• 7 min read

5 internal capabilities to help you increase IoT success

In this third post, we discuss how companies can move forward by identifying and filling capability gaps.

ROI on IoT Part 3 - Blog Hero Image

Enterprise IoT adoption is following a path typical of new technologies. Industry standards emerge, but there is competition among them. Companies gradually develop codified frameworks and best practices to structure projects and minimize the risk of failure. However, during this developmental time, leaders and teams new to the technology may feel like they are wandering in uncharted territory.

This article is the third in a four-part series designed to help companies maximize their ROI on IoT. In the first post, we discussed how IoT can transform businesses. In the second post, we shared insights on how to create a successful strategy that yields desired ROI. In this third post, we discuss how companies can move forward by identifying and filling capability gaps. Let’s dive into some ideas about how to solve some of the challenges that could slow your IoT progress.

Capability #1: Create an enterprise data strategy

Companies today already possess vast amounts of data. Yet much of it remains siloed and unusable, a problem that will exponentially increase with IoT and edge computing.

That’s why many companies are developing an enterprise data strategy and data practice. This discipline helps businesses understand what data they possess and how it maps to business needs, specify new sources of data, assure overall data quality, and align all teams on the path forward. IoT data can be used in data models for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, but only if it is labeled properly, standardized, and deduplicated.    

One source of data companies possess but typically don’t harness is workplace data, which provides insights into how employees use spaces, technologies, and energy. Companies make huge investments in purchasing or leasing real estate, outfitting spaces, and operating buildings. Understanding how spaces are used makes for smarter decisions about growing the business, planning development, updating infrastructure, and forecasting workforce needs.

That’s a business opportunity that Steelcase, a provider of office furniture, has seized. Steelcase has developed technology to use IoT data to create a better workplace experience. The company’s Workplace Advisor is a sensor-based system that detects presence in rooms and collects anonymous data, such as utilization rates of spaces and energy consumption, to help companies make strategic improvements. Meanwhile, the Steelcase Find mobile app helps workers locate colleagues and book rooms that have all the tools they need to work more efficiently. Employees benefit by gaining access to creative spaces that fuel collaboration and productivity, while Steelcase’s clients optimize real estate and operational expenditures.

“Organizations and their employees know they need to work differently, yet most offices are stuck in the past,” says Jim Keane, CEO, Steelcase. “People say they can’t find the right places to work, yet valuable real estate sits empty. There’s a lack of real-time data about what’s working in the office and what’s not. Working with Microsoft, we envisioned a digital transformation in which cloud-enabled technology and big data help organizations serve the needs of human beings at work and create workplaces that can respond quickly to the ways people are actually working. The technology also fosters a feedback loop in which employees can tell organizations what places are successful and why—they can vote with their feet and rate spaces on the app.”

Capability #2: Balance structure and flexibility to exploit new opportunities

As companies gain experience with IoT pilots, they will reach a flexion point: Make the leap to institutionalize IoT by making it a strategic program or stick with further experimentation. The former means big-picture thinking about the possibilities for new services and revenue streams.

IoT can be applied to existing business processes, but its true value emerges when teams take the time to understand what’s broken and why, solve the underlying problems, and align all related processes and workflows to maximize new IoT value. When Steelcase developed its Smart + Connected business line, the company made a long-term bet that its analytics services would become a valuable service offering that would open doors to new customer relationships and deepen existing relationships. By serving a consultative role in helping companies understand their spaces and plan furniture and tools, Steelcase transforms what could be an occasional office furniture purchase into an opportunity for creating ongoing value. In addition, Steelcase Workplace Advisor is sold on a subscription basis, creating an ongoing revenue stream for the company.

“By embedding technology into the work environment, we are enabling people to tell organizations what spaces are successful and why,” says Scott Sadler, Smart + Connected manager, Steelcase. “We can measure and identify patterns in how and where people are working. But data alone is meaningless—to improve performance, individuals and organizations need trusted insights into what works, what doesn’t, and why.”

Considering the full future-forward possibilities of IoT means setting up cross-functional teams, reporting structures, and budgets that are secure for the years and the many use cases it will take to build IoT competency. Your business, IT, and operations technology departments will need to use their collective brain trust to scrutinize business processes, achieve consensus, and embrace agile ways of working together.

