The term IoT (Internet of Things) has been around for a while. I still remember when I moved from the world of electronics and Industrial Automation to the world of internet connected devices. I struggled to catch the differences between the old M2M (Machine to Machine) and the new trendy IoT technologies. Which applications fall under one domain and which under the other? Over time I learned this is not a zero-one kind of question, but a topic more suited for a Friday-beer with colleagues, rather than a substantial classification.
Nomenclature aside, what is real, and tangible is the value that these applications are generating in different industries.
Generating value by using IoT
Think of a fitness tracker outputting the likelihood of you having a stroke, or reminding you to move after an entire day in home-office. Think of intelligent energy meters allowing a Smart Grid to better monitor and control an electrical network, reducing costs and energy consumption for the constantly growing number of electric vehicles. Think of the possibility of locating and unlocking your favorite e-scooter at your fingertips.
All these applications could fall under the definition of Internet of Things.
“Devices that throughout a network, and different degrees of user interactions, generate value of different kind”.
But what do these applications have in common? Not much. And this is the challenge.
Challenges experienced when dealing with ÍoT
On one side you have a company developing a new product, needing to establish a supply chain in China and to hire a bunch of developers expert in Bluetooth and Android/iOS. On the other side you have an ecosystem of companies (energy suppliers, brokers, distributors, electrical devices manufacturers) with quite different operating models, needing to cooperate and find the best architecture to integrate their systems and meet the goal of different stakeholders involved (your company, the end users, the environment).
As reported in the Microsoft IoT Signal 2020 report, the main challenges these companies are experiencing when dealing with IoT are, among others, technical complexity, lack of competence, and unclear business strategy.
IoT requires a business-driven approach
IoT is not a technology. IoT is an umbrella term used to label applications requiring connectivity between devices. IoT initiatives are not a category on their own. Just like other technology initiatives, they are undertaken with the goal of generating some sort of value. And as such, they should be run with the same approach of other technology initiatives.
A business-driven approach, and not a technology-driven approach.
Connecting a device to the cloud requires at worst a couple of hours, but having your company designing, procuring, and operating a fleet of devices (securely and at scale) is a completely different challenge.
Steps for addressing IoT challenges for your business
So, how to address these technical and business challenges? Here are a few steps to get started:
- Define the drivers and goals around your IoT Initiative.
Are you going to launch a new product? Why? Are you going to provide a new service on top of your existing product line? How will you prize it? Do you need to reduce your operational costs? Which ones?
- Map the end-user journey
How will the different users interact with the system? What will be their first touch point? Will they use a smartphone or an HMI SCADA system?
- Draft a Stakeholders Network Diagram
Which parties are involved around the initiative? Who is a Partner sharing risk with you, and who is a Supplier providing a service? How is everyone connected to each other?
- Map Capabilities and Resources needed
Do you need a development team? What does the supply chain require? Do you need to develop a physical product? Do you need customer service? Do you need a fleet of technicians?
- Sketch your solution (aka define your Target Architecture)
What are the processes, the people, and the systems/technologies involved? How do they relate to each other? What is your Business Architecture, Information Systems Architecture, and Technology Architecture?
- Analyze what you have (aka define your Baseline Architecture) and fill the gaps (aka conduct your Gap Analysis)
How is your company currently organized? How are processes, systems, and people currently structured? What can be reused, what needs to be changed? How will the new solution fit within your company’s current dynamics and structure?
- Conduct a Buy vs Make analysis.
Should you develop a new system, or should you send out a Request for Proposal? Should you hire new developers, or should you buy that small startup? What should be managed in-house, and what should be outsourced?
Plan, Develop, Procure, Configure, …
These are the high level, yet essential steps involved at the start of your successful IoT initiative. Now, how does Enterprise Architecture fit into this picture?
Enterprise Architecture supporting IoT
Enterprise Architecture (EA) is the practice of analyzing, designing, planning, and implementing solutions for the successful development and execution of a company’s strategy.
Thus, by following the steps above, and adding migration planning, operation governance and architecture change management, you will have the right EA in place to support your IoT initiative.
Like many other disciplines, Enterprise Architecture is a lot about risk management. You could (maybe) skip all the steps above and jump into the development of your super smart Bluetooth meter and Digital Twin platform, but (maybe) you realize two years along the line that you should have just procured an NBIoT meter from Germany and used the Digital Twin platform from Azure. Or even worse, that you didn’t need a meter at all.
Following the analogy made by my colleague John Ole Norlemann in his blog-post posted in February, an Enterprise Architect can be seen as the real estate agent of a digital transformation initiative. A trusted advisor assisting the organization in the planning and execution of a change.
Could you sell or buy your house without a real estate agent? Maybe. Just don’t forget to define and follow the steps unique to your journey.