5 best practices for IIoT project success

Based on years of pilot projects and proofs-of-concept, the Industrial Internet Consortium has detailed the best practices organizations can use to ensure successful deployments.

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While most consumers may find Internet of Things (IoT) devices like Google's Nest or Ring's doorbells new and exciting technology, the manufacturing world has embraced the IoT to optimize discrete and process manufacturing operations for decades.

The industrial IoT (IIoT), which started as remote sensing of things like temperature and pressure, has today matured into a way of linking operational systems that control production with the wider world of applications outside of the control room like ERP platforms and supply chain management systems.

SEE: IoT security: A guide for IT leaders (TechRepublic Premium)

"The major benefits of the industrial IoT is to bring more visibility to existing processes," said report author Jaques Durand, director of Standards and Engineering at Fujitsu North America and a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium Steering Committee. "It's not so much about reaching some level of automation. People want to understand what's going on."

Getting to an advanced state of IIoT usage can be difficult without understanding the mistakes to avoid along the way. That's why the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), has spent the last six years developing and deploying testbeds for manufacturers to use when evaluating different IIoT technologies, platforms, designs, products, architectures, and use cases.

Based on the results of these testbed proofs-of-concept (POC), today the IIC released a white paper, A Compilation of Testbed Results: Toward Best Practices for Developing and Deploying IIoT Solutions, detailing the best practices companies should adopt to ensure successful IIoT deployments.

"The IoT problem that each company is facing or each organization is facing is different," Durand said. "Even if they use the same technologies, which is not granted, they are facing very different conditions and priorities in real-world conditions. What's being developed [with IIoT] is a solution. It is not deploying a product. It's building a solution, and that is different everywhere."

What isn't different are the best practices organizations can adopt to ensure that the early stages of IIoT development and deployment go as smoothly and successfully as possible. Many of the IIC's findings will be familiar to most people who have piloted and later deployed new technologies into their organization. 

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The IIC has found that organizations should:

Understand and value partnerships: Because of their complexity, successful IIoT projects depend on a team of people with a broad range of skills. Ensuring that each team member is the right fit for the roles they will play is crucial.

"The [testbed] teams learned how to build and manage a partnership of experts in different areas of an IIoT solution and from various backgrounds," Durand said in a summary of the report. "They had to learn how to adjust testbed goals so that every party is motivated with respect to their own objectives, combining product and technology testing with business goals, and accommodating short-term and long-term interests."

Identify and communicate business value early and often: As IIoT deployments get underway, the initial business case may change as new capabilities and new uses for the IIoT deployment are uncovered. Testbed teams found it was important to tie the work they were doing to the broader business goals of the organization.

"Testbeds teams realized the importance of experimenting with the business model, not just the technologies," Durand said. "They discovered new business opportunities as testbed development progressed. The teams realized the importance of quantifying the business benefits with the customers, while remaining flexible: Expected business value in several cases evolved over time."

SEE: Securing IoT in your organization: 10 best practices (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Include the people whose jobs may be impacted: New technologies can create fear that someone's job is in jeopardy, so it's important to include shop-floor personnel in the project.

"One learning of particular significance is to identify opportunities first that help the people on the shop floor gain more visibility into existing operations and enabling field operators," Durand said. "That [way] field operators can see the value of the technology and view it as less threatening to their jobs. This proved to be a necessary step toward further automation or advanced asset management such as predictive maintenance."

Consider more than just technology when setting requirements and goals: By understanding that IIoT deployments are more than just technology projects, the teams realized they needed to incorporate "non-functional concerns" into their thinking to make the project successful.

"Business goals are naturally the main driver," Durand said, "yet their modalities in the field can be diverse. Many constraints come into play that could derail the project if ignored, such as:

• the necessity to demonstrate value in the short term (a major factor),
• technical and operational feasibility,
• tolerable disruption in field operations,
• respecting the interests of all parties involved,
• and long-term prospects.

These take some time to uncover and deliberate over."

SEE: Special report: The rise of Industrial IoT (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Use commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) and standards wherever possible: IIoT teams should buy instead build their IIoT solutions and platforms so that most of the effort goes into solving business and operational problems, not wrangling technology.

"Carefully selected IIoT platform technologies enable rapid development and delivery of testbeds and IIoT solutions," Durand said. "Hence, the testbed program recommends their use."

Using recognized standards helps ease concerns about current and future interoperability issues."Testbed teams realized the value of using standards when available," Durand said. "They observed that standards bring more confidence to end users on the long-term viability of their solution regarding its scalability and its interoperability."

Ultimately, successful IIoT deployments are more about people than technology, he said. For anyone familiar with the old IT mantra: "people, process, and technology … in that order," this will not come as any surprise. But it often is a lesson that has to be learned and learned again.

"The partnership aspect is very important," Durand said. "Several testbed projects didn't realize how important that was for the success of their pilot; the human side. What will be the impact on the OT [operational technology] expert? We have seen that a successful approach was to actually  empower the experts in the field, the operations managers, instead of threatening them. You know, with IIoT there is always the threat of automation [putting] job relevance at risk."

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