Overcoming Challenges to IoT Implementation

Stephen DeAngelis

March 19, 2019

Numerous studies have concluded nearly half of all Internet of Things (IoT) projects end in failure. Unless you are playing baseball, batting less than .500 is not great. The failure rate demonstrates the IoT remains in its infancy and implementing it correctly remains difficult. A couple of years ago, a Cisco study concluded, “The top five challenges across all stages of an IoT implementation included time to completion, limited internal expertise, quality of data, integration across teams, and budget overruns.”[1] You will notice none of those challenges really involve technology. Despite the dismal failure rate of IoT projects, analysts predict northward of 20 billion devices will be connected via IoT by next year. That means successful IoT implementation is essential for both industry and consumers. Before further discussing IoT implementation challenges, let me remind you that the IoT is not a single network connecting all things. The IoT is a network of ecosystems with each ecosystem consisting of sensors (the things) that generate and transmit data via the Internet (the IoT) to analytic platforms (cognitive systems) where the data is analyzed for insights and, when programmed, response. To be successful, the entire IoT ecosystem must work flawlessly.


IoT implementation challenges


The more I read about barriers to IoT implementation, the more I realize technology is not the main concern. In addition to challenges noted by Cisco, W. David Stephenson (@data4all), principal of Stephenson Strategies, insists having the right attitude is essential for successful IoT implementation. “No matter how much IoT technology you buy,” he writes, “if you don’t make significant attitudinal changes, you can’t realize its full potential.”[2] Like Cisco analysts and Stephenson, Dan Yarmoluk (@YarmolukDan), business and market development lead for ATEK’s IoT products, believes most IoT implementation challenges don’t involve technology. In fact, he insists, there is “too much attention on the technology stack or informational technology.”[3] Other barriers identified Yarmoluk include: Conservative technology culture or too much focus on operational technology; lack of industrial technologists to lead the IIoT program; failure to appreciate the long-term return on investment of IIoT projects; and security concerns. “Technology may be ready for the enterprise,” writes Justine Brown, “but is the enterprise ready for technology?”[4] Tanja Rueckert (@RueckertTanja), President of the Internet of Things and Digital Supply Chain Business Unit at SAP, adds, “Many executives simply don’t realize how complicated and far-reaching an IoT transformation will be. … Manufacturers can achieve game-changing competitive advantage with the IoT — but few are ready.”[5]


Overcoming IoT implementation challenges


According to Yarmoluk, there is nothing wrong with thinking big; but, he believes, you should start small when it comes to IoT projects. He explains, “A straightforward and practical approach should be used when embarking on an IoT project. This should not be viewed as a massive, company-changing effort, but rather a series of small projects or digital test beds that have the potential to increase revenue, improve the bottom line or boost customer retention. While we all recognize the opportunity for success, realize that not all IoT initiatives will succeed, some say that about half will fail. If you have that in mind (failure on some trials or projects will happen) then company expectations about success are reasonable.” When you think about it, Yarmoluk’s think big, act small approach makes a lot of sense because it’s much easier to tinker with and correct small projects than large ones. At Enterra Solutions®, we recommend our clients adopt a crawl, walk, run approach when initiating new projects. This approach allows solutions to be tweaked and proven before being scaled. Bernd Gross, a senior vice president at Software AG, agrees. “When IoT implementation does not work,” he writes, “it is likely due to businesses either pushing IoT solutions at a scale that stretches engineering capabilities or moving too fast to integrate IoT technologies into a current system.”[6]


Since most IoT implementation challenges involve non-technology-related issues, it makes sense to address those non-technology issues before starting your journey. Below are some of the identified IoT implementation challenges along with a few ideas about how they can be addressed.


1. Time to completion. Before you begin an IoT project, be realistic.  IoT transformation is complicated and far-reaching and you are most likely to achieve success by looking for a few quick wins with small projects.


2. Budget and budget overruns. Just like with time, budgets need to be realistic. Shoestring budgets are likely to result in less than satisfactory results. On the other hand, if you have a clear vision and a sound strategy (see below) a realistic budget can be estimated.


2. Limited internal expertise. Yarmoluk insists IoT implementation success requires a “fine balance of domain expertise (OT) [and] data science (IT) [expertise] to yield positive outcomes for the organization.” The Cisco study found, “When examining successful IoT projects, 75% of the top factors came down to ‘people and relationships’.” Executives need to make a clear-eyed assessment of their internal talent so they know what external expertise they need to secure in order to improve their chances of success.


3. Quality of data. Wael Elrifai (@Wael_Elrifai), a senior director of enterprise solutions at Hitachi Vantara, insists you can’t ensure you have the right kind of quality data if you don’t know what you are hoping to achieve. He asserts companies need to “identify and prioritize IoT applications suitable and relevant for the organization, not just [a particular] product. This practice helps organizations assess which business processes and products IoT can impact within a given organization.”[7] He adds, “Develop and share with your partners, suppliers and customers, clear guidelines on how data is managed and share between stakeholders in various processes.” This will help ensure you have the right data for your project.


4. Integration across teams. Integration and collaboration are never easy. The larger the enterprise the more difficult they become. One of the first things an organization can do is invest in a cognitive platform capable of integrating both structured and unstructured data so all teams are working from a single source of truth. This single source of truth also helps with implementation; especially if open data systems are leveraged. Elrifai insists the best results are achieved when organizations “collaborate with technology service providers promoting and encouraging open data systems rather than closed loop solutions.”


5. Enterprise culture and attitude. As Stephenson noted, “No matter how much IoT technology you buy, if you don’t make significant attitudinal changes, you can’t realize its full potential.” He suggests there are four “Essential Truths” whose acceptance can help organizations achieve the right culture and attitude. They are: 1) Make privacy and security your top priority; 2) share data — don’t hoard it; 3) change policies and procedures to be sure the data flows in cyclical, not linear, fashion; and, 4) rethink products — and their roles (big data can help ensure product design and refinement become a continuous process). Stephenson concludes, “[These essential truths] are complementary and synergistic. Adopting several or all produces cumulative benefits that are far greater than each would have produced in isolation.”


6. Vision and strategy. As the Cheshire Cat told Alice, if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t really matter which path you take. In business, lack of vision and a strategy almost guarantees failure. As Gross observes, “New IoT technologies have the potential transform businesses. If done by a coordinated effort, that transformation can be a success. If no strategy or ready-made solution supports the integration of a new technology, the project is likely to fail.”


Concluding thoughts


Elrifai concludes, “The profound transformation to IoT and data-driven architectures will also involve new ways of working, new skills and resources, new types of contractual arrangements and significant cultural change up and down the supply chain.” Stephenson adds, “It won’t be easy scuttling old attitudes that we’ve inherited from the nineteenth-century Industrial Age. They’re so ingrained in our subconscious, we’re not even aware how much they shape our thinking and restrict our vision and our ability to consider alternatives.” Ignoring the IoT and its potential is not an option; so do your homework and lay the groundwork so your IoT solutions have a better chance to succeed.


[1] Justine Brown, “Cisco: More than half of enterprise IoT projects unsuccessful,” CIO Dive, 12 June 2017.
[2] W. David Stephenson, “Four Essential Truths for IoT Success,” IndustryWeek, 4 January 2019.
[3] Dan Yarmoluk, “Top 5 Barriers to IIoT Adoptions and How to Overcome Them,” IoT World Today, 1 February 2017.
[4] Brown, op. cit.
[5] Tanja Rueckert, “Building An IoT Foundation For The Future,” D!gitalist, 7 December 2017.
[6] Bernd Gross, “Overcoming the most common obstacles to IoT implementation,” Information Management, 18 May 2018.
[7] Wael Elrifai, “Navigating the future of IoT one step at a time,” Information Management, 23 October 2017.