Over the last few months, I have used this blog series to discuss a significant number of aspects relevant for your IoT strategy. Although this series is called “Characteristics of an IoT Strategy” however, I have not actually mentioned the document detailing the IoT strategy.
Before taking a closer look at this part of the series, I would like to make all new readers aware of the previous parts of the series:
- Step 1: Identify the relevance
- Step 2: Define a starting point
- Step 3: Identify your options
- Step 4: Create prototypes
In this part of the blog series I would like to share my thoughts about the major aspects that need to be considered when defining the IoT strategy. In particular, I would like to help people who have no prior experience of building strategies to get an idea of what things to keep in mind.
So in other words, my intention is not to discuss the topic of strategy planning in all its facets. I assume that people involved in working out strategies as part of their daily business will know much more than I could describe in this blog.
The evolution of a strategy
A strategy doesn’t simply fall into your lap. It typically starts with a small idea and evolves over time. As such, a strategy might start with nothing more than a rough vision and a rough draft of a mission.
For this blog series, I have used the image of a journey map that leads from the start, where you need to learn the basics, to the day where you execute your strategy. In reality however, you will have to repeat this journey several times to gather findings, improve your skills, and evolve your strategy.
In the picture below, I have mapped the journey to the project flow that I used to use back in the days when I would discuss UX strategies.
An important point of this image is the “continuous improvement”. The first time you follow the journey you will probably just be seeking to develop a lighthouse scenario. Maybe just a small prototype. After that, you will continue in the discover phase to define new starting points, identify new options and create other prototypes.
Through this series of iterations, your strategy will evolve in several stages that I would label thus:
- Rough vision
Before a real project (and resources) is available, the rough vision provides a first idea of what could be achieved.
- Initial IoT Strategy
Evolved from the rough vision, the initial strategy provides more content on the required missions, and a more precise vision.
- Validated IoT Strategy
The validated strategy evolves from the initial strategy and incorporates more findings from the prototype(s). This might also include enterprise policies or alignments with other strategies like the IT strategy or security strategy.
- Finalized IoT Strategy
The measure phases in particular will provide valuable input to finalize the strategy. This will be the strategy document for any additional IoT projects in the future.
The point at which these various stages are passed depends on the depth and complexity of each iteration. You will no doubt be familiar with the phrase “Think big and start small”, and I for one wholeheartedly endorse this statement. When it comes to persuading your company’s management of the benefits of your strategy, you will also gain significantly from having a small lighthouse project to highlight your findings and ideas. So as you can see, starting small provides opportunities and learnings without a great deal of risk.
Influence factors for your IoT strategy
From my experience at customers, the beginning of what we later call a strategy very often starts with a simple idea. In some cases, this idea was fortunately started within management and as such will be viewed favorably when it comes to allocating budget and resources. In other cases, the idea might originate with someone else, who then needs to persuade management to back it. This alone indicates one of the major influencing factors: you and your individual situation. The other factor is your company’s situation, and the strategies that already exist.
It’s quite obvious that you normally will not start from a green field. Your company is in a specific industry, with a competitive environment and market in place. The industry might be a good indicator to help find ideas for where to start, as best practices are often mapped to certain industries. I therefore see this more as a positive influence on your work. The IT landscape and the existing know-how can be a negative influence in some cases however. As such, you might need to optimize or extend your landscape, or invest in training or education.
Existing enterprise strategies
We can assume that various strategies have already been defined in your company. The business strategy for instance can provide us with interesting business goals such as “increase productivity” or “increase level of innovation” that we can use as starting points. Nowadays you might also find a digital transformation strategy, which would typically include cloud computing, user experience (UX), big data and security, together with other aspects such as IoT.
The other important strategy to look into is the IT strategy. Depending on the depth of your existing IT strategy, it might provide you with details on accepted deployment like “on-premise only”, “cloud preferred” or “hybrid”. Other examples of interesting definitions could be whether and in which way custom developments are acceptable. This can already define the framework in which the project needs to start.
In the context of IoT, the question of security is usually the first to come up in discussions. There might be a specific security strategy in your company, or there will at the very least be security-relevant parameters defined in your IT strategy. This can be valuable as a first input on how to process and store data, or how to handle devices inside and outside the company.
There are a lot of other aspects that might be part of your IT strategy, like a device strategy, cloud strategy, and operating strategy. For your IoT strategy in particular, all these aspects can play a part, as IoT touches a lot of different areas in your IT environment.
As I mentioned above, you too are an influencing factor. More specifically, it is your role, and the stakeholders around you, that define how you will start. Depending on your role, you might not have a real project yet, just some budget to start a small lighthouse activity. Maybe you are even in a situation where you need to persuade your management to back an IoT-driven activity in your company. All this of course goes to define the resources and budgets that are available to you.
It’s possible that you might not find yourself in the midst of IoT experts in your company. But what exactly is an IoT expert? In my eyes, this expertise will always be distributed across various roles, such as enterprise architects, IT architects, business owners, and security experts. I think the most important roles in the beginning include YOU, a data analyst and a “technical guy”, together with colleagues who are keen to do user and process research. The people you start with should learn some of the basics about IoT and the opportunities it presents. In the early stages, my recommendation would be to look for people who are open-minded about modern methods such as design thinking, and then start identifying starting points and options in depth.
Your current findings
It is obvious that your findings from the previous steps in the journey will influence your strategy. Your rough vision can help you to convince your management and stakeholders. And the detailed findings from steps two to four in your journey will provide you with additional information that can help to detail out your missions, goals and objectives. These findings should also indicate whether you can work inside the given boundaries of your company, or where existing enterprise strategies might require “optimization”.
The components of a strategy
Although many of you will already be familiar with this, I would like to provide a recap about the essential parts of any strategy:
- A vision (FUTURE)
The vision describes the future of your company after successful completion of the strategy
- Several missions, goals and objectives (PRESENT)
From a high level to a more detailed level, the missions, goals and objectives define what has to be done at present in order to turn the vision into reality later.
- A set of meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs)
Without indicators, it is not possible to measure the results of your strategy. This is essential both to ensure that you know where you are in terms of progress and– as mentioned earlier – to promote your strategy and make sure you get budget for it.
As I mentioned at the beginning, your strategy can evolve. So you might not need to have the perfect vision right from the start. A rough vision that outlines the future you have in mind can be good enough to begin with. Over time, you will optimize the vision and identify the right missions, goals and objectives.
The journey that I have been discussing about since part one of this series might be no more than an introduction to more or larger IoT journeys. In other words, you should establish a strategy that incorporates a continuous improvement process to stabilize previous results and constantly search for new opportunities for improvement. Your vision will quickly benefit from this, and you will be able to define missions, goals and objectives much more precisely with every new journey.
Your strategy is subject to a lot of influencing factors. For me, the most significant impact originates from strategies that already exist, including the business strategy and (if you have one) a transformation strategy.
In the next and last part of this series of blogs, I will discuss the execution of your strategy, provide some ideas that can help you become faster, and give you an idea of how I plan to build on this series as the year unfolds.
All the best,
PS: The next blog of this series is Characteristics of an Enterprise IoT Strategy – Part 6: Execute your IoT strategy