Welcome to the last post in my series of seven chapters intended to help individuals and organizations on their journey to deploying a successful Internet of Things (IoT) transformation. In my last blog, I covered the operational challenges and this post covers Future Proofing 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.
7.1 Adaptability / Evolvability
It is about the capacity of the solution for adaptive evolution. As the nature of today’s business is constant change, it is important to understand how will your IoT solution adapt to changes.
Once you are up and running, entropy will begin to increase and the correspondence between the real world and your solution will likely erode rapidly unless you have factored in how to keep it up to date. This is a huge effect on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the solution.
It was Heraclitus the Greek Philosopher who said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still”. This is true, especially in today’s business. Digital transformation is touching deeply business models, operational processes and customer experience and needs.
Steve Prentice from Gartner gave a perspective of another dimension of change. He talked about the confluence of three interrelated emerging trends that businesses should assess as they pursue their digital transformation.
- Democratization of technology: smart devices will start to make more decisions themselves.
- Dematerialization where physical and digital worlds blur: smart devices simply weave themselves into the fabric of our everyday lives, and
- Disintermediation: smart devices replace trained people and customers go directly to the source.
Such evolution as it happens in your business, it will bring a massive wave of change along but will provide businesses with the prospect to leverage this opportunity to drive competitive advantage. This is the power IoT is offering you today and why it is important to understand where the solution you are selecting fits in this journey.
Don’t forget to assess the capability of the solution to self-learn (Deep learning, adaptive learning and machine learning) – Also inquire about the level of analytics applied both predictive and adaptive. A discussion with the R&D team and access to the product roadmap will give you a clear view. This is very common and possible today especially if your business environment brings constant change from the field and your customers, and you want your IoT solution to be able to adapt to a large extent to such normal business variations.
So, as you carefully select your IoT solution, remember the fact that trends are changing, technology is changing, your customers’ needs are changing, etc. as you face this reality do you want to be stuck with an IoT solution that will not be fit for purpose?
7.2 Product Roadmap
Why as a customer, I need to worry about vendor product roadmap?
A product roadmap communicates the why and what behind the IoT solution. Such roadmap would offer you a clear view of the vision and direction of the IoT solution over time. It does offer you, insight into the future but also a view to the past historical progress of the product.
An IoT product roadmap is more complex and critical than traditional technology roadmaps; and can reveal a lot about the solution, the vendor, and the people you are dealing with; thus, a quick preview of how your journey will be if you choose this solution.
R&D is the beating heart of any company and a product roadmap should be compared to heart rate monitoring report produced after an ECG (electrocardiogram). It should reveal if any weakness exists in the heart, and get a view of the heart rhythm and electrical activity. Pay close attention to the product roadmap!
A company true goals are written on its product roadmap; many companies say they want to be innovative, disruptive, user-centric, etc.… does the roadmap back up such claim? Judge what type of items are on the roadmap: New ideas, features to help scale, improve quality, solve Customer problems, etc.
Ask questions and expect transparent and honest answers. Failure to provide the answer usually indicates lack of pride and lack of truth and both are alarming bells you should not ignore. On the other hand, too much pride and over exaggeration risk covering lack of integrity.
How many times has the product been updated in the last 12 months? Are these updates new features or mostly to fix problems? How good the vendor been in keeping promises by releasing on time? Ask about the process of how new features got added to the next release and who gets to add and decide etc. Is the process clear and transparent? How much do they listen to their customers’ feedback? Is there an ongoing dialogue between vendor and customers? Is there a robust community of users and do they facilitate interactions and discussions between various users/customers and the vendor teams?
We all been in a room where all our needs were promised and some more. You cannot decide based on promises; salespeople tend to go out of their way and offer a lot of promises –sometimes in all good intentions- but this is not something you can rely on alone. Buy into the product as it is today with a view on the future via the roadmap. Just make sure you verify the integrity and credibility of such roadmap by asking the questions above and by talking to other customers.
If the roadmap does not demonstrate evidence of continuous innovation and new ideas, incorporating user feedback in a reasonable timeframe, then this may not be a solution to depend on as your competition would overtake you most likely. Other customers will happily share their satisfaction or frustration when it comes to empty promises and unreliable product roadmaps.
It is easy to detect when a supplier is stuck in a spiral of firefighting and bug fixing. You want to bet with confidence on the future while you are safely managing the present needs.
An IoT solution that meets your needs 100% likely does not exist. But there is a big difference between a product heading steadily closer to meet most of your needs and one that seems life away from getting close. It is a matter of making sure you bet on the winning horse.
7.3 Service Model/affordability
IoT if properly adopted, has the potential of transforming your business. One of the challenges so far been the resistance of some traditional business leaders to embrace the power of the data. Smart leaders are those who understood that they need to disrupt or be disrupted. The price of being disrupted is very high as is the price if your effort to disrupt failed. In that context, put your energy on what business model will give you the competitive advantage and put you ahead of the pack, and what you need to do to enable an organization that will deliver such new models. Your customer needs and expectations are changing including how they procure new services and solutions.
In your effort to understand the IoT business model you are exploring and how it could adapt in the future, you need to focus on identifying the value derived from such solution and at what point such value is realized. Value can be quantified and qualified in economic terms (cost saving, higher margins, etc.) or through competitive advantage allowing you to offer new and more value to your customers (New revenue, Higher margins, Long-term relation, etc.). If you have developed a digital strategy as we discussed in earlier blogs, you would have spent enough time understanding the value potential of IoT solution.
Stay away from any solution that has no clearly defined use case and/or value.
A good IoT solution should be very clear and focused on who it serves (i.e. customer types) and understand what each customers’ needs are; what does this IoT solution offer better than the rest and how does it offer its services and tools to meet your business and customer needs. And finally, is the solution delivered in an optimal way to you as a business and does it make sense to you the buyer and through you to your customers? If it is not clear and convincing than it is not mature enough and you need to decide if you want to be a trial customer!
With the hardware being more and more commoditized, this will have a direct impact on the service models – between the service provider and you as a business as well as between you and your customers. Computing cost, Connectivity cost, and storage cost are going down (and will go down further). As this happens, suppliers’ revenue will be less and less in the hardware and connectivity and more and more in the value and services they offer.
While you might argue, this is not the case today in your industry, I can assure you it is heading this way, and it will happen during your IoT deployment lifecycle. IoT is a long-term commitment, don’t build your future based on obsolete models from the past. Investigate and seek service models affordable to you today and tomorrow.
Any solutions you select will include sensors, connectivity, cloud, analytics, etc.… You will have to pay for all one way or the other. We are and we will continue to see more innovative “as a Service – aaS” models emerging as IoT becomes more and more mature and interoperable.
In the future, the view is you will get the sensor at zero cost and switch to pay service fees which is based on the performance and value and not necessarily based on the number of devices.
Other views are talking about separation between platform and devices… You invest in the software platform once and you are free to connect to it as many devices as you want and from as many suppliers as you want. Today most of the suppliers are offering applications that work with their devices only. Avoid being locked in.
Which service model offers you the flexibility as you grow and as the IoT evolves. Don’t make the decision based on what you see today but based on where your business is going and what makes sense to you strategically and financially. Remember that the business model is critical for you to realize the value, choose the right one for you from what is available today and keep engaged and alert as more disruptive and/or innovative business models will emerge.