The internet of things is here, and has been for some time. Pacesetters in this industry recognized long ago that industrial sites contain valuable data sources that can be tapped to make intelligent decisions about operations. IDC even predicted earlier this year that manufacturing, energy and utilities will be three of the top five industries to spend the most on IoT solutions by 2020.
While it’s true that many industrial organizations recognize the promise of IoT, many also still struggle with building a successful business case for IoT implementation. With multiple cells, lines and plants spread out across disparate locations, a full-scale IoT implementation can be seen as daunting and costly — and a huge risk for potential operational downtime.
A successful IoT effort requires much more than a software installation — it entails pairing a solution with a plan that best fits company processes and culture. More than anything else, IoT success relies on a business plan that won’t overwhelm the people involved in getting the actual work done.
The agile methodology is a nuanced approach to IoT implementation that can successfully address the complexities of connecting culture and technology. This framework breaks down an IoT installment into small, easily constrained projects in short-time horizons, called sprints. Contrary to longer, open-ended executions that can cause a complete culture shock, sprint projects can help stakeholders visualize what a large-scale implementation would look like in a tangible, intimate setting, then work to scale it over time.
Three standout benefits of the sprint approach are:
- You receive a quick evaluation and quantifiable progress (board room)
Where a full IoT implementation may take years to generate results, the sprint model can give company executives visible progress in just weeks. Organizations can quickly and cost-effectively provide real value and proof of concept in real-time, ensuring positive reinforcement among team members. This also allows companies to evaluate new technologies and stay nimble in their decision making. For example, after the first sprint, they may find that using multiple best-of-breed solutions works best, or that one solution used across multiple sites is a better fit. With an agile sprint methodology, they can quickly adjust to a new strategy, if needed.
- You can adjust your approach to target high-priority issues (machine shop floor)
Many of the infrastructures that organizations currently have in place are too static to keep pace with real-time operational issues. Working iteratively enables more flexibility for the change and evolution of product lifecycles. Sprint projects increase manufacturer productivity by pinpointing low-hanging, solvable problems — like floor-scheduling issues or asset-allocation processes — and directing teams on where to focus building the most essential functionalities.
- You can build a more connected company (internal departments)
Short-term projects rely on fine tuning and fast response to change, meaning that communication between project teams is crucial. While departments might not be focused on the exact same tasks, they all share the same strategic goal. This increased transparency across operations and information technology departments is central to IoT efforts. Teams are motivated to collaborate on products in completely new ways, resulting in shorter lead times, faster overall development efficiency, and more product updates and releases.
The right IoT solutions are out there, and they can provide countless benefits. The agile methodology is a proven approach — in fact, many IoT solutions are built via the agile development process, by vendors that know how to get the most out of iterative sprints. The agile methodology not only encourages collaboration between executives in the boardroom, manufacturers on the floor, and operations and IT departments, but it also brings together industrial automation software vendors and the companies they serve over a shared approach that targets successful cultural change as a key component to operational change.
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