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Author's note: I'm going to preface this article with an important qualifier. I'm incredibly bullish on the potential of technologies that currently fall under the IoT umbrella. I've carried IoT in some form as part of my job description for the last 15 years or so. Unfortunately, the term and its many definitions have become so dilute that it's time we start to consider retiring it entirely. Maybe we should just go back to calling it the internet.
It is a recurring theme across enterprises, whether startups or Fortune 100: IoT is more complicated than we'd hoped. From the early promises of the first IoT platforms to the utter confusion of the hundreds that followed in those footsteps, the IoT ecosystem is still a Wild West of vendors, slide decks and handwaving. And the customers suffer for it.
The failure rate for IoT projects is estimated to be anywhere from 50% to 75%. Including all of the one-offs and home lab proofs of concept makes that rate far higher. Like the cloud -- and just about every other massive technology trend before it -- IoT was a product before it was out of the cradle. Nobody wanted to miss the bus this time, and the market acted before it really stopped to think about the basics. So, what is IoT, and why would we use it?
The internet of things isn't really a "thing." It is a means, not the end. Smart businesses don't go out and make million-dollar commitments to technology without having a problem to solve and a goal in mind. Thinking of IoT, cloud, AI, augmented reality and any other emerging technology as a means to an outcome is the best way to take advantage of their capabilities and incremental investments made in them to achieve business goals. A few examples:
Bboxx. The solar energy manufacturer wanted to use data to drive the business by monitoring its 85,000 geographically dispersed solar rooftop units. The company would use the data collected to provide insights into customer use and anomaly detection. IoT technology made this possible and Bboxx now provides safe electricity to over 350,000 people across 35 countries. With solar lighting, children can study without inhaling soot and fumes from burning kerosene lamps.
Flexcity. Customers use Flexcity services to monitor and manage electrical devices in real time with IoT technology. The publicly traded company and subsidiary of Veolia in France also reduces customers' energy costs and monitors the electrical supply to dynamically shed electricity load or store excess electricity as part of the grid balancing and demand response system.
Accuhealth. This remote patient monitoring platform was formed when a group of cybersecurity practitioners decided to look at the telehealth business through the lens of analytics and IoT. Using modern digital technologies, they collect and analyze physiological data like weight, blood pressure and pacemaker metrics virtually from patients in the comfort of their own home. When Accuhealth's patient monitoring system detects anomalies or out-of-range readings, it triggers a workflow and a team of nurses and medical assistants to address the situation, including the patients' primary care providers when necessary. This IoT-enhanced approach to healthcare challenges delivers better patient compliance, adherence to medical plans, and both short- and long-term improvements in health indicators like blood pressure, glucose and body weight.
These examples are exactly the type of success stories so many organizations hope to tell. Anyone can invest in technology. It's the important first step of identifying a problem that needs solving. Investment is also critical to the ongoing initiative of adopting new technologies as they intersect with specific requirements within a solution and accelerate innovation, improve outcomes and differentiate offerings.
Just don't make the common mistake of thinking that technology alone will solve an organization's or customers' biggest challenges. The early collaboration between people and the careful consideration of processes is the key to success. This isn't only the key for IoT, but also for IT, AI, cloud and any technology megatrend worth an organization's time, energy and investment.
About the author
Brian Gilmore is director of IoT product management at InfluxData, the creators of InfluxDB. He has focused the last decade of his career on working with organizations around the world to drive the unification of industrial and enterprise IoT with machine learning, cloud and other transformational technology trends.