Capability #3: Develop specialized talent

As companies move forward with IoT, they will identify missing competencies necessary for success. One option is to cross-train existing talent. Another option is to hire staff with new skills to fill the IoT bench. Many businesses that are implementing IoT, or plan to, struggle to find employees with the right skills to drive their programs forward.

Here’s what’s likely on the wish list for these companies: staff who can blend business and technology visions and strategies, agile team leaders and practitioners, business process reengineering specialists, analytics pros, and cyber security experts, all of whom can work in an environment characterized by constant change, uncertain outcomes, and a drive to create and optimize business value. 

When Steelcase began its IoT journey, it had to evolve its technology capabilities fast. That likely involved hiring staff with IoT, analytics, mobile app, and smart space design expertise. In addition, the company embraced new ways of working, adopting the agile methodology and scrum framework to improve business and IT collaboration, and used its space utilization insights to improve its own team workspaces. The new agile culture, process, and workplace increased agile sprint velocity by 40 percent, a compelling case study to the company’s customers.   

“We didn’t start with agile. We started with a new perspective for IT—to be a better business partner for the organization and to become customer-centric. We discovered that agile aligned with those aspirations,” says Steve Miller, CIO, Steelcase.

Capability #4: Harden and evolve security

As companies roll out IoT initiatives, they need to gird themselves for increased cyberattacks. In fact,
many have already likely experienced them.

IoT amplifies companies’ existing security challenges. More endpoints expand the attack surface, giving hackers more to work with. The solution is to address security at scale.

Azure IoT Central combines enterprise-grade Azure managed services and Software as a Service (SaaS) to provide a platform that enables companies to connect, manage, and monitor their IoT assets, whether it’s hundreds of devices or millions. That means that companies like Steelcase can create finished IoT solutions within hours, without infrastructure or security headaches.

Capability #5:  Continually consider consumer expectations

Companies that deploy IoT products and services are engaging with their consumers in new ways that could potentially feel invasive. For example, IoT enables complete situational awareness, which may be startling to consumers and workers if they’re not given adequate explanation. The IoT team needs processes for considering and reconsidering data collection and usage practices in light of changing consumer expectations around privacy.

Consumers understand that they are giving away valuable data, but they expect that businesses will protect the data and use it in ways that provide mutual benefit. Many companies are publishing ethical data use policies to clarify how they use data as they push further into IoT, AI, and machine learning. While these policies vary, they typically favor consumer privacy, clear governance, fairness, shared benefit, and transparency.

Generally, business enterprises often follow a policy of least use—gaining consumer consent to collect the minimum data they need and ask before collecting more. Companies that don’t abide by this policy risk business harm if they lose consumer trust due to privacy or security missteps. Ideally, companies should view IoT as a shared journey with consumers to keep their focus on delivering value consumers can see and prize.

Steelcase understands the IoT privacy paradox, which is why it only collects anonymized data on workspace usage for the Workplace Advisor service. Similarly, business customers control their anonymized data.

“We don’t own the data; it’s the customer’s data,” says Joel Zwier, Smart + Connected strategic partner lead, Steelcase. “They are giving us access to certain portions of the data that we feed back to them to help them understand their space better, but it’s their data and it is secure.”

Follow the value

IoT can be an ongoing evolution (toward greater efficiency, better customer insights, new revenue streams), or it can be a finite program that delivers value and then ends. While both approaches have merit, companies that persist and go further in the directions that show initial value will continue to be rewarded.

Steelcase plans to expand its Smart + Connected offerings, using Azure to scale its business. The company plans to integrate Workplace Advisor with Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, and other IoT-enabled systems, such as unified communications, lighting, and HVAC. Employees who schedule spaces will be able to adjust lighting and use tools to run better meetings.

“We have some really exciting things to do in the future,” says Zwier. “The beauty is that we’re creating a living system that can be updated regularly. And we can push out new experiences through the Azure system.”

While Steelcase is continuing its IoT journey, success for another company could be solving one or more discrete challenges—for example, enabling remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, or asset tracking—and then stopping.

Regardless of which approach you take, it’s important for your IoT program to include a realistic vision, a defined strategy, and quantifiable business value that you can sell internally. Need more information on how to align IoT innovation with your business needs? Read this white paper on how to maximize the ROI of IoT.

Download the white paper and learn how to get more value from the Internet of Things.