Cisco Blogs

The Path to IoT Starts with One Small Step

- January 19, 2017 - 2 Comments

As we look to the future, it’s easy to imagine how the Internet of Things (IoT) might transform the world. But it would be a mistake to try to start with a huge world-transforming implementation.

As I’ve already discussed in my recipe for IoT success, IoT is a multi-year journey, not a one-time event. You need to make sure the first step on that journey is successful—or it will be a very short journey indeed.

That is why, like a farmer trying to rush his harvest to market, you should start by picking the low-hanging fruit—the quick wins that can pave the way to more ambitious projects.

Think of your first IoT project as a proving ground. To ensure success, you’ll need to manage costs and reduce risks. Identify a small IoT project that solves a worthwhile problem in one plant, store, or refinery to demonstrate that IoT can make a significant impact in your organization. For example, Cisco deployed a network of 1500 sensors and energy analytics capabilities in just one manufacturing plant in Malaysia. By identifying and replacing inefficient equipment, we were able to reduce overall energy consumption in that one plant by 15 to 20 percent. That success provided the impetus to go further. The team is now pushing toward 30 percent energy savings and expanding the energy-cutting improvements to more than 20 other factories across the globe.

As with any major change in “the way you’ve always done it,” there will be naysayers you will need to win over. So build a coalition of the willing (and not-so-willing!) to develop a common vision. Bring in key stakeholders within your organization and company, and identify external partners that can help complete your solution. Focus on the goals everyone can agree on—like improved productivity, or reduced OpEx—which can mitigate some of the issues that might cause dissent.

If you start small, you’ll have a low-risk way to test the right approaches and processes, and to identify best practices for future projects. Figure out where the kinks are—who can slow you down, who will resist change, and why. That way you’ll be able to develop strategies to work out the kinks and address the change issues as you go along.

That first project should provide you with ROI and total-cost-of-ownership data that will aid you in developing the business case for the next phase of your IoT journey. And remember that technology and a business case are just a small part of your overall challenge. As you grow your IoT implementation, you’ll be dealing with huge organizational and cultural issues, so starting small and getting quick wins will help you build credibility, convert at least some of the skeptics, and position you for the success of the larger transformational journey.

Where to start? As I have talked with dozens of companies in every industry, I have identified four fast paths to IoT payback that have been tried and proven by thousands of your peers all over the world: connected operations, remote operations, predictive analytics, and predictive maintenance. So unless you have a compelling reason to start elsewhere, choose one of these. If you pick connected operations, implement it first on just one assembly line, or in one plant. If you pick remote operations, pick one specific yet impactful use case. Whatever you choose, make it a small, specific, measurable implementation.

AU93850Starting small does not necessarily mean the impact will be small. Consider mining giant Rio Tinto, which operates large open mines with a fleet of massive autonomous hauling vehicles. It costs the company $2 million each day one of those vehicles is out of service. If it breaks down at the bottom of the mine, another vehicle will be needed to pull the damaged vehicle out of the pit—doubling the cost of downtime. Rio Tinto has deployed a predictive maintenance IoT solution to prevent unexpected breakdowns, initially in one mine, saving the company $2 million per vehicle per day each time a breakdown is avoided.

“Start with low-hanging fruit” is one of the key ingredients in my recipe for IoT success in my new book, Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, and Transform Your Industry. If yours is a large or midsize company, the low-hanging fruit is ready and ripe for the picking. Tens of thousands of enterprises have started on their IoT journeys, focusing initially on cost savings, efficiencies, and productivity improvements. If you’re not one of them, it’s time to craft your vision, figure out a pilot project, and build some success and knowledge.

If yours is a small company, pick a proven use case and try it. Many integrators and service providers are eager to help you deploy the most mature, standardized, easy-to-implement, and cost-effective solutions.

The journey to transformation begins with one small step. Take that small step, build on your success, and soon you may find your company and your industry transformed by IoT.

Next week, I’ll step away from my recipe for IoT success with an excerpt from my book looking at the role of government in IoT.


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  1. Thank you for this great article, I already started this journey from few months. Kindly can you guide me to an easy steps? My email address: My LI profile: Sincerely, Maher El Zein CCIE No. 21032

      Maher, Great to hear. I'll unicast you to discuss in more detail. //mk