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“Making sense of the sensors” by Rob Bamforth, Timefort

In advance of speaking at our upcoming WorkNation: The IoT Edition event due to take place later this year, Steve Reynolds, Technology Evangelist at Totalmobile sat down with Rob Bamforth, an independent industry analyst who has spent the last 20 years looking at the evolution of technology in the mobile, Internet of Things and collaboration spaces. They discussed how the immediate role that IoT must play in driving innovation within organisations and the things they need to take into consideration to deploy early projects.

Steve: A while back we were chatting about the challenges and opportunities around IoT deployment and what I would like to do today is elaborate on that.

If you look at what’s happening in the marketplace and what the analysts are saying, it’s the land of opportunity at the moment. 127 devices are being connected every second. However, according to Cisco over 74% of pilots tend not to advance to full scale roll out. Regarding the implementation landscape out there, what are you seeing around how businesses are going about this?

Rob: The challenge for most businesses is how to make sense of the sensors. How to make something useful out of it, that supports the business and drives business goals forward, rather than trying out ideas, just because the technology permits it. Most organisations that have been trying Proof of Concepts started off with good intentions but have probably gone about it the wrong way. They focused first on the technology and what it can do, but a key question is what are these things going to do for the business? And in order to answer that question you have to ask the business people. You have to get them engaged right at the outset. They have to be asked what it is they need in order to make the business more effective and more efficient to address challenges and constraints. What is the information they are missing in order to improve the business? That’s the critical question.

Steve: I couldn’t agree with you more. So how should organisations go about that, what should be their starting point? What would your advice be around that?

Rob: I think the first thing to understand is identifying where the gaps are. There are gaps in knowledge and probably in flow of information.

The first thing to do is get together a team of people who have the right skills, including knowledge about the business and the business requirements. But also include some technical understanding around how to pull things together. This means conversations cannot only be exploratory around what we can do in terms of a trial, but also around how we can take this further to make sure it has a real impact on the business.

What that will also probably highlight is where there are gaps. Gaps in the technical knowledge and in the deployment knowledge of how to scale something like this. It is important, early on, to identify where these gaps are and to understand where you must reach out to find partners who can help fill those gaps.

First stage is to get together internally, identify what the goals are and where you are trying to get to, but also identify where there are constraints in terms of scaling to ensure it’s a significant and important deliverable for the business. That’s where you start to understand where skills might be missing and where external partners need to be brought in to fill some of those gaps.

Steve: We’ve found the problem, we’ve got the necessary skill sets internally, we have engaged with a partner that can actually help us do this. What should be the next stage in terms of how do we test this technology?

Rob: I think the first thing to do is start gathering the data. It might be unfeasible to gather the data that is required, so often there is an element of piloting and some Proof of Concepts that needs to happen. Can we collect the data we need, can we do it efficiently and effectively and to scale, so that we have the information that helps move towards the result we are trying to achieve?

Steve: I guess from an operational side of the business, there are lots of different projects that they’ll be looking to do. I know in our experience what tends to happen is people can get excited about the technology and we end up, if were not careful, boiling the ocean. Prioritisation is really important. Are there any quick wins you could give the audience in simple methodology in terms of prioritatisation?

Rob: When you first look at a business issue that you are trying to fix you, have to know what the fix means. So there has to be some measurable outcomes that you can understand, so that you can evidence that you’ve made the improvement.

There is a real risk, with a lot of these projects, that they scale up to try to fix everything. That’s not the right approach. The right approach is to build a short-term fix to a problem, that is measurable, and you can then iterate. I would say that with all IoT projects the real risk is trying to go too big.

While we understand that there is a need to scale, the best approach is to try and get a measurable result quickly and then iterate and improve on that. In terms of any form of deployment, in any sort of organisation there are often known unknowns. The organisation can say, “if only we knew this, we would be able to do ‘X’ and we would be able to measure ‘X’ as the output.”

Now those are the sort of things to tackle first. Where there is a known problem, but there is unknown information that would help solve that problem and there is a measurable result in terms of output. Tackle that and then look to build on that.

I think an important thing in terms of scaling is that it should not just be necessarily about rolling out bigger & bigger numbers, but also about addressing business problems that relate to or can build upon previously fixed business problems. When people talk about IoT scaling I think that’s where they can get a bit overawed in terms of thinking about rolling out massive, massive networks of multiple devices, that’s not the way to do it.

The way to do it is to fix a business problem, then look for the next incremental business problem to fix. That may involve some more technology, but it may not. It might just be a way of understanding the information you’ve already got and sharing it more widely internally and then looking for other things you can fix. How can you action the information that you’ve gathered is the critical thing, that’s what organisations need to do.

Steve: Thank you Rob for that insight into the business process of engaging and working with IoT. This is just a small excerpt from what  we will be discussing at our WorkNation: The IoT Edition event that will appear in the calendars once we get over the COVID crisis. In the meantime we hope to bring you more rich information to help guide you to how best embrace this wonderful technology.

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