What to know before starting an IoT project
Getting a good start on your IoT project.
IoT is the next big thing and is often presented as the next technical revolution. Without IoT we will not have self driving cars, home automation or get significant savings on car fleet managment and industrial processes. Yet, like many new inventions, IoT is not based upon a single unique breakthrough discovery, but on the convergion of different technological developments. Creation of Big Data platforms, development of Cloud Computing, powerful Analytics and Deep Learning technologies and engineering developments to create a huge amount of sensors that can communicate wirelessly. All these elements together form what we call these days IoT.
The realization that IoT is rather evolutionary, helps us a lot to demistify IoT, bringing it down to disciplines that we are familiar with already. On the other hand it also should be clear that IoT has a very strong multi discipline aspect, bringing together both hardware and software elements that were not so prevalent in traditional automation.
The exhibit below (published by Iot Analytics) offers a good overview of the different disciplines and elements that form an IoT project.
Now we know the elements, let’s have a look at an IoT project. And as with any succesful industrial project, there are a couple of things that should be well understood before spending resources on this. Some are general and some are more IoT specific:
1. What is the objective of the project and how will success be measured?
Having as an objective to measure the humidity at 200 different points in a field of grapes is different from optimizing the water consumption for hydration of that field. Even though we might end up with 200 different measurement points, the success is measured by the amount of water consumed, not how many measurements we do. Success is very often defined by financial parameters, which also helps defining the ultimate business case. General rule: only projects with a compelling business case have a good chance of being successful.
2. Is there a demonstratable road to success?
Any IoT project is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The end result is not visible to its full extend untill all pieces are in place. An IoT project however does not have all the pieces in the box at the beginning of the project. Pieces have to be made fit, the right algorithms have to be choosen, the proper data need to be collected. There is usually not a blue print that can be taken to build from, so it is essential to assure there is a likely path to success.
Trying to regulate waterering for grapes can only be done if we can measure the humidity and we have established a method to process this input accordingly. Make sure such possible road is demonstratable at a small scale, including the assumptions and conditions before going for a full flash implementation. IoT projects can easily run over budget without having this in place.
3. What does it take to scale and adapt?
Once we have determined the road to success, we will have to examin the requirements for scaling up and rolling out the solution to the end users. What IT infrastructure needs to be connected with. What is the cloud environment of choice. What will be the data platform to collect and analyze the captured data. What user interfaces and/or apps need to be build in order to have a successful adaptation of the new process flow. Is end user training required?
4. How will the IoT implementation team look like?
Once it becomes clear what expertise and skill are required, it is time to put together the IoT implementation team. First of all the product owner, who will ultemately be responsible for the success of the project. At this point it should not be a surprise that the team consists of a group of multiple disciplines and skills: Hardware engineers, IT specialists in , data analysts, wireless engineers etc. Don’t forget the process experts who ultimately will be required to have a successful adaptation of the processes in the day to day workflow.
Working in an Agile methodology will help to keep the momentum going in order to meet deadlines.
5. Have an approved plan
A plan that describes the above issues, timelines and includes a cost and resource requirement should be the projects blueprint. The blueprint need to be approved and funded.
Depending on the organizations skills and expertise, it might be required to go to outside sources to complement the team. This could be for that Product Owner / Architect but also hardware and/or software skills. Working with a trusted organization is key.
IoT projects can offer many unexpected surprises and obstacles. Therefore it is important to have a persistent and adaptable implementation team, to tackle the problems efficiently as they arise. Such problems offer a good opportunity to derail the entire project. A separate study phase performed by experienced analysts is highly recommended.
IoT projects can be challenging, yet very rewarding for the company as well as the participants.
So let’s get started. Define your objectives and success, demonstrate the road to success, find out how to scale and implement and pick your team. Last but not least, get the approval and resources. Enjoy…