Internet of Things

Kick-start your business transformation and escape IoT pilot purgatory

| By Demetrios Karathanasis, Global Portfolio Director, Optra IoT Platform

Transform your business with IoT expertise

Kick-start your business transformation and escape IoT pilot purgatory

TAGS: Internet of Things , Thought Leadership

Since the turn of the century, the Internet of Things (IoT) has enjoyed a sustained period of rapid growth – giving rise to many burgeoning sub-categories, chief among them industrial IoT (IIoT). IIoT is not a new concept, but it is still on the rise – with the market projected to reach $106 billion by 2026, up from $76.7 billion in 2021.

Nonetheless, relatively few manufacturers of connected products have made the leap to extend IIoT principles to the products they place at customer locations. In a recent survey that Lexmark conducted with IDC, only 15% of respondents offer predictive service on the devices they sell. And a whopping 71% are “not sure” about offering their products as-a-Service. 

Unfortunately, many organizations that attempt to use IoT to drive transformative change find themselves stalling in pilot mode. This stems from a variety of reasons, whether it’s poor cross-departmental support, lack of long-term vision, or not choosing the right partner. It can quickly fall apart when organizations can’t draw a distinct line between the investment and measurable business outcomes.

Here’s my take on overcoming obstacles when it comes to implementing a transformational IoT project.

Prove the value in order to overcome cross-departmental barriers

One of the most significant mistakes companies make is applying IoT projects in silos, meaning they only address objectives in one corner of business. Now, this siloed approach can provide benefits such as reduced complexity and increased agility. However, the long-term benefits are muted since isolated departments lack the support and expertise provided by other teams. As a result, it’s extremely difficult to scale new use cases and realize greater value across the business.

To truly foster long-term success in the IoT world, businesses must welcome each aspect of the organization into the fold. After all, if companies are serious about connecting their various field devices to key systems of record and then applying data analytics that transform the entire business, this will invariably impact multiple departments and functions across the organization. 

This isn’t just about IT or data teams. Almost everyone should be involved – from R&D to services and operations, not to mention sales and marketing. This fundamental, wholesale shift in strategy will allow companies to address competing agendas and work towards shared objectives.

But all this work will be for nothing unless there is buy-in from executives at the highest levels – so that everyone can move forward, aligned on both how the technology applies across the business and the long-term objectives the company aims to achieve. 

Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly when considering how difficult it is to convince senior executives to support a project without a business case. But as many of us can relate to, projects need executive support from day one to get off the ground.

To clinch that support, consider defining proof of value in three distinct ways:

1. End customer benefits – This consideration should kick off all innovation projects: what specific business problems are we solving, and how will that improve the experience of the end customers?

2. Bottom line benefits – Cost savings, service efficiency or asset optimization; what are the bottom-line benefits the business will experience from this project?

3. Revenue growth benefits – If successfully implemented, how will this IoT project help the business differentiate its offering, sell more products and services, retain and attract new customers – ultimately generating more top-line revenue?

Using assessment, analysis and supporting data, teams can visualize the potential outcomes and in doing so, demonstrate the success of the project. 

Dream big, but start small

For some companies, the default approach is to take the path of least resistance and apply IoT technology to address a couple of point solutions. 

However, this often results in technical debt. Because the solution is applied quickly and without consideration for long-term growth, it can be extremely tricky to scale or achieve meaningful value.

For example, many companies suffer from unplanned downtime across various devices. The solution? Predictive service, meaning companies can track and identify exactly when a device or piece of machinery is likely to break. While not a new concept, companies still struggle to implement predictive service across products they make and sell – more on this below. Once a use case like predictive service is deployed and delivers tangible success against established KPIs, then a wider net can be cast.

On the other hand, if companies attempt to explore all potential IoT use cases in silos without a holistic approach, they risk spreading their resources too thin while diminishing the impact of each individual project. 

With IoT transformation projects, the best approach is to think big, start small, and scale rapidly:

• Think big – Create a long-term vision that clearly lays out the projected runway for any IoT project. This will enable strategic decisions on technology and partners.

• Start small – Focus on one or two high-priority use cases. Gather learnings and hone new skills. Don’t skip through levels of maturity. During the first few use cases, focus on building a technology foundation and the organization’s capacity for transformation.

• Scale rapidly – With the plan mapped and fundamentals in place, the business is now positioned to move with speed in addressing all the use cases on its list. 

Additionally, consider establishing a digital transformation steering committee, comprising representatives from all functions of the business. This group should be charged with creating a long-term vision, establishing success criteria and then prioritizing projects.  

With this structure in place, teams all operate on the same plan. Successes and failures should form key learnings on a long-term transformation journey.

Choose the right partner: technology and consulting expertise 

The business world is currently undergoing a relentless pace of change. No single company can thrive in the digital-first era alone. Many companies try to build their own IoT solution, but they get stuck because it requires significant resources, skills, and organizational structure they may not have, resulting in a never-ending or failed solution that does not achieve the intended business outcomes or ROI. Even companies who choose to select a partner for their IoT solution have trouble finding the right partners to help execute a sustained, long-term vision. These challenges are examples of why it’s hard to succeed with even an initial use case like predictive service, as mentioned above.

The key here is not falling into the trap of just selecting a technology provider. Instead, choose a strategic partner that will continuously work alongside and grow with your company to help realize specific business outcomes. Of course, the ideal scenario is a partner that can provide both: the technology and the consulting services.

At Lexmark, we’ve packaged our own IoT platform and consulting services to help accelerate the digital transformation of other businesses. As a fellow manufacturer of connected products, this is a solution we've crafted, nurtured and used in-house for more than 20 years. We've lived and breathed this journey ourselves and today, use this solution to manage over one million devices at customer locations around the world. 

As such, we are uniquely positioned to help other manufacturers of connected products achieve results and realize the added benefits for themselves and their end customers.

Demetrios Karathanasis is global portfolio director for the Optra IoT Platform at Lexmark. In that role, he brings to market the company's latest offering in IoT. He joined the company in 2002 and previously held a variety roles in sales, strategy and service operations. Karathanasis has extensive experience in designing and overseeing Lexmark's Managed Print Services (MPS) for large global companies in manufacturing, finance, retail, and healthcare. Karathanasis holds a bachelor's degree in finance and management, as well as an MBA in finance from the University of Kentucky.