Industrial leaders use the Internet of Things (IoT) to change the way they do business. They want to pursue digitization to make operations and infrastructure safer, more efficient, and more sustainable for their workers.
However, many fail to realize that big business process change is hard to get right. Organizations can’t simply add an IoT layer on top of existing infrastructure and expect it to create value.
When it comes to industrial operations, successful evolution is really the agglomeration of many smaller, incremental wins. Solving business problems with digital first means solving many smaller, technical data problems. Effective digital projects must aim for minor technical advancements that build on each other and make the lives of workers easier each step of the way. If leaders hand over digital tools that slow employees down, they simply won’t use them.
The challenge lies in making incremental updates quickly so that companies aren’t stuck in transition limbo between legacy processes and IoT-powered workflows. Industrial leaders need IoT solutions that can execute micro-level change quickly, as well as integrate well across the broader organization.
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Incremental vs. “Rip and Replace”
When it comes to IIoT deployments, rip-and-replace approaches don’t work.
Leaders should not try to overhaul their entire infrastructure as quickly as possible. Doing so increases risk and prevents operators from evaluating success across individual metrics.
By pursuing business process changes via rapid, incremental improvements, companies can enhance what already exists through localized, measured updates. They can also assess how isolated changes impact business operations as a whole.
The key is in establishing a solid foundation from the beginning. Technical changes should build on one another and eliminate roadblocks along the way. Simultaneously, employee workflows should adapt around the IIoT.
By zooming in and digitizing from the ground up, businesses empower their workforces to incorporate new technologies in stride that they will continue to use over the long term.
Business Process Change in Action
To help illustrate the point, consider this example from a recent frustrating experience I'm sure we can all relate to.
A couple of weeks ago, my refrigerator broke down. So naturally, I called a repairman to schedule a diagnostic visit. The repairman came to my house, opened up the refrigerator, identified the problem, and then checked to see where he could get replacement parts.
In an ideal world, he would already have the part he needed on hand so that he could swap the broken component for a new one the first time he showed up. In reality, he had to order the replacement part from the manufacturer and wait for it to arrive. Between waiting for a scheduled diagnostic appointment and waiting for the replacement part, I went over a week without a working fridge.
To make matters worse, I use a local produce subscription service that delivers farm fresh produce every week. I forgot to cancel my order when the fridge broke down, and a couple days later I received produce which I couldn’t preserve. I tried keeping it in a cooler, but I ended up throwing most of it away.
What I wanted was a new business process. I wanted my refrigerator to independently communicate with the repairman and the produce delivery service to tell them it was broken. If my refrigerator could have done this, my repairman could have shown up with the right part days sooner, and my produce subscription could have sent me non-perishables for that week. In both cases, they would have offered a much better customer experience, thanks to my smart, connected fridge.
For this to be possible, though, my refrigerator’s manufacturer would need to digitize internal components so that they could communicate their statuses over an internal network. The compressor, condenser, fan, cooling tower, and ice maker would all need to interface so that the refrigerator could identify the root problem.
Furthermore, the refrigerator would need a way to securely connect with other business and services to communicate its problem. Finally, the repairman and the produce service would need interfaces to receive information from the refrigerator and automate their response.
To summarize, the desired business change is a utopia where broken fridges are immediately fixed and all stakeholders can immediately respond so that everyone has a better experience. To achieve this business change, many incremental technical changes need to be accomplished very quickly.
Creating an Integrated System
As leaders make incremental changes, they must ensure that everything fits together. Technical updates should integrate across different business units, and new workflows should complement operations across many areas. Leaders should consider starting with lower-value assets that can create quick process wins, rather than trying to tackle all the big problems at once.
Implementing a digital project effectively is a lot like building a home. First, builders have to prepare the construction site and pour the foundation. Next, comes the framing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and insulation.
Once the skeleton is built, drywall, interior textures, and trims go in. Finally, exterior finishes and fixtures get the house ready for move in.
In the same way, industrial leaders should think about how incremental changes fit into the bigger picture. They must install the “plumbing” before the toilets will work. To maximize digitization, companies need micro-level digitization to integrate with macro-level business operations. The foundations may not be flashy, but they enable success further on down the line.
The IIoT comes to life when technical capabilities and business workflows are aligned from top to bottom.
What does a sophisticated IoT solution look like?
To maximize use of the IIoT, leaders must be able to integrate incremental changes at lightning speed. The only way to do that is with a flexible, scalable IIoT ecosystem.
Streamlined IIoT solutions should function independently of hardware. They should also use common communication standards, such as MQTT, and enable flexible security models.
Most importantly, IoT solutions should allow operators to move data seamlessly throughout the organization. By connecting physical assets and infrastructure, leaders can automate business processes that unlock new operational efficiencies. They can also feed new field intelligence to workers who can then evaluate operations with greater effectiveness.
When industrial businesses implement digital projects in the right way, they can achieve business process changes that dramatically improve efficiency and profitability. They can also enhance worker productivity without adding complexity to daily operations.
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