Published on in Digital Transformation

The phrase ‘internet of things’ (IoT) is fast becoming common vocabulary, even among those who aren’t particularly tech-savvy.

And IoT is beginning to have a fundamental impact on the way we do business – how we interact with our customers and each other. Brands are able to optimise their products and services and the way they work in previously impossible ways.

But as an increasing number of companies embrace IoT, how many really know how to get the most value from this technology and stay competitive?

A tough question to answer, but thankfully a team of IoT experts was poised to provide some insight at Fujitsu Forum 2016.

Here are some of the highlights…

Digging beneath the buzzwords

As I said above, plenty of people talk about IoT. But what does it really mean in a business context?

Fujitsu’s Dr Alex Bazin described it as “anything where the information world connects to the physical world.”

But if you really want to know how and why IoT is relevant in a commercial sense, DHL’s Markus Voss suggested you need to focus not on the ‘thing’ but on the people.

“How can we leverage all the information provided by IoT,” he said, “and equip our employees with it?”

Alex said IoT heralds “an evolution of IT,” arguing it shifts the purpose of the profession “from optimisation to creating new business models, value and products.”

Who owns the internet of things?

In recent years the lines between business and technology units have become increasingly blurred as tech has found its way into almost every facet of our working and personal lives.

So with any new technology trend the question is always going to arise: whose responsibility is it to make this work for our business? The CIO? The CEO?

Markus suggested that while IoT shouldn’t fall exclusively under the CIO’s remit, it does provide a handy way for technology specialists to get a seat at the table when it comes to wider business decisions.

“It’s a way for us to beef up the role of the CIO and the role of technology in a business,” he said. “It means we can have a significant say on business topics.

“The business says what it wants to achieve and we suggest the technology that can make that happen.”

Globeranger’s Nabil Lodey suggested there’s no clear-cut answer for who owns IoT, but rather it depends on the size of the company in question.

“For a large corporate it’s likely the CIO or CDO,” he said. “But for a smaller business it could be the CEO. IoT is an enabler – if the CEO says he or she wants 30% growth this year and wants to know their options, IoT is one of them.”

Is IoT really anything new?

Of course, with any new trend you have to tread carefully before coming out and singing its praises too enthusiastically.

Is IoT really anything particularly new? Or is it simply a new and headline-friendly word for something that already existed for the most part?

Our panel seemed to think it was the former…

“We’ve got far more sensors on the market now,” Nabil said. “We can connect and measure things much more effectively.”

This larger network of data-harnessing sensors, he argued, means we have access to previously inaccessible streams of information.

“If that unlocks something that brings in revenue then it’s something new,” he said. “There are benefits that weren’t there before.”

Alex argued that while machine-to-machine technology has existed for many years, it’s the real-time analytics capability IoT brings that sets it apart.

“The ability to bring lots of disparate information together? That’s a brand new capability,” he said.

So why are we only seeing this technology take off now? Markus suggested it all comes down to finances.

“For 10-15 years we were playing in niche areas with sensors,” he said. “But it was just too expensive to make a business case to use them on a large scale.

“Now connectivity no longer costs an arm and a leg. It’s more cost-effective now – we have processing power and analytics capability we simply didn’t have five years ago.”

Do you need an IoT strategy?

The second IoT question business leaders are likely to ask after ‘who should own this’ is ‘how do we do this?’

But do companies really need a dedicated IoT strategy, or is it simply another technology-driven approach to be aware of?

The panel was somewhat divided on this…

Alex suggested all businesses should absolutely have an IoT strategy in place.

“It seems strange to put something so important in place without having a dedicated strategy in place,” he said. “But that strategy has to be about more than just the technology you’re deploying.”

He said an IoT strategy should also take people and processes into account.

“You really need to look at the organisational change IoT brings to your business,” he said. “What’s your strategy to cope with that?”

On the other side of the fence was Nabil, who thinks customers should focus their strategic efforts on wider business goals. He argued that it’s up to technology providers to make sure IoT solutions address specific business opportunities or pain points.

“You haven’t got a Fitbit on your wrist because it’s a nice piece of kit,” he said. “You wear it because you want to get fit.

“It’s the same with IoT. It gives companies information that helps them improve and make better decisions, but I don’t think you need a specific strategy for that.”

If you are thinking about your IoT strategy, however, the panel had some sage advice…

“Understand, up-front, how you’re going to be measuring the return on investment,” Alex said. “Otherwise it might be a fun and interesting project but you won’t see commercial success.”

He also warned those listening to think about scale. Do you have the people, processes and infrastructure in place to support IoT as it starts to take off in your organisation?

Nabil warned it pays to choose an IoT supplier that wants to get underneath the skin of your business rather than sell you an off-the-shelf solution.

“Only then will you get the most benefit for your customers,” he argued.

What does the hyperconnected future hold?

To close off the session, Fujitsu’s David Rosewell asked what we’ll all be talking about in three years’ time when it comes to IoT.

Alex believes artificial intelligence (AI) will be the next big piece in the IoT puzzle. Only through AI, he argued, will it be possible to make sense of the exponentially growing pool of data available to businesses.

Nabil suggested we won’t even be using the word ‘IoT’ in a few years’ time. Like mobility, it will simply become a given.

Perhaps slightly provocatively, he said human interaction could become the bottleneck for innovation.

“Where there’s a person there’s a chance for error, and you have to take that out.”

Whether you agree with Nabil or not, it certainly provides some interesting food for thought!

Check out the video below for the full session…

Deep Dive: Hyperconnectivity IoT

Want to learn more about the power of IoT? Check out our interview with DHL’s Paul Richardson below… 

>> How one of the world’s largest employers became a digital disruptor

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David Rosewell

David Rosewell

Head of Strategy, Fujitsu Digital at Fujitsu
David Rosewell

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