Avoiding ‘pilot purgatory’; don’t try this alone

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On April 9 it was World IoT Day. It is nine years since the IoT Council launched this initiative, since when it has grown in both scope and scale.

It has spawned many events and activities globally, marking the evolution of IoT, not least of which was the inaugural IoT Day Slam virtual conference organised by 23,000+ members of the IoT Community.

I reference these events to illustrate how industry can come together to further the adoption and application of IoT in commercial environments, to overcome technical and operational issues. And it is this sort of collaboration that we all need to bear in mind when helping clients scale up pilot projects.

Last year the World Economic Forum† painted rather a depressing picture when it reported that over 70% of industrial companies were still either at the beginning of the journey or unable to go beyond pilot stage, a phenomenon described as ‘pilot purgatory’. It claimed 84% of companies were stuck in pilot mode for over a year, and 28% for more than two years. 

This is why participating in virtual consortiums like IoT Day Slam and contributing to the IoT Community are so critical. Not only do IoT solution developers benefit from the shared insights but so too do their customers who get to use the technologies that emerge from this collaborative environment. 

And this seemed to be one of the messages emerging from a recent survey*on beyond proofs of concept and scaling industrial IoT. It claimed that operational technology vendors and manufacturers will need to mobilise quickly in order to gain the necessary capabilities, and position themselves for sustainable success.

It advised companies not to try this alone but to work closely with analytics vendors or enterprise IT vendors, and cloud service providers for the gaps in knowledge and capabilities required. It also cautioned against unmanageablealliances with too many players, suggesting partnerships were more effective with a selective approach based on the use case. 

I’m aware of a few such partnerships that are already bearing fruit. I know of one project where an IT vendor worked with a software and hardware development firm to develop IoT sensors to monitor warehouses and utilities for gas leaks to ensure safe evacuation. Such examples illustrate the gains that can be achieved through collaboration. 

When Zebra launched its Savanna platform in 2017, for example, it invited the IoT Community, including peers, to leverage its R&D investment to take IoT cloud mobility to the next level. Such IT vendor arrangements negate firms having to build their own platform to collect edge data; it can be accessed through an API to enable applications to be written.

If survey* results are to be believed, the IoT technology applications gaining most traction are in quality control, remote monitoring of assets/equipment and predictive maintenance. Smart city solutions like water and pollution monitoring may have generated a lot of media attention but had failed to garner interest from vendors and customers.

So, the advice to avoid pilot purgatory would seem, in part, to be building an ecosystem of technology partners. It’s claimed that 40% of manufacturers prefer to build their own technology stacks in-house because they need to bridge a wide range of systems, some of which were procured from vendors and some developed in-house or co-developed. In this instance, they should select a few partners with functional and integrative expertise with whom to co-develop.

And when it comes to co-developing it’s fair to say that an IoT investment is essential to becoming a truly intelligent enterprise. The insights gleaned from business leaders, technology developers and early adopters in the IoT Community will help you make the right investment the first time.

Remember; ‘don’t try this alone!’


† The Next Economic Growth Engine white paper by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with McKinsey & Company

* Beyond Proofs of Concept: Scaling the Industrial IoT, Bain & Company, 2019

2 Digital manufacturing – escaping pilot purgatory, Digital/Mckinsey 2018

Richard Gilliard

Renovotec is the UK’s largest independent rugged hardware and maintenance, software and services company. Managing Director Richard Gilliard has helped lead the organisation for over 25 years, supporting customers across many sectors including warehousing and distribution, transport and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, seaports and field mobility. Richard's drive is to enable firms through…


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