Generation IoT: The Key to Business Survival in the 21st Century


“The only constant is change.” It’s an adage that goes back 2500 years to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. But never has it been as true as it is today. Technology adoption is growing exponentially, driving change at a dizzying pace. Billions of devices are connecting to networks — most of them the sensors, controllers, and machines that power the Internet of Things (IoT). You probably see the rapid growth of connected devices in your own organization: on the manufacturing floor, in your logistics system, hospital or retail store. But are you seeing the corresponding business impact generated by connected processes and business models enabled by IoT?

Over the last 25 years, organizations have had to reinvent themselves every three to seven years to keep up with the pace of change. Companies that missed one technology transition might scramble to catch up, but missing two meant a slow fade to obscurity, irrelevance, and death. Just think about the rapid evolution from records, to cassettes, to CDs — with each transition creating new winners and losers. Today, the evolution has come full circle as digital streaming services have made any kind of physical media obsolete.

That kind of relentless change threatens the survival of many businesses. According to The Boston Consulting Group, only 19 percent of S&P 500 companies from 50 years ago are still in existence today. How can you ensure the survival of your business?

A new generation of leaders, makers, thinkers, and doers is meeting that change with flexibility and optimism, and transforming it into opportunity. In my upcoming book, Building the Internet of Things, I call these pioneers “Generation IoT.” These are the people who see the transformational power of IoT-driven processes, business models and new revenue streams. They are eager to champion and drive these opportunities in their organizations. These people know that IoT is not just one project, one training session, one change. They know that in order to succeed they and their organizations need to adjust and re-learn, over and over again.

Generation IoT is first defined by openness — open standards, open collaboration, open communications, and open, flexible business models. Members of Generation IoT can be found in IT or operational technology (OT). They can run the plant, or be part of the supply chain. They can be vendors, contractors, or CXOs. They can be young or old. All are willing to learn and take risks, and are good at building virtual teams internally and partnering externally. You can recognize these new winners not by their age or their titles — but by their ability to build and deploy agile, flexible business solutions.

Here’s an example: a decade ago, visionaries talked about mass customization — building mass-produced products to each individual buyer’s specifications. But it was difficult to implement efficiently and proved to be an idea ahead of its time. Today, IoT makes this concept much more practical and cost-effective because information can be shared in real time between every element in the supply chain. Buyers can click on the components they want. Suppliers and logistics providers can see what is being ordered and adjust their scheduling accordingly. Production systems can be retooled as needed. With the information flowing up and down the supply chain, all the necessary materials are at the production line when that customer’s order is being assembled, whether it’s a car or a three-piece suit.

With IoT, mass customization is not just a future possibility — it’s starting to happen. Daihatsu Motor Company is already using 3D printers to offer car buyers 10 colors and 15 base patterns to create their own “effect skins” for car exteriors. Each car rolls off the line customized for that individual buyer.

The key question — and it’s the focus of both my book and this blog series — is how it’s all supposed to happen.

Yes, vision is important. Pointing your organization toward where and how it needs to transform itself is key. But the road to realizing such vision is a multi-year, multi-phased journey and it starts with you successfully tackling one of today’s business problems. A low-risk, small project based on a well-established use-case is all that is needed to get going. Armed with the initial success, you can then pick a more complex problem and an IoT solution that will also have a bigger impact. IoT is a journey.

Along the way, you will break down silos and build understanding and cooperation among IT, OT, supply chain and finance. You will also bring in an ecosystem of partners for a complete, converged solution. The good news is that thousands of your peers have already started on the IoT journey. Based on their experiences, a set of best practices has emerged:

• Have a big vision, but start with a small project using one of the four fast payback scenarios I outline in my book: connected operations, remote operations, predictive analytics, and predictive maintenance.

• Build you own business case by comparing industry benchmarks with your own total cost of ownership data.

• Get a C-suite sponsor, because you are not implementing one IoT project, you are starting on the journey that will transform your organization, your industry, and your career.

• Build a cross-functional team; you need complementary skills, so maximize the chances of success by building support and buy-in across your entire organization.

Finally, recognize that we’re all relatively new at this. None of us have spent our careers on IoT — not yet. You can be an extremely valuable member of this transformation with the skills you have today. Whether you’re in Generation X, Y, or Z, you can be part of Generation IoT. Stay tuned for my next blog, where I’ll take a closer look at the four fast-payback paths to IoT.

- Maciej Kranz, VP, Corporate Strategic Innovation, Cisco Systems