Making the Most of Your IIoT Transformation

Jan. 23, 2019
When implementing new technology into your production and safety processes, leadership buy-in and worker feedback are key.

By 2020, global IoT spend is expected to reach $1.29 trillion, and the manufacturing industry is expected to account for 15% of all IoT spending in the U.S. While the costs of implementing IIoT solutions have fallen to more affordable levels, companies run the risk of exceeding their budgets and falling short of executive expectations if solutions are not implemented correctly.

Implementing new technology doesn’t need to be expensive. By starting small and keeping business objectives at the forefront of every decision, leaders can dramatically reduce the inherent risks in IIoT implementations. That said, manufacturers need to consider the following points in order to maximize ROI:

Focus on outcomes, not timelines.

Start with what you want to accomplish—not when it needs to get done. Every executive will ask for hard deadlines, but an outcome-driven dialogue needs to ground the discussion from the very start. Hold facilitated workshops with a cross-functional middle leadership group to surface a series of outcome metrics that either trigger movement to subsequent stages, or reset the process dispassionately. When implementing new IoT concepts and moving into pilots, re-pilots and, ultimately, scale, expectations of flawless results can mislead KPI tracking. Build an executive dashboard using a two-way dialogue that surfaces learnings from killed pilots clearly and promptly, while demonstrating immediate implementation of learnings. This will help senior leaders confidently track toward a set of clear business goals and show continual progress.

Get buy-in from executive leadership

IIoT implementations are not only a financial investment, but they also are disruptive to the manufacturing facility. Executive support will help break down cross-departmental barriers and allow implementation teams the time to take machines offline and work with frontline employees to minimize workflow disruption. To avoid gridlock, managers should meet with executives on a regular basis to discuss challenges and collaborate on solutions.

Get early feedback from frontline employees

Listening to your frontline employees may be the most important thing you can do. By taking the time to identify their pain points before implementation, you will be able to strategically target which IoT solutions are of greatest value to your organization. Remember, if your frontline employees don’t adopt your new solution, your investment will be wasted. To be successful, IoT solutions need to both provide value to the organization and value to the frontline employees who will be using it every day. If your proposed solution doesn’t check both boxes, you should reconsider the investment.

Once you’ve accounted for your employees, communicate the value of IoT early on and engage all levels of the organization at each stage of the implementation process. Employees will be more susceptible to learning how to operate the solutions if they understand how the technology will directly benefit their jobs.

Incrementally invest in building multiple product iterations. Before jumping into a solution, evaluate whether it solves the correct problem and achieves the desired results. Identify an area in the company that has an isolated, high-value problem and assemble a team of actual users to test. With each product iteration, your goal should be to build the lowest-fidelity concept possible to validate the riskiest assumptions. 

By now, most companies have heard the term “minimum viable product” (MVP), and know it’s better to spend weeks building an MVP versus months or years building a full-scale product littered with unvalidated assumptions. Again, it’s virtually impossible to get every detail perfect out of the gate, and it’s much easier to pivot on a lean MVP than it is to pivot on a full-scale solution.

If a company is truly interested in accelerating speed-to-market, an even leaner approach is advised. For example, rather than starting with an MVP that takes eight to 12 weeks to build, we often will sketch a dashboard or a mobile app schematic, then pass it along to a set of users to see whether our vision fits their needs. We can do multiple iterations with these users in real time—moving graphs, adding information boxes—to perfect the design before writing a single line of code. This process allows us to cut down on build time and improve the accuracy of the finished product. 

Mix internal and external resources to achieve scale. Manufacturers embarking on IIoT initiatives for the first time need to generate proof points for opening new value streams—and fast. At the same time, these efforts need to be executed in a way that grows their organizational capability around building pilots and new business models. Early stages of this work, where new value concepts and business model change frameworks are built and tested, can benefit from external partnerships that accelerate movement rapidly (especially given that internal resources face dual responsibilities with existing and new business demands.) Adjacent testing and scaling stages, however, should move smoothly into hybrid (and, ultimately, fully internal) models, where knowledge is actively transferred through embedded vendor teams to fully autonomous internal resources.

IoT has the potential to transform how manufacturers operate and gain unprecedented competitive advantages in the market. But to capture these values, companies must commit to doing more than buying the latest technologies. With implementation strategies for both the technology and the humanity inherent in IoT, businesses can make the most out of their investments and confidently enter the era of Industry 4.0.

Derek Chin is director of innovation strategy at Nerdery, an engineering software firm centered on human strategy and design.

About the Author

Derek Chin | Director of Innovation Strategy

Derek Chin launched his first startup at age 13 and has been a passionate, serial entrepreneur ever since. He's driven by opportunities that have the potential to transform industries. His experience includes bootstrapping startups of his own, getting in on the ground floor of venture-backed startups and guiding innovation within a Fortune 15 company as the entrepreneur-in-residence. He consulted with enterprises like Google, Donaldson and Prime Therapeutics to help them build business cases for technology investments and strategically bring new products to market.

Sponsored Recommendations

10 Facts About the State of Workplace Safety in the U.S.

July 12, 2024
Workplace safety in the U.S. has improved over the past 50 years, but progress has recently stalled. This report from the AFL-CIO highlights key challenges.

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!