President and CEO of Coolfire Don Sharp joins Terri Foudray, CEO of ConvIOT, to weigh in on what it takes for enterprises to leverage IoT technology for cutting-edge applications.
Terri Foudray is the Founder and CEO of ConvIOT, a fully integrated IoT provider that architects and implements custom end-to-end solutions to help companies access data. Here she brings unique insights from working with companies on the strategic and technical aspects of IoT deployments.
Don Sharp, President and CEO of Coolfire, brings a different perspective to the table by focusing on how the data from IoT technologies can inform action and drive value in the enterprise. Together, Terri and Don articulate both the complexity and the immense rewards of well-executed IoT solutions.
Q: Let’s talk about the benefits of IoT. Why should companies invest in IoT solutions?
Don Sharp (DS): The biggest benefit is that IoT gives you access to better information to manage your business — and there are thousands of business and government applications for IoT. For instance, taxpayer-funded agencies like the Missouri Department of Transportation can now install sensors on roadways to monitor issues such as snowpack. This can help the agency optimize their resources and deploy snowplows to the streets that need help the most.
If you use the IoT, you don’t have to guess when to take action — you can make informed decisions based on real-time data regarding the environment, your equipment, and so on.
Terri Foudray (TF): We’re in a world where formerly unconnectable objects are now connected. These connections include infrastructure in smart cities, sensors on manufacturing equipment to improve uptime and throughput, sensors in hospitals to gather data to improve patient care, or sensors in vehicles to make our roads safer and deliver goods faster. These connections are about the extraction of useful data for visibility into what is happening right now — as well as being able to change outcomes.
Q: In which industries have you seen the IoT having the biggest impact?
DS: IoT is becoming important in capital-intensive industries such as transportation and logistics. These businesses can’t afford downtime for vehicles, and IoT data can help fix that. It’s interesting that these industries have had access to this data for a long time, but they are just beginning to use the technology that allows them to put this data to work. For example, using telematics data, fleet managers can identify problems and schedule predictive maintenance before a breakdown occurs, thus avoiding expensive downtime.
TF: In addition to transportation, the Internet of Things has delivered an immediate benefit in manufacturing, both for managing operational inefficiencies and boosting safety. IoT data helps you predict potential machine failures and allows you to proactively divert your workflow and prioritize allocation of resources. This new operational visibility allows you to keep the factory floor running efficiently and safely while maximizing uptime.
Q: What would you say is the most successful IoT implementation that you’ve been a part of?
TF: One of our recent solutions in the transportation category was designed to improve safety for first responders and citizens by monitoring first responder driving behavior in real-time. We worked hand-in-hand with the customer to build a solution that unified edge devices and extended the capability of the existing solution for deeper insights to additional factors.
ConvIOT added the ability to see rapid acceleration, hard braking, and rollover events in real-time. The integration at the edge enabled our customer to do real-time in-cab coaching with the driver to change behavior. The solution was rolled out in St. Louis in fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and other vehicles with great success.
DS: The first IoT project that comes to mind is the implementation of a digital border wall in Central Asia. This particular border spans 200 miles of mountainous terrain that was dangerous and sometimes impossible to secure. Security teams were only aware of illegal border crossings if a guard spotted activity from a watchtower. This made the border a popular route for drug traffickers and terrorist groups.
Our new digital border wall consists of multiple unattended ground sensors and cameras along the entire border. These devices can send real-time data such as imagery and video to the nearest border guards and to command centers when a person or thing crosses the border. Access to this shared data creates a common operational picture for border units and allows them to ‘have eyes everywhere.’
Q: Why do you think some businesses are hesitant to move forward with IoT?
TF: There is a lot of buzz around IoT. I believe that executives want to move forward, but get stuck because they simply can’t find the right resources to help them build a business case and overcome internal politics — as well as bring expertise in designing a scalable end-to-end solution.
With IoT, there isn’t always an obvious path forward. You have to be willing to think outside the box. When you architect a system for a single sensor to a single cloud — that’s fairly easy. But when you architect something at scale, that requires more tenacity and expert guidance. IoT is about people coming together with technology to make businesses better.
DS: When it comes to new technology like the IoT, some organizations prefer to wait and see, while the early adopters test the technology and build out new business models. It’s a fear of the unknown. They don’t want to pick the wrong model or waste time on the wrong solution.
I understand that hesitation, and I know why some organizations may choose to wait. However, there are risks in waiting as well. If you wait, you risk the loss of your employees and your market share to those organizations that choose to innovate. Equally important, you lose the opportunity to learn from innovation.
Q: What advice would you give companies looking to implement a new IoT project?
DS: When you’re trying something new, I’m a big believer in starting small and iterating. It’s hard to know what to build and what to design. You don’t want to put a ton of sensors out there and collect a ton of data and then do nothing with it. And I’ve certainly seen companies do that.
It’s also important to take the time to understand what it is you want to impact so that you can collect the right data and get it to the right people. This will help you define success for your IoT project and will get you closer to delivering the bottom line.
TF: It isn’t easy to connect the unconnected. You will need expertise beyond sensors and actuators. The IoT requires you to move data to the cloud and perform analytics. You have to get involved with sensor physics, energy harvesting, and embedded systems. You have to start considering your communication systems and go into your network theory. You start looking at security, cloud dynamics, predictive analytics, machine learning, and more. By the time you’re done, you realize that you’re touching on all types of engineering domains as you try to set up something reliable and efficient.
Unfortunately, many IT departments are hesitant to work with an outside company because they want to own it and keep it internal. That may be why 70% of IoT projects never move beyond the proof of concept phase. You need to work with someone who understands a variety of complex domains. That often requires you to look outside your organization. I realize it may sound self-serving, but it really pays off to work with a trusted systems integrator with experience in IoT.
Q: According to Gartner’s 2019 Hype Cycle, IoT is moving past the hype phase. When do you expect to see an acceleration in adoption?
TF: After you cross the peak of the hype, you start understanding why some pilots didn’t work, and why many proofs of concepts didn’t pan out. And the early adopters and innovators will learn from that process. They will continue to push forward and will be the ones to capitalize on the technology.
We’re at that point now where you have a lot of knowns and unknowns — but the competitors that carve out an advantage in this space will be the ones who make it to the next point in this curve.
DS: That’s a hard question to answer, but I would say we’ll start to see the next adoption acceleration in 2020. How fast that acceleration will be is difficult to predict, but based on conversations we’re having with organizations figuring out IoT business models, I think we’ll start seeing more and more adoption next year. That acceleration is going to be driven by industry leaders, as well as tech companies and the providers working with them.