10 ways to prepare enterprises for the Internet of Things

What IoT visionaries need to do to help create entire new categories of opportunities for their enterprises.

Preparing an enterprise to embrace the Internet of Things means more than simply linking with remote devices or sensors. The IoT means rethinking an organization's relationship with technology, and the possibilities that are opening up. These possibilities go far beyond what anyone could have even imagined a couple of years ago.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

Managers and employees need to recognize that IoT is not simply a technology, but a new way of doing business. It means a 24x7 relationship with customers. It means employing analytics to understand and predict product performance.

These and other shifts were explored by Maciej Kranz, vice president of Cisco's Strategic Innovations Group, who observes that many of the pieces of IoT success are not yet in place at enterprises. In his latest book, Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, and Transform Your Industry, Kranz lays out the key steps required to move into the IoT sphere:

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Think different, don't be afraid to be unconventional. The IoT visionary "isn't being asked to invent, engineer, or build IoT," need not be a scientist or an engineer," Kranz observes. "What this visionary really needs to be is inquisitive, thoughtful, and something of a maverick, because the business and its processes need to be looked at in new, possibly unconventional ways."

Start with the business opportunity, not the technology. "The primary goal of IoT is to solve business problems, not enrich technology vendors or excite the company's tech geeks with a cool project," Kranz says, urging IoT proponents to also ignore the hype and focus on the business justification. "If you can't identify the business justification for your IoT project right away, then continue learning, experimenting, and benchmarking your results against your peers' results," he states. This is also a good time to seek out an executive champion to provide visibility and guidance at the C-suite level. A grassroots effort will only go so far,

Start with easy-to-solve problems. There are many basic problems that have been flummoxing enterprises for years, such as having real-time access to remote operations, or addressing product failure in a timely manner. Pick out the low-hanging fruit to start IoT efforts, then move on from there. "Think big, but start small," Kranz advises. "Start with a low-risk project that has clear benefits, then become increasingly more ambitious as your expertise and support grow."

Do it as a team and as an enterprise -- and standardize as much as possible. "Lone wolves won't succeed with IoT. This is a team sport," Kranz says. Assemble an "ecosystem of partners from inside and outside the company, and make sure they can work together well. Adjust the processes and KPIs appropriately. Insist on open standards throughout."

Leverage the power of established relationships and the installed base. The key to IoT success rests with partners and industry players as much as it does with the internal enterprise itself. "Many traditional industries have well established long-term sets of ecosystems and relationships," Kranz points out. "Some of these players are eager and willing to be change agents, but many will resist." The key to overcoming industry-level resistance, he states, is to "seek openness."

Plan for change management. A strategic and long-term focus on organizational resistance and change management is key. "IoT is a multi-step journey to change how your organization operates and delivers value," says Kranz. "You can assume there will be organizational resistance along the way; prepare for an enduring effort to combat it." It's important to broadcast both successes and failures to the rest of the enterprise as well, he urges.

Put integration first. Most organizations have large stables of existing technologies and data stores that weren't designed with the IoT in mind. "Most IoT projects are implemented in brownfield environments," Kranz observes. "Pursue an aggressive but thoughtful plan to replace proprietary systems with open standards. IoT systems need to be a part of the enterprise infrastructure. Above all else, strive for nothing short of complete interoperability, he adds. Compromising on interoperability "will doom your project to a very short life and cost you a bundle."

Lead with data and apps, not the connected devices. "Applications and data analytics are key IoT solution elements," Kranz says. "They drive the need for device connectivity, not vice-versa."

Design IoT solutions with a proper security foundation. Very, very, very important -- botnets, for example, continue to wreak havoc with devices across the globe. "Integrate security into your methodology and implementation from the start, and make it everybody's job," Kranz advises.

Be open to multiple vendors, and co-develop solutions. Don't put all your IoT eggs into one basket, and don't depend on your vendor for everything. Keep an open architecture with standardized systems. "Don't just ask your vendors to develop a solution for you; co-develop it with them," says Kranz. "Resist the temptation to develop a custom solution. Insist on an open platform that can be adopted by the industry."

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