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Succeed in enterprise IoT: Narrow your focus and focus your vision

According to a recent Cisco survey, 60% of IoT projects stall at the proof-of-concept stage. And of the 40% of IoT projects that made it past the proof-of-concept stage, only 26% were considered a success. That adds up to a pretty dismal success rate. Is this indicative of IoT being overhyped and oversold? Or, to borrow from Gartner, is this just IoT slipping into the “trough of disillusionment” before finding that “slope of enlightenment?” Having talked to many organizations evaluating IoT projects, many organizations perhaps set the bar too high with their initial IoT projects, and then find it difficult to tie together too many disparate systems and apps, and then keep track of everything. This was reinforced by the same Cisco survey that identified two main failure points for IoT projects: integration complexity and lack of internal expertise. Based on my research and time spent helping customers to deploy IoT projects, I’ve seen two crucial elements that set the projects up for success in the long run. Enterprises stepping into IoT initiatives, need to “narrow your focus” and “focus your vision” by starting with more narrowly defined IoT projects, drilling in on how IoT can be an enabler for solving specific business problems to set the project up for success.

Step one for IoT success: Narrow your focus

Already there is evidence of a shift to a more focused and specialized approach to building IoT technologies, something that may help to limit the overall complexity and integration challenges that come from using generic tools to solve a complex problem. One recent example recently was GE acknowledging that building a horizontal IoT platform stack is perhaps a challenge too large, and in order to succeed as an IoT service provider, you need to narrow your focus — and in the case of GE, that means selecting specific industries where it can focus its IoT technology efforts. While the big horizontal cloud providers, such as Microsoft and Amazon, may dominate at the compute and IoT platform layer, it is down at the orchestration layer where this specialization will take root. Essentially focusing the movement of information between users, IoT devices, enterprise applications and cloud services on a specific and narrowly defined business problem, while using tools and techniques optimized for solving that type of problem.

I witnessed this focus firsthand in conversations with healthcare organizations. After the initial broader and more technology-focused experimentation, these organizations then started to invest in a variety of very specific, very focused IoT workflows. Just some of the examples I encountered included automating the movement of patient data from a smart device to a medical record within a patient space, accelerating the movement of patient data to clinicians based on clinician location, or orchestrating the tracking of and locating of medical equipment in use across the organization. These were unique solutions focused on solving specific business problems as part of a broader digital transformation initiative. And rather than attempt to build these IoT workflows in house, they were instead looking toward service providers and system integrators with expertise in that area, or also looking to healthcare-focused startups to assist with these efforts. This is not unique to healthcare; similar examples can be found across any industry. This was reinforced in a recent survey from Vanson Bourne where 74% of enterprises said they planned to work with external partners in building their IoT systems.

Step two for IoT success: Focus your vision

This narrowed focus speaks to the evolving maturity of enterprise IoT and will help enterprises reduce complexity in their digital transformation initiatives. Yet, it only speaks to solving one piece of the puzzle. As organizations invest in these IoT workflows tying together devices, things, users, cloud services and on-premises applications, they are effectively stretching their network boundaries to anywhere these connections occur. While Metcalfe’s law speaks to the inherent value of these connections, managing and securing these connections will require a level of visibility that most organizations are not accustomed to. This will require complete east-west-north-south visibility and visibility into the event streams generated by every interconnected device, thing and application tied to any IoT workflow. And this visibility needs to be in real time to allow for rapid responsiveness in optimizing, troubleshooting and securing IoT workflows. While this sounds like you need to broaden your visibility by casting a wider net, in reality it actually means you need to focus your vision by putting your network data into the relevant business context. This necessitates taking a more proactive, analytical and business-focused approach to network visibility. The challenge is that this level of network agility, visualization and analytical capabilities has been traditionally unavailable to the enterprise. The good news is that there is an evolving category that speaks to this type of focus, something Gartner is referring to as “NetOps 2.0.” This moves from thinking of NetOps as a tool for optimizing network performance toward a methodology for helping business initiatives to succeed.


The reality is that most organizations are investing in IoT, with efforts increasingly tied to solving problems related to their overall digital transformation strategy. While many initial IoT projects may have floundered at the proof-of-concept phase, organizations have learned from those initial challenges and are starting to narrow their focus, defining concrete business objectives they want to tackle, working with service providers who are also narrowing their focus. Yet the enterprise must not forget to also focus their vision, ensuring as their IoT workflows touch devices, things, apps and users across the globe that they have the visibility required to ensure that these workflows, and the business objectives they are tied to, are optimized for success.

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