the fewer access points there are for criminals.

Reputable IoT providers, therefore, introduce their own security solutions during strategy discussions. The selection of hardware also has implications for the implementation of IoT security and communication protocols. Therefore, companies should pay attention to flexibility and sustainability, because even the most powerful hardware will not hurt if it is scalable. Hence, a cheap solution will not solve your problem in the IoT value chain.

8. Train employees in parallel with IoT project implementation

For most customers, IoT projects are new territory that needs to be linked to existing business. For example, leading machine and equipment manufacturers have to deal with their innovative and complex IoT technologies, and in doing so, become the IoT service provider for their own customers. Central tasks involved here are comprehensive employee training and the creation of new structures and responsibilities in order to build the necessary IoT competence of employees over time.

The above mentioned observations are very personal to me, and you can be sure that I will continue using and executing them as best practice in my upcoming IoT projects.

Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma

As sales expert on IoT / M2M Solutions, Ashutosh helps both automotive and industrial multinational customers in the European region to successfully deliver cellular connectivity, Internet of Things and Machine-to-Machine solutions. His aim is to further accelerate the growth of the Orange Business IoT business within the region. Outside work, Ashutosh likes to spend time with his family, read about technology, travel, cook, and do yoga and sports.