A pilot project is key to implementing your IoT service

IT engineer working

This article is part of our series, “Four keys to developing a winning IoT service.” For more from this series, visit William Dupley.

Successful IoT projects usually start with pilots that study the feasibility of the project. By conducting pilots, the IoT team gains insight into the:

  • Impact on the business processes, revenue projections and profit margins.
  • Resource, time and budget requirements to implement a production version of the project.
  • Potential problems and limitations of the technology.
  • Management impact on human resources and data optimization.
  • Assurance that the science of the project is right.

In this article, I’ll go over some of my recommendations when building a pilot.

Pilot Selection

Pilots must take an end-to-end view by defining the expected business results and then work backward. A pilot that shows business results quickly gains support from the business manager and needs to be limited in scope so they can be done quickly.  The main goals of a pilot are to create a proof point for the business case and to learn how complex the actual project will be.

Pilot Functions

Creeping excellence syndrome can sometimes infect a pilot. This phenomenon happens when a team adds more and more functions. The result is the pilot takes longer to implement and does not show results quickly. Focusing on the critical few functions will accomplish the best pilot.

Resistance to change

Pilots expose opposition to change in Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). IT is often concerned that IoT will compromise their security. OT may view IoT as disruptive since they have their own ways of doing things. The pilot team must seek both teams’ insights and deal with their concerns during the project. This will take more time, but in the end, it will secure their commitment to the new initiative.

engineering students work on robot

Framework solution

The goal of an IoT project is not to develop an IoT framework. A pilot helps an enterprise to understand IoT technologies, challenges and value propositions, and from these insights build the enterprise-wide IoT framework afterward based on real data and experience.

Timeframe

Agile programming concepts work well when developing a pilot. Consider that the initial pilot is a three-month sprint, followed by one-month sprints as new functions are added. This approach will keep the business owners interested and enable them to show results each quarter to their stockholders. It also keeps the development team focused on developing functions that are critical.

Data

The pilot team should publish the data collected to everyone in the business. Issuing an open data set has great benefits. It generates interest in the project and enables the team to gain more insight into what functions and data should be in the next sprint.

Publish results

Don’t hold onto the information. This will inspire others to consider IoT projects and show them that it is feasible.  The publication should not focus on the statistics of the pilot but on the business results achieved.

Implementation approach

two engineers review project

There are three significant ways to implement and IoT pilot project:

1Internal team: In this pilot, the internal team does all the work. They procure the hardware and the software and do all the implementation work. The challenge with this approach is that the effort usually exceeds the amount of time and skills of the internal team. The project takes a long time, and the IT management work is not always done well so security can be an issue.

2Systems Integrator: In this pilot, the Systems Integrator implements the network, sensors and software on their cloud services. The benefit of this approach is that the pilot is done faster, the IT management work is done well, and so security is less of an issue. However, IT may be uncomfortable with the Systems Integrator and be reluctant to grant them access to internal networks and data.

3Vendor IoT platform: This approach is the fastest way since no hardware or software needs to be purchased. Security is also less of an issue since it is the responsibility of the vendor to ensure it’s done well. The biggest issue is vendor lock-in. The IoT project can only be built on their offerings, and the cost of the production version may be much higher than the previous two pilot approaches.

We can learn many lessons from a pilot. For example, a city implemented a smart parking pilot project using a systems integrator. They executed the pilot project quickly and developed a mobile app that shows where all the empty parking spots were.  It worked well; however, they found out that the app was illegal because drivers were not allowed to touch their phone when they drove. It was a distracted driving offense. That raised the need for data usage guidelines to be published.

IoT pilots are fun, and an enterprise quickly sees results. The pilot team proves out their hypotheses and gains support for their IoT initiative.

Happy experimenting.

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