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Four keys to failure: How IoT projects crash and burn

These days, the only debate on the value of the internet of things is just how big the market will be, with the latest round of estimates putting the potential figure as high as half a trillion dollars by 2022. With that much up for grabs, it’s no surprise that businesses are fighting tooth and nail to capitalize on their ideal use cases in IoT.

But, amid all that hope and potential, there’s a worrying trend of failure. In May, only 26% of IT and business decision-makers reported that their IoT projects could be considered a success, and some 60% of IoT initiatives were reported to have stalled at the proof-of-concept (POC) stage.

Accepting failures and the lessons they bring firsthand are an old adage of the business world, with inspirational quotes lining airport bookshelves the world over. But, if companies are to be truly successful in IoT, there are some factors that lead to failure that they should not ignore. By avoiding these common roots of failure in IoT, teams can get closer to their own achievements and capitalize on the industry’s opportunity.

So what are these common roots of failure in IoT?

Running before you can walk — not testing proofs of concept

Perhaps as a result of those lofty market valuations, IoT has taken on the nature of a modern-day gold rush, with businesses jumping headlong into projects without first taking the time to adequately test their proofs of concept. That’s all the more evident by the finding that more than half of IoT professionals (note: registration required) themselves struggle to quantify the return on investment or define a real business use for their projects.

A lack of proven business models and applications in IoT has led to the failures of new and untested ones. Instead of running guns blazing into IoT projects, businesses can prevent failure by taking a gradual ramp-up approach, and testing their PoCs can play a vital role in that approach. As tempting as it might be to scale as quickly as possible to beat potential competition, teams can reap far greater benefits by testing use cases in live environments on a small scale, adopting learnings and making changes before proceeding to full-scale development and deployment.

Getting trapped in the skills gap

The labor market is already tight, with nearly 60% of employers in the United States seeing job openings stay vacant for three months or more. Add to that the complex skills that IoT teams demand and their projects are at risk of failure, not from lack of good intentions, but from a lack of adequate skilled professionals to bring those projects to fruition.

In fact, some of the toughest skill sets to hire for are in the highest demand for IoT projects. When asked about technological skills necessary for IoT success, and the difficulty faced in hiring for those skills, IoT professionals ranked data analytics and big data first (75% and 35%), followed by embedded software development (71% and 33%) and IT security (68% and 31%).

The skills gap isn’t going away anytime soon, so it’s time that businesses realized they have another route to success in IoT. Instead of looking to hire for complex skills, it’s time to simplify the development process behind these projects. Devices and the related software should be built with the aim of being easy enough for anyone in the organization to manage, monitor and use, regardless of their background knowledge or personal skillset.

Trying to do everything from scratch

Many businesses are convinced that the key to IoT success, from a monetary standpoint, is owning the entire development process from silicon to software. It’s an understandable approach, given the potential value when monetizing a successful IoT project, but the alternatives offer far more efficiency without the drawbacks that some might have thought existed.

On the hardware side, the marketplace has a multitude of excellent off-the-shelf products on offer, powered by the affordability of general-purpose compute in the form of devices such as the ever-versatile Raspberry Pi ecosystem. The capabilities of these devices, as the foundation of IoT products and services, make it difficult to justify the cost of custom silicon and could empower a far more cost-efficient approach to IoT projects.

The same can be said of software, particularly with the advent of open source applications. Instead of building their software from scratch, IoT teams could turn instead to the thousands of existing, proven and supported open source applications, modifying and combining these applications to form the software functionality of their devices.

By relying on proven, flexible software and hardware, rather than trying to go it alone, IoT professionals stand a far greater chance of success.

Not preparing for the future

IoT projects don’t always crash and burn in development. They can be brought down when they’ve already gone to market, with repercussions throughout the development team for future iterations of devices.

For years, the biggest blind spot for IoT has been the security of devices once dispatched into the wild. The scale of these vulnerabilities have only come to light in the wake of major botnet attacks, with security experts estimating millions of devices weren’t patched to protect against new threats, or had been sold with default, crackable passwords that were almost impossible for the average user to change.

We might be aware of that threat now, but we’re far from solving it. A whopping 88% of IoT professionals don’t see the provision and installation of regular updates as a challenge, and while some may hold that perspective because they’re able to deliver the patches they need, it’s hard to imagine that the majority have figured the problem out. This situation is compounded by the fact that for many verticals, for example, industrial, devices will remain in the market far longer than typical IT infrastructure. The need for a partner who can address both updates and a long-term OS support strategy is critical.

If IoT projects and the teams that build them are to be successful beyond the initial deployment of their devices, they must answer the question of live device patching in the real world. Have their devices been developed with the ability to push and install updates remotely, to ensure they are as secure as possible?

Without that assurance, any IoT project is one bad attack away from failure, even years after it first appeared on the drawing board.

Anticipating common mistakes to make your own

Even when considering and preparing for these four common roots of failure in IoT, projects can and will still fail. But, by avoiding the most frequent mistakes, businesses won’t need to worry about getting caught up in these larger, more critical problems that can bring an entire project down. Instead, they can get closer to the success they seek from IoT by uncovering new, nuanced learnings.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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