The Pitfalls and Traps of IoT Solutions…

Everyone is so excited these days about IoT. Every company I know is talking about IoT, starting IoT projects, creating new divisions to address IoT, hosting seminars and more. It’s a real feeding frenzy that I’ve never seen in my career.

As with most things, there is more to this than meets the eye. The mainstream media have picked up on this and are writing funny articles about IoT toasters and how you can interrogate your refrigerator from the grocery store as to the number of eggs you should purchase. And how your running shoes will remind you that you haven’t had them out to the gym in over a month. Most of us of us guys have a spouse that does that for us already.

The consumer applications are interesting, but the folks at Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, Dell, HPE, and the like all know where the real money is: manufacturing. All those folks and more want your data up in their Cloud where they can charge you by the bit every time you touch your own data. They’re aided by the Accentures, Deloittes, and KPMGs of the world. These folks are busy talking to your CEO and board members about how your company is going to miss out on the Eleven Trillion Dollars of money to be made in IoT. They come knocking on your door saying they and only they can guide you through your IoT initiatives.

Over the next few years, everyone and his brother-in-law is going to approach you with ideas, tools, services and hardware for doing IoT. It’s the Wild West right now. There are a myriad of platforms, technologies (OPC UA) and strategies, and it’s easy to get lost in it. Yes, you can just pick something, but this area is going to evolve and there will be a shakeout.

Don’t let that stop you, but before you do anything, stop and do a sanity check. A couple of things to note. First, Cisco reports that only 26% of IoT projects are successful – meaning that they achieved the intended results. That’s a pretty low success rate. Second, data from other major studies indicates that companies are actually moving a lot slower and more deliberately with IoT than the hyper hype would suggest. Keep those two facts in mind when your management starts asking for IoT solutions.

But if you have to move ahead, there are some questions to ask:

  • Do you own the data? If a customer buys your device and it generates data for the Cloud, whose data is that? If I’m your customer, I’m going to say that I own it and you can’t use it.
  • What is the business model? Today, it is so easy to throw some solution together to move those four Modbus registers to the Cloud that we don’t stop and think about why we are doing it and if there is some advantage to doing it. What’s the result we are looking for? It is achievable?
  • Should we host the data? This is akin to asking if we should host our own email server. Once upon a time everyone hosted their own email. Now, not so much. Same thing with Cloud services. Yes, you could keep it in the server room with your other IT stuff, but does that make sense? If the data is critical to your business – regulatory or legal – the answer is definitely not. You just aren’t going to be as good at maintaining that infrastructure as the people who do that for a living are.
  • Should you hand it over to a Microsoft (Azure), GE (Predix), Amazon (AWS), or someone else like that? I’d think hard about that, too. Yes, they all have great solutions with amazing capabilities, but they charge you for that, and it can be pretty expensive. There are lots of Cloud providers who will do a great job at storing your data and offer lots of analytics, historians, and other tools that can massage it in any way you want for a lot less money than the big guys charge.

When undertaking an IoT project, remember there is more uncertainty with these projects than with other manufacturing projects. There’s usually a large gap between the optimistic view of the benefits you’re going to get and the pace and potential success of the initiative. IoT Projects require more caution than other factory floor initiatives.


PS – For simple solutions to move your data around the factory and into the enterprise and the Cloud, contact RTA where we are “Saving the World from Inaccessible Data.”