How to ensure your IoT project succeeds – People Challenges

IMG_6687_8_9_tonemappedWelcome to the fourth post in my series of seven chapters intended to help individuals and organisations on their journey to deploying a successful Internet of Things (IoT) transformation. The first chapter covered preparation, the second covered how to choose the right hardware. The third covered the Information Challenges and this post covers the people challenges. If it’s helpful to go back to the beginning and read in sequence, you can start with an introduction to this series here, along with a list of the other topic areas you will need to assess on your journey.

4.1      Usability & User Interface

Technology evolution is happening literally every day and with this evolution, we sometimes now expect technology to do the routine thinking on our behalf. Yet not all of us are technology native.  Consider the iPhone and our evolving expectations of smartphones and devices as part of the journey towards how we use new technologies at a personal level.

The IoT is now reaching industries that have previously been low tech.  The fundamental challenge in such cases is the cultural shift needed to fully adopt it (in other words how we can help those users adapt to this change)

As internet users, we’ve got used to limitations and failure and we often blamed them on connectivity, bandwidth, carriers, latency etc., but the IoT world could be much messier. Consider devices, connected through various ways, to other devices (from a range of suppliers) or to cloud servers and you can see a wide range of possibilities for disruption of service. Investigate these possible disruptions for any solution you seek.

Furthermore, as commercial IoT solutions mature and become more domain relevant, they must enhance their user experience (UX), making it more relevant, enjoyable and helpful to users.

It is critical to assess how usable your preferred solution is – was it designed with users in mind or does it have a technical interface that will put people off? Was it designed for optimal conditions: Is it reflective of the real-world domain or far from it? Is it easy to tell, when you test the interface, if the solution is developed in a way that reflects a full understanding of the life-cycle of the business it is serving? Or is it simply a technological monster that is irrelevant?

Make sure your IoT solution will make your people more efficient and offer them greater value. If they don’t find it easy to use, you will have less adoption and your project could fail. If I was to suggest a people vs technology ratio, I would say IoT success is 70% about people (and processes) and 30% at best about the technology itself.

To be successful your IoT solution needs to offer users demonstrable value through real solutions rather than gadgets and gimmicks.

4.2      Need/user demand

Nowadays, even with IoT solutions, we face many choices and options within those choices. When we choose an IoT solution, we will invest a significant amount of time to learning how to use it and possibly it will become a key part of new ways of working. Hence it is crucial that you investigate how mature and user-oriented your preferred solution is.  Adopting an IoT solution must offer you insights and opportunities to change your relationships with your customers and potentially change your whole business model. But the reality is that customers’ needs will evolve and change, so choose a solution that demonstrates the ability to evolve with your needs and your customer’s. evolving needs. If you get it right, you will understand your customers like never before. You will have the chance to analyse the data across all devices, to optimise and enhance your product performance, service levels and so on. Eventually, your IoT solution will fundamentally change your interaction with your customers.

Of course, it is also critical that you ask yourself what are my users’ and customers’ needs? Never change your requirements to fit the solution.

Are you choosing this digitisation journey because you want to cut cost or increase sales or develop new services? Or is it to offer your customers better value or choices? They are very different objectives and require different processes and skills. You likely want to achieve all of the above but each requires a different approach on how you use your IoT solution as well as different tools and interfaces. It may, in fact, mean that each path requires a separate use case, which would most likely result in adopting new business models! (I will cover Business models in future chapters).

Remember customers like consistency and simplicity. The solution they buy into must be straightforward to adopt and should not complicate their lives. If it isn’t easy to use, they will not use it!

4.3      Trustability

While some of us are very excited about the potential of IoT, as we should be, others are equally frightened. Some of the negative stories that we read in the news are making the public more concerned and cautious in their embrace of the IoT.

Obviously for solutions to be widely successful, they need to reach large scale adoption. Customers embarking on small pilots or proof of concepts, will not move to adoption if they are concerned about privacy, security, performance, and all the things I’m covering in this series of blogs. So, make sure you seek solutions that will not cause your customers or stakeholders to lose trust in you or in your IoT solution. Ensuring you eliminate or mitigate every possible weak point is the only way to achieve this.

After all, if you go for an IoT solution you expect that every device and sensor you installed will tell you the truth about what they are doing all the time and not some of the time. If this is not the case, because the device is not reliable or the data is inaccurate, then confidence in the system will disappear and will be very hard to regain.

Remember most of the IoT solutions in business will be deployed in an environment that is not technologically astute. This is the real world and you must ensure the system appeals to the various stakeholders and can gain their trust. Keep in mind that IoT solution success is only one third technological with two-thirds down to the acceptance of your people.

If you start facing problems along the journey, remind yourself that trust is like a bubble that can easily burst and in this case, has three layers:

  • Frontline users: typically, are non-tech savvy, some are threatened by this change or they seek a solution to make their life much easier. Resistance to your solution always starts here and becomes impossible to overcome if you fail to remedy recurring problems.
  • Technical team: who need to support and live with the solutions failings or hiccups. If you lose the trust of the technical team, it means you hit rock bottom and you have very little chance of recovering.
  • Decision makers or management: Typically, they buy into the full value affecting their staff, customers, operational and financial processes. They are seeking business transformation and avenues to growth. If doubt about achieving these develops, management or leadership will likely pull the plug on the project and your pilot or deployment will be brought to a painful stop.

No one buys into complexity, headache and failure. Businesses buy into making things simpler, easier and more successful.  They may or may not revisit an “unsuccessful” project in the distant future when this “thing” is more reliable.

It is critical that you buy into a solution that everyone can build trust in! Carefully select, carefully pilot and carefully adopt…. Win every user at a time… yes, that is painful and slow work but I can assure you the reward is worth it. 

4.4      Education

If you start a discussion about IoT in your organisation, you will find out that people are overwhelmed with the unlimited number of opportunities it offers, but also by the speed of change, various technologies available, the long list of different applications, so many standards, so many suppliers, etc.…

Some businesses I talk to, have ended up on the digital transformation path because they are catching up with their competition’s digital move or they are seeking organic growth. They often approach the conversation as if it is a bolt-on or something they can buy and then suddenly reap its benefits, such as savings or deeper customer insight and value.

Sadly, IoT is often portrayed this way but I have news for you – This is not the case!

Yes, the right solution has the potential of offering you this and more, but any IoT solution is at best 50% of the work needed to achieve the value. If you are not buying into the transformation as a journey that will include serious reviews of your operation, skills, processes, then don’t do it. It is a business transformation as well as a technology transformation.

The internet and media are flooded with stories of a trillion connected devices. But this is not the only story we should be telling to educate people about the power of IoT. Connecting devices brings a myriad of challenges and opportunities and talking about the number of devices is simply missing the point.  It is not about gadgets and gimmicks, it is about the systems that are behind them, the use case they serve and the value they create. This is the real story of IoT that we ought to be telling.

The starting point of internal Education is the digital strategy we discussed.  IoT can do a lot of good but if wrongly sold, it can do a lot of damage. You do not want your stakeholders, employees or customers to be sold the wrong story. Invest in the digital strategy and invest also in educating people on the journey of IoT solution deployment.

N.B.: The next step on the journey is to consider the implementation challenges specific to your project and this will be covered in the next post published shortly. Further reading can be found at

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