Once we have identified the Internet of Things (IoT) as a significant player in what many call the digital transformation, the next question is usually how and where to get started.
A lot of discussions these days start with the technical aspects, which is hardly surprising given that the Internet of Things is a technical topic for many people. You can find a lot of blogs and other information where people have started playing with IoT platforms, IoT gateways, sensors and actors. At the same time, you might also discover blogs discussing the question of IoT security.
To find further proof that IoT is currently pretty much technology-driven, just try googling “how to get started with IoT” or “where can I start with IoT”. You will probably be bombarded with hits containing technology-based information.
But is technology really the right position to start exploring IoT? I don’t think so.
In my last blog “Characteristics of an Enterprise IoT Strategy – Part 1: The journey starts”, I kicked off a blog series and introduced a journey map. In this blog, I want to talk about step 2 of this journey: Defining the starting point.
The Internet of Things – Where is the demand?
Let’s be frank. There are many opinions out there about where to start with IoT. And I’m not even going to try to make any kind of pronouncement on these various opinions. In fact, everything depends on perspective.
From an enterprise perspective however, there can really only be ONE starting point. This starting point is the business of the enterprise, which forms the subject of the most important question of all: “How can my business become better than it is already?”
In my view then, it’s more important to start by identifying business areas that can be improved with IoT rather than thinking about the technical aspects of IoT.
Is IoT really that difficult and complex?
Reading about IoT in the press or in blogs these days might give you the impression that it’s a complex topic that’s too hot to handle. Reading security-related articles might even leave you thinking that IoT is somehow dangerous.
Given my years of experience working with customers as a consultant, I do wonder: How can these people know how difficult and dangerous things are without knowing the customer, the related business cases and the potential project scopes?
Basically, there is no point in thinking about the technical obstacles of an IoT capability before I know of the potential business benefits. For an enterprise, the very first question should be “how can we get better”. This by the way is one of the concepts that underpins Enterprise Architecture [Short Video], breaking down your business strategy into business needs and required capabilities BEFORE talking about the technical implementation.
Think big, start small
There is one recommendation that I would apply to almost anything: There is no point in doing everything at once. And this is also true for IoT. At the start of your journey, you will probably have no (or at most very little) IoT skills or experience. Starting with small steps is a great way of finding out how things can work out in YOUR enterprise. Even a very small project, maybe a little frontrunner project, can help to answer questions like:
- How do I create a business case for an IoT-based improvement?
- Who are the business people in my company I need to talk to?
- Who are the technical people in my company I need to talk to?
- What are the typical roles I need in this kind of project?
- How can I get these people together to create ideas for my business case?
- What boundaries – like business and IT strategy – do I need to understand?
- How will things work out technically in my existing IT landscape?
- Do we have enough skills in our company? Do I need externals?
Even more important than to start simple is to simply start. Instead of just discussing how things might turn out in theory, the best thing is to just get STARTED. However, the key question remains: Where to start?
How to identify the starting point: Look at what others have done before you
This approach is often just as straightforward as it sounds. Simply look at what other customers did before you [–> Goto section “See what our customers are saying”]. Or look at what IoT-relevant platforms and enabling technologies or IoT-relevant applications are out there, since all of them obviously were designed based on customer use cases. If you find a case or a product that addresses what your business is doing, you have probably found a suitable inspiration for your starting point.
If you can’t find one, you have probably discovered the inherent weakness in this approach. Since all customers and their business processes are different, it can be difficult to find a use case that suits your particular environment.
A better approach is to perform an analysis of your company.
How to identify the starting point: The analytical approach
This is obviously the more difficult route to take. Nevertheless, the results will be based on YOUR enterprise, YOUR boundaries, YOUR vision. With this in mind, I recommend following this route.
My colleague Smitha Rayala and I are currently working on methods that can help to identify good starting points. For the time being, this is a work in progress, so I can do no more than share our current position and inspire you to work in the same direction.
Our plan is to create a matrix along the following questions:
- What is the opportunity I’m targeting?
- What are the goals I’m focusing on?
- What are the patterns I need to search for in my company?
- What are the methods I can use?
- How would I prioritize my findings?
The table below provides an initial idea of the direction we are thinking of taking.
Let me point out some examples based on this table.
- Assuming we want to improve existing processes, we could search for automation potentials. If we find users performing repetitive actions, this is probably an interesting pattern that is worth further exploration. This could be performed by means of an employee survey or a cost analysis. We believe there are even more methods available, which we want to discover over time.
- Assuming we want to increase the efficiency of the business, we might look for places in the company where decisions are taken without any appropriate data. Think of experienced people on the shop floor for example, who know their machines by heart. They often base their decisions on experience, what kind of sound the machine is making, or just old-fashioned gut feeling. This is a perfect pattern to be further explored. Again, with a variety of methods.
- In all cases, our aim is to improve the business. As such, it is clear that the prioritization could be the same in most cases. The cases with the highest business impact and highest return-in-investment (ROI) will be the most important.
This is not the whole story: How this blog series will continue
The idea of this series is to outline the overall journey. We also plan to complement this series with additional blogs, videos and SAP EA Explorer topics over the next 6 to 12 months. As a result, we will return to topics like the analytical approach with more details as soon as we have new content available. And of course, we will connect these blogs with the series here.
Once you have realized the relevance of IoT in general, it is important to find the right place to start your IoT-driven business improvement. As far as I can see, the starting point is not technology but your BUSINESS. We have started evaluating different approaches in order to find a relevant starting point. While you could draw inspiration from other customer cases, we see greater potential in an analytical approach. Based on well-defined business and user patterns, we believe that finding relevant starting points, considering YOUR environment, is much easier.
Stay tuned with us and this blog series, to keep track on upcoming blogs and content.
Step 3 of this blog series: Characteristics of an Enterprise IoT Strategy – Part 3: Identify your options