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Q&A: Seven Dirty Secrets of IoT

IoT projects

It’s easy for IoT projects to go wrong. Cost overruns, security flaws, or simple lack of user adoption can derail even the best innovations.

So how can you avoid the pitfalls that cause so many IoT projects to fail? To answer this question, Kenton Williston, Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech, spoke with Amol Ajgaonkar, CTO for Intelligent Edge at Insight Enterprises. Insight helps organizations—and the SIs that serve them—accelerate their digital transformation by unlocking the potential of the IoT. Here are