How to Turn IoT Insights into Action

illustration of two people shaking hands with overlay of data points

By Bill Amelio, Chief Executive Officer, Avnet

While an IoT platform can generate a lot of insight, you don’t improve your organization’s efficiency, increase customer satisfaction, or open a new business opportunity without applying it. Valuable business benefits like these require that something or someone actually does something – that is, trigger an action or take one.

Action is the whole point of the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s also the hardest part because it involves asking people to change.

Put change management on your roadmap

Actions come in two forms: One is an action taken by a human based on an insight the IoT presents. When an oil company professional receives an alert about a problem, even if it is complete with details and possible repair options, he or she still needs to actively decide whether or not to deploy a repair crew to the possible pipeline leak.

The other category is automated actions taken by machines based on rules or algorithms. We refer to these as “machine-to-machine” actions. Think of a driverless car slamming on its brakes when a child darts into the road. Even these machine-to-machine actions still require human involvement. People need to monitor, assess and refine what the machines are doing, or your business stagnates.

Often, the hardest IoT projects are the ones that directly ask humans to take action. Examples include getting nurses to respond, CFOs to spend, or factories to suspend production. Since IoT is designed to enable business transformation, any project will require a change management element to support that transformation.

However, this is one aspect where many people don’t plan. Inadequate change management is one of the most common reasons for IoT failure. It is easy (and wrong) to think that IoT is a tech play. It’s not. IoT is a value play, a business play and a human play. Actions aren’t a “flip of the switch” like turning on a light bulb. Actions require changes in human thinking and human behavior.

Start small, collaborate and iterate

I suggest three strategies for successful change management in IoT.

First, start small and focused. It is easy for managers and frontline employees to get inundated by the insights generated from an IoT system. You can have too many insights, so learning to parcel out insights is important. Start with simple actions that can quickly show value, then build from there. Remember that IoT systems inevitably require people to change not just how they do things, but often what they do.

Second, collaborate in the development of new IoT business processes. Or as we like to say, co-create with the people who will take the actions. They should be involved in the scope, design, analysis and implementation process because collaboration between the technology and business teams is a key factor to implementing successful IoT projects. By involving staff in the design, an organization will invariably identify nuances that can be easily missed. Moreover, co-creation assures that those who carry out the actions are informed, engaged and empowered. It will also help you build trust.

Third, stage actions in an iterative manner. Every IoT engagement should start with a use case based on one or more hypotheses of how it will deliver quantifiable business value. Sometimes your hypothesis will pan out, other times it won’t. Everyone needs to feel comfortable with this. Let your proofs of concept teach you and your staff. In fact, think of them as communications platforms rather than technology platforms. If you notice very little process change after your IoT implementation, go back and ask why.

As you deploy these pilots, you learn from them. Sometimes you discover an opportunity to increase automation within the organization. But sometimes you may find that certain actions have become too automated and you need to dial up personal engagement. The point is that an IoT deployment isn’t a “do it and see you later” event. It is a process that always requires adjusting.

Actions (often) demand business transformation

Finally, if you’re not ready to change how you do things, don’t try IoT. The folks at McKinsey Digital rightly note that, “IoT is a business opportunity, not just a tech opportunity.”

IoT is a sizable investment, and generating true value requires changing staff responsibilities, sometimes even the business model. What’s more, IoT implementations can take between 12-18 months to deploy—a significant amount of time for any business. A strong use case, one that incorporates the right business objective, internal stakeholders and external partners, can shorten this significantly.

That is why, at Avnet, we go beyond “proof of concept” – that is, “will it work?”—when planning for IoT deployment. Instead we focus on “proof of value” – that is, will it create true value for a business or organization? Change management is an important part of this calculation because, quite frankly, it adds cost, time and resources. Your IoT solution needs to be viable both technologically and financially to deliver value and competitive advantage in the marketplace.

This requires sponsorship and support from the top levels of management. If the C-suite of the organization is not behind an IoT deployment, and the change it requires, the critical element of value creation – the actions – typically don’t happen.

Turning insights into actions is difficult. It demands change, and change can be a pretty messy process. But if you plan for it, remain flexible, and don’t give up, your organization can reach further than you ever imagined.

Bill Amelio

Bill Amelio is the Chief Executive Officer of Avnet.

Avnet's Bill Amelio

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