Who’s in charge? Is it the engineering manager selecting building blocks for putting the platform together? Could it be the IT leader preparing data lakes for absorbing the output of analog machines into the digital domain? Perhaps, the Chief Digital Officer creating a vision for the future is in charge? Maybe it’s the product owner defining user stories. Or the GM with the business case? In reality, most industrial IoT projects have no clear owner at all. Perhaps surprisingly, research shows this might not be a problem. In fact, distributed ownership is often the most practical approach to achieving transformational results.
The IoT Imperative
Industrial IoT projects come in many shapes and sizes. First, there are capital equipment makers. These OEMs make welding machines, cutting tools, filter units, compressors, pumps, and other industrial machinery. Some of them have been around for 100 years. Now they face the existential threat of becoming commodities in a global, connected world. Many make more money from servicing their machines and selling consumables and replacement parts than from new unit sales. Unless they build deeper relationships with their customers, the whole company is at risk. Their industrial IoT projects aren’t just to reduce costs or generate new revenue. For many, transforming their standalone machines into connected product systems is a requirement of basic survival.
Second, there are industrial manufacturers who rely on these machines to produce their own products. These can be cars, chemicals, or cat food. They face the daily test of yields and costs. Unplanned downtime is murder on the bottom line. Waste and rework ruin margins. While data can help optimize production line OEE, this is no easy feat. First, they must tame the volume, variety, and velocity of data pouring from machines on the line into streams of useful information.
Third, many enterprises seek to transform distributed processes. Supply chains and other complex systems are fueled by data from machines, environmental conditions, and traditional data silos like ERPs and CRMs. These businesses start by connecting many different data sources. Then, they need to support and translate multiple formats. Moreover, each source has different access rules and security policies. Finally, data must be processed and presented in meaningful ways to automated systems and humans alike. Only then can it trigger actions that create value for the organization.
To Each Their Own
Every IoT project has several stakeholders. They come from different worlds. It’s the problem of the elephant in the darkroom — everybody is talking about it, but they’re describing different parts. Together, however, they form puzzle pieces creating a unified whole. Each one is critical. Product owners have requirements. IT teams have rules. Digital leaders have goals. Engineering has constraints. Moreover, sales and service teams have their own needs. IoT projects are not normal software projects. They affect everyone. But nobody has the full picture.
Solve the Whole Problem
The key to successful IoT projects is knowing what the end should look like at the start. Your organization hasn’t done this before. Do you have all the pieces you need? Think about putting a puzzle together without the image on the box. Or the number of pieces you need to complete the picture. Each piece is critical. But do you have them all? In the end, a puzzle with missing pieces is just an unusable coffee table. Often, it’s worse than no system at all. We call this upfront understanding your digital success plan.
Strategize for Total Solution Success
Putting any one group in charge adds risk to the IoT project. Obviously, there needs to be some central method for funding requests and approval. However, so many different groups participate in IoT projects it’s hard for anyone to keep the needs of all others in mind. Furthermore, attempting to do so hurts their ability to focus on their own goals. That’s what makes the digital success plan so key. It’s the map for all to see. It’s a holistic picture showing each domain connected to the rest. Now, the pieces know how to put themselves together. As with central funding, general project management is still needed. However, the role is for execution, not a definition.