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Looking Beyond IoT Technology To Discover True Business Success

When looking at the Internet of Things (IoT) market, the first thing that springs to mind is all of those “Things.” This year alone, there will be 6.4 billion connected things in use around the world. This according to Gartner, is a 30 percent increase from 2015. Whether they be consumer, business or industrial, these devices are changing the way the world works, and that’s incredibly exciting.

However, IoT initiatives aren’t just exciting—they can also be complex and ambiguous. In a world of things, it can be easy to lose sight of the ultimate business requirements of any project –  the need to generate a return on that effort and investment. There are many reasons businesses today tend to focus on the “Things” first. Connecting these devices together and to the internet, of course, requires several different technologies: devices, applications, hardware, software, platforms, wireless connectivity, back-office support systems—the list goes on and on. These technologies continue to improve each day, and there’s a significant amount of buzz that occurs with each new technology announcement. We’re seeing significant progress in terms of interoperability of devices with common protocols and web or mobile interfaces.

Despite these terrific technology advances, it is time to look past the buzz and realize that there’s a significant gap in the way we’re approaching the IoT market. Too many IoT projects begin with a bottom-up approach, assembling the disparate technologies first and then expecting to achieve a valuable result. This route is likely to create disappointment for several reasons. Regardless of how exceptional the parts are, initiatives that focus first on the “Things” create a vulnerable, frail patchwork system that will struggle to scale because it is not defined to operate in concert with business objectives and at the direction of business processes.

Companies can’t achieve their IoT goals through technology. Technical successes do not properly address the hardest obstacles to ensure business success: business process validation through implementation success. The sheer variety of technologies, while indicative of the pervasiveness of the opportunity at hand, is a distraction to the bigger picture. Because of that, most IoT initiatives are standalone projects doomed to limited success or even failure because they are isolated from the broader systems that can unlock their full potential.

ADDRESSING THE BUSINESS DECISIONS

So how can business turn the tables and release that full potential? To implement a successful IoT strategy, they must implement a “business first, product second” approach. Such an approach elevates the value of both the business and the product by aligning our connected products to our business objectives and existing systems. The process begins with addressing the business decisions that will facilitate later success.

The IoT is unique, and it’s turning traditional product design on its head. The industry is investing significant time and money connecting to these products in order to access their data. Managing their capabilities means we are turning our products into solutions that are actually part of systems. The IoT dissolves the separation between product design and business design. The sooner the industry realizes our focus thus far has been misdirected, the sooner it will begin to see more successful IoT applications. An architecture that reconciles both sides of this equation will become necessary in order for companies to adapt and scale.

So rather than placing focus on technical scalability, companies need to focus on operational scalability. This will allow traditional business systems to manage endpoints that are orders of magnitude more numerous than our customers, ensuring that the volume of data being received is made relevant and actionable. We must align connected products to existing business applications to enable companies to support those products and their related transactions. Successful IoT solutions must be designed to ensure that the products we connect and the solutions we build around them operate in the direction of the business, not the other way around. Business first, product second. Anything else will bring our transaction systems—and the people supporting them—to their knees and ensure failure.

ACHIEVING CONSISTENCY AND CONTROL THROUGH BUSINESS PROCESSES

I mentioned earlier that we’re seeing significant progress in terms of interoperability of devices with common protocols and web or mobile interfaces. However, the IoT is still a series of fragmented pieces waiting to be joined together. A strategy of “business first, product second” will position companies to overcome this interoperability challenge, which some have dubbed the biggest obstacle to IoT success. Security considerations aside, the inability to achieve interoperability between the product and the business processes is the single largest limiting factor in the success and monetization of an IoT initiative. A huge variety of technologies are needed to support the realities of a messy edge environment but they must be represented in a way that is familiar to the business. The process of representing all of these technologies is difficult, but it’s a requirement for IoT success.

Devices and data are critical components of an IoT initiative, but they’re only as valuable as the business systems that support them. Only through proper alignment to business processes can companies achieve consistent, predictable and repeatable control over their device behavior and data access. This consistency is key for traditional business systems such as design, inventory, invoicing, sales and marketing to effectively act on and interact with those products. After all, despite its focus on “Things”, the real value of the Internet of Things is the data we receive and the new ways we can create value by acting on and learning from it. Business-centric solutions will help provide these products the context necessary to fully realize these advantages. We call the maximization of this process the Return on Connectivity®.

Much like the IoT is turning product design on its ear, it’s also flipping the equation between business and technology. Those companies that wholeheartedly embrace this line of thinking and strive to achieve such interoperability will win the race and become the disruptors in this new, connected era. The resulting design efficiencies, process innovation, automation, and organizational agility will result in new business models that yield strong competitive advantages that will further accelerate their efforts.

The IoT is a big pond and there are companies that will embrace this mindset quickly and see tremendous success. These disruptors will face strong competition as their success is revealed, but it won’t come from companies that continued to evaluate technologies without taking into account the tremendous potential of the IoT and the business drivers that would make it a success for their company.