Over the past years, the Withthegrid team has supported customers in implementing different industrial IoT projects. We provided connected solutions in a wide range of locations such as out in the field, underground, and in buildings. It helped customers to significantly improve their operations by detecting leaks or by monitoring corrosion protection.
In this overview, we share with you some pitfalls that you should be aware of. But, more importantly, we outline the factors that will help turn your IoT project into a success. We define three essential phases of an IoT project: the preparation phase, the pilot / rollout phase and the operational phase.
I. Preparation phase
The foundation for a successful Industrial IoT project is laid in the preparation phase. This is something that every project manager needs to comprehend. If you follow these four steps, everybody will get on board, deliverables will be clear and the benefits that you hope to achieve will start showing in no time.
1. Determine the business value
The most important part of any industrial IoT transformation is to determine what the business value is of what you want to achieve. From a high-level financial point of view, objectives can be:
- Extending infrastructure lifetime (reduce replacement investment)
- Avoiding failures and associated cost and revenue loss
- Improving operational efficiency (man-hours and cost)
In addition, increasing the quality of your infrastructure, regulatory compliance, improving safety, health and environment standards, or improving work processes can also represent possible objectives. In most cases, total business value is a combination of different objectives.
Once you have set clear objectives, it is crucial to quantify this business value. It will immediately give insights into how much value the proposed change brings and how this value is built up. If this business value is high enough it will help you in all the subsequent steps. If you want to start immediately, take a look at our free business value calculator to determine what value you can realize for your business.
2. Involve all stakeholders
One of the fundamental aspects of industrial IoT is that the process itself changes traditional processes. Involving all stakeholders at the beginning of the project is fundamental for a number of reasons:
A) To understand the existing process and requirements
B) To get buy-in for the upcoming changes
C) To secure operational support during the pilot and rollout phase
3. Understand the technical parameters of industrial IoT
Industrial IoT represents an organizational and technical challenge in one. Although surprises are inevitable, putting in effort at the beginning of the project will minimize the number of technical surprises further down the line. This basically means that you need to understand:
- under what conditions your IoT monitoring devices need to function,
- what measurement frequency is desired,
- to which technical norms it must adhere and how it should be installed.
Of course, all of these parameters will impact the design or selection criteria of your IoT hardware.
Moreover, the importance of breaking down the requirements in this phase is that changing something later can be much more expensive. Here is a perfect example: if you envision devices with a 6 year battery lifetime, and battery life is halved because of a more frequent measurement requirement, it will come down to doubling the number of round trips to replace batteries. A simple change in requirements can save or ruin your business case.
4. Design the new operational process
Oftentimes, you can expect that your project will involve a new operational process. For instance, you can look at it like this – mechanics don’t need to carry out frequent inspection checks anymore, But they still need to react to the alerts generated from IoT devices. This has consequences for the activities the workforce carries out, how these are monitored, how they are budgeted, and what is done with the outcome.
Nowadays, much more data is generated than before. With industrial IoT, you can go from a yearly, monthly, or daily manual inspection to a near-continuous stream of data points. Of course, it is important to know how this data should be handled on a technical level. However, it is even more important to determine what effect it has on the actual processes it supports such as condition based maintenance, long term investment planning, and safety and quality evaluations.
For example, more granular data points from an industrial asset can make forecasting the remaining asset lifetime more accurate leading to better investment decisions. It can also be used to forecast when an asset is likely to fail to trigger a maintenance action before that failure occurs (also known as predictive maintenance).
The step from data to new operational processes requires data processing sophistication: How is data turned into actionable information? Does your organisation have the capabilities to make this step, or are there solutions in the market that can solve this issue for you?
II. Rollout (pilot) phase
5. Allow for phased implementation
Given that your IoT project involves a new process, different stakeholders, and several uncertainties along the way, it is often very useful to allow for a phased implementation. In addition, if you are using new technology, a pilot should definitely be a step in the process.
Naturally, new hardware needs to be tested in the environmental conditions where it will be operating. Also, the reliability of the connectivity solution needs to be monitored and the actual proposed benefits need to be tested.
Also potential downsides or risks of the new IoT solution need to be taken into account. For instance, how is maintenance or device management accounted for?
6. Focus on adding value ASAP
The purpose of your industrial IoT project is to realize the objectives and benefits that you have defined in the preparation phase. In the pilot phase, it is important to go back to them to verify whether expectations need to be adjusted. Reiterating the value add of the project is important as it is common to forget what the actual goal is.
For example: if you have determined that your project should eliminate manual inspections, you should also validate whether the IoT solution generates sufficient and reliable measurements to eliminate your manual inspection work. On the other hand, if you have decided that your project will enable you to forecast failures more accurately, then you should evaluate whether the amount of downtime has decreased.
Right after you confirm the added value during the pilot or rollout phases, you can be assured that you are on the right track and that all stakeholders will stay on board.
7. Involve the solution providers
In many projects, working together with one or several supplier(s) such as for hardware, connectivity or software, will help you tackle issues more efficiently. It is beneficial to set up an interdisciplinary project team and assign clear roles and responsibilities.
During the pilot phase, it is also important to allow time for the supplier to identify any bottlenecks they encounter. This is even more fundamental in case it is a totally new solution.
8. Define a clear Go/No Go beforehand with a pre-approved budget
Once you have carried out the pilot phase, it is important to evaluate it. Also, it is crucial to determine whether all conditions have been met for a full rollout. Oftentimes, these criteria are not clear. As a result, it will be unclear what is needed to determine that the pilot phase was completed successfully. This allows for new arguments to come up between stakeholders.
Having a clear Go /No Go moment is important and avoids slowing down your project. In addition, it should be tied with a pre-approved budget that has been calculated in the business case phase. Furthermore, one of the biggest hurdles for industrial IoT projects is the moment between a successful IoT pilot and going over to a complete rollout. This “crossing the chasm” is where many, even successful, projects tend to fail.
Not having all departments or critical staff on board or not having secured a sufficient budget for a complete rollout can be some of the reasons stalling the project. You should have the required investments for a complete rollout clear from the beginning. And, always remember that the operational phase is where IoT creates its value.
III. Operation phase of industrial IoT
9. Integrate the new process
Now that you have overcome the most difficult part of your IoT project, it’s time for the full rollout and integration into the new processes. During the pilot phase, you most certainly included representatives of all relevant roles in the organisation. Now is the time to get absolutely everyone on board.
What you need to do here is show operators and field workers how much better the new process will be for the business, and what the advantages will be for their daily work. However, you can always expect that adoption will not be immediate everywhere. In addition, make sure to keep track of where it is lagging and re-activate the enthusiasm on multiple occasions.
10. Improve the process
Even if the implementation is complete, this is not the end. Along the way, you have probably encountered issues that can be improved on. So, make sure to determine how you can improve the processes further. Maybe you have found a new project champion whose recommended changes will make your project an even bigger success. Or, maybe you have come across another opportunity to digitalize a work process. This implies starting again at step 1.