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Three ways humans power the industrial internet of things

The industrial internet of things market is exploding. As a matter of fact, Gartner predicts it’s on pace to reach $80 billion by the end of 2017. Much of this growth is fueled by the promise of what IoT can ultimately deliver with the integration of machine learning and AI technology. And the progress toward this end goal can be seen all around; businesses everywhere are using IoT platforms to gather key equipment data, analyze it and automate the delivery of that logic back to edge devices in a self-servicing and self-maintaining technology ecosystem. This level of automation has many in the industry warning that machines will rise up, though, or as Elon Musk put it, “that building a general AI will summon the devil.”

While the “robots will kill us all” commentary makes for great headlines, the reality is for now, and well into the future, humans will play a vital part in rolling out IoT technology initiatives at industrial organizations. From data scientists to IT and operations managers, humans are driving many of the modern IoT decisions being made today. Here’s how:

1. Sound strategy starts with having the right goals

A successful IoT implementation starts with stakeholders identifying specific business outcomes and use cases where IoT can help. Having this foundation drives the design of the IoT strategy. For example, in the industrial space, a manufacturing company might set out to improve equipment uptime across thousands of pieces of equipment. Or a fleet operator might want to reduce warranty and service costs.

Once a business has identified the desired outcomes, stakeholders from all of the business units impacted by the implementation will need to work together to develop a clearly defined strategy for reaching the set goal.

There are a number of questions that will need to be asked of the group at this stage of planning. How will the technology be deployed — cloud, on premises or a hybrid? If cloud, is there a preferred platform — AWS, Google or Azure? Is there legacy equipment, such as sensors, that can be used? What is the budget? Buy or use a subscription?

2. Selecting the right technology partner

Selecting the right set of technologies is vital for achieving IoT success. This step requires the critical thinking and guidance of multiple subject matter experts (SMEs) who must not only consider what they need today, but what their requirements will be in six months, even six years down the road. And with more than 300 IoT platforms on the market today, picking a technology partner can be a difficult and time-consuming task. But there are some questions that stakeholders can ask that will reveal which suitors are the strongest fit, such as:

  • Does the technology exist today? Most businesses don’t want to wait for their solution to be built. Ask if the technology — in its entirety — is available today.
  • Who are your customers? What are their results? In most instances, it’s going to be critical to know that the technology has been successful for others. Ask about earlier deployments, what challenges they faced and ask to speak with references.
  • How will you support my organization? No one wants to be left in the cold after purchasing a product. Find out how the technology partner will support your business over the long term. It’s common to need a mix of skilled experts, ranging from embedded systems (Android, Linux, Microsoft, Windows Embedded and QNX) and data science (data cleansing, machine learning and behavioral modeling) to cloud technologies (network, storage, compute and platform services). Can your partner provide the technical talent that you will need?

It’s easy to go with the major brands in the IoT space. After all, they’re a household name and probably spend millions of dollars marketing to buyers. But there are a number of benefits to working with a mid-sized company or specialist. Oftentimes, they can be up and running faster, less expensive and offer more attentive support.

3. Mapping out the deployment

Implementing IoT is best accomplished as a set of steps rather than an all-or-nothing approach. It is important to look at IoT not just as a journey, but a maturity progression as an organization’s needs and adoption of IoT change.

The IoT Maturity Index outlines the stages commonly associated with IoT technology adoption. Each phase typically builds on the previous one, allowing stakeholders to drive maximum value as they progress through the index. Some examples of how people contribute to each of the stages include:

  1. Device connectivity — Humans continue to play a role in the initial provisioning and commissioning of IoT devices.
  2. Data monitoring — Dashboards and other visualizations often require interpretation to determine the appropriate actions.
  3. Data analytics — Machine learning is most effective when SMEs refine the results.
  4. Automation — Operations in regulated industries require audits to ensure automated activities remain in compliance.
  5. Edge computing — The selection of where to run logic in order to maximize the effectiveness of a technology requires architects to design.

Set your business up for IoT success

It’s critical that businesses never undervalue the role of people in the planning, execution and management of an IoT program. They are an organization’s most precious resource. So, whether an IoT program is well underway, just getting started or lacking results, it’s never too late go back and review the level of human involvement. Are stakeholders from all the necessary business, technology and upper-level management units contributing to and playing a role in the plan? Are any skill sets lacking? Stakeholders are bound to be disappointed with progress if they expect the smart devices to do all of the critical thinking.

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