The Internet of Things
is coming -- if it’s not here already -- and IT needs to work closely with the lines of business to ensure that the enterprise gets the most out of any initiative it undertakes.
As a recent report on this topic by McKinsey & Co. points out: "More objects are becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate. The resulting information networks promise to create new business models, improve business processes, and reduce costs and risks."
Technologies such as RFID, sensor devices, business analytics, mobile devices, and service oriented architecture (SOA), used in conjunction with the Internet, are allowing businesses to develop unprecedented information streams related to products, corporate assets, services, and people.
While the McKinsey report doesn’t cite any statistics on the Internet of Things, it does provide some interesting examples:
Pill-shaped microcameras already traverse the human digestive tract and send back thousands of images to pinpoint sources of illness. Precision farming equipment with wireless links to data collected from remote satellites and ground sensors can take into account crop conditions and adjust the way each individual part of a field is farmed—for instance, by spreading extra fertilizer on areas that need more nutrients. Billboards in Japan peer back at passersby, assessing how they fit consumer profiles, and instantly change displayed messages based on those assessments.
Clearly, an effective Internet of Things strategy can lead to compelling business benefits, including improved efficiencies, greater productivity, better decision making, increased revenue, and more satisfied customers. It can automate simple and high-end tasks, freeing up people to work on more strategic initiatives.
Because technology plays such a vital part in implementing these kinds of projects, IT and business executives can’t fly off on separate Internet of Things missions. IT needs to work with corporate line-of-business (LOB) leaders to figure out ways to use these newly emerging capabilites to the benefit of the business and its customers. IT is in a great position to launch a plan, because technology departments will be tasked with supporting applications that use the Web to improve business processes and information.
As part of the initial discussions, IT should go over strategies for moving forward with the various lines of business that will be involved in the project.
Once that’s determined, IT needs to set followup meetings with LOB leaders to learn what they hope to achieve. Also, IT and the LOB leaders need to enlist key people to take part in the early planning of the project.
These are the LOB folk who will be counted upon to stay focused on the project, and who will help drive its implementation and work with IT to make sure that business goals are met. The team needs to have a keen knowledge of the processes within the lines of business and some understanding of how technology will transform or improve those processes going forward.
At followup meetings, IT must gather specific information from the designated personnel within the lines of business to ensure that the project is focused on the right goals. What sort of information is the business line looking to gather? What process improvements does it have in mind? Where and how can automation help people get things done more efficiently?
Examples of possible goals for Internet of Things projects include: improved tracking of products throughout the supply chain; the optimization of manufacturing assets; better inventory management at warehouses; automatic sourcing of supply chain elements from providers anywhere in the world; faster addition of new suppliers, distributors, or other business partners; discovery of emerging market trends using smart analytics to analyze purchase events; optimization of retail store shelves; and quicker entry into new markets.
In addition to learning what sort of information the business lines need to gather, IT must know how often the business lines need updates and exactly which products and assets can be profitably employed.
As always, communication is critical. Both IT and the business representatives should be open to suggestions throughout the process and be committed to making sure everyone stays on the same page. This includes IT being kept abreast of changes in business goals, personnel, etc.
Studies show that when IT and the business are truly aligned and support one another in an enterprise, the business is likely to return a much higher profit. Effective communication about an Internet of Things project can help enterprises realize that goal.
— Bob Violino is a freelance writer, editor, and project manager who has covered business and technology for more than 20 years.