Companies need to wise up about IoT

So you want to be an all-connected company? Well, you can join millions of others around the world. As we reported earlier this week, a Zebra survey found that European companies are proceeding apace with IoT deployement  - but the speed of the deployment is masking some serious concerns.

The Zebra survey found that there were plenty of companies well advanced in the process – 25% of European companies surveyed are already investing £3.4m or more in IoT annually, with 66% planning to increase that investment in the next couple of years. And plans are already far advanced, 83% of these companies think their IoT deployments are more than half complete.

But that’s really not the whole story. There’s been a rush to deploy IoT without thinking of the consequences - implementing IoT means more than just purchasing devices – and companies haven’t always considered what implementing IoT means in any detail. The Zebra survey found that 53% of European companies hadn’t implemented any plan as to how that IoT vision would be used – buying devices is only one part of the process.

According to Richard Hudson, EMEA vice president and general manager for Zebra, “Leveraging operational data and deriving actionable insights provides clear benefits, but that doesn’t mean it is always an intuitive process. For example, business cultures where performance data is gathered and passed through a long chain of approvals are rarely suitable to get the benefits needed from real-time intelligence.”

And this gets to the heart of the issue. What makes the difference with IoT rollout is not the availability of connected devices but, the way they’re being used and the way that they’re incorporated into business process. “

New technology has a limited effect when no one uses it.  As Hudson explained “One of the most cited challenges from last year’s Harvard Intelligent Enterprise Symposium was new user adoption.  He said that it’s not enough to run a few days of training and think that your workers are primed to meet all the challenges that IoT will bring. “This goes beyond training and education and extends to behaviour and culture as well as ease of use and integration with existing workflows. Enterprises need to think about stakeholder identification and alignment, the process of governance, project and resource management along with the learning curve and experience of their team members.”

This cultural change matters; the Zebra survey revealed more than a third of European companies have no plan to address the cultural changes needed to deploy IoT with 60% of them not looking to address resistance to adopting IoT.

Hudson said there were different forms of resistance but all of them could be detrimental to the roll-out of IoT. “One example is the natural disruption that emerges from introducing new processes. A short-term drop in productivity can be expected when changes are implemented, or a rise in errors based on a lack of familiarity with new tools. If a company makes a significant IoT deployment with no planned introduction, it will lead to frustration or unwillingness to engage with new technology. We’ve highlighted a number of ways in which companies are managing staff expectations and education about IoT deployments, such as better training (which European businesses are more likely to offer).

Drive to analytics

What’s driving this deployment is the need to know more about customers, employees, processes, transport ... well, just about everything in fact.

And here, companies are getting clued about the future. Most companies are aware of the need to implement comprehensive analytics systems and, when asked in the Zebra survey, the vast majority thought they had the right systems in place. For example, 70% of companies globally shared information from their IoT devices with their employees more than once a day, of which more than two-thirds share in real or near-real time.

This sort of deployment makes it sound like companies are getting geared up for the revolution that IoT will bring, but even if this is only half the story. There have been attempts to install analytics systems, however, according to Zebra, only 32% of companies provide actionable information to all employees, and information is sent either via email (69%), which is not really providing a fully integrated system, or as raw data (62%), which means there is still a good deal of processing to do.

There’s little doubt that IoT has become one of those phrases – like digital transformation and Big Data – that have become an essential part of marketing teams’ armoury. And, of course, there’s a close correlation between all three terms – transformation is often driven by making better use of data, which has been gathered from a host of connected devices.

The Zebra survey makes sobering reading though. It may be great news for the IoT vendors but the fact that so few companies have a comprehensive business plan as to what should be done with that information – and even fewer have implemented the sort of changes in business processes that are needed to make those changes work  - should be an eye-opener to CIOs.

There will no doubt be many companies who protest that they have a very clear strategy as to what they’re doing with IoT – indeed, the Zebra survey bears that out. But there are also many who haven’t and these businesses need to work out what they need to be doing to make IoT deployment a success.

Given the type of upheaval that a successful rollout could entail, this would probably mean the involvement of a variety of departments: finance, marketing, HR, facilities etc.  Those who think that IoT is purely about technology are heading down a blind alley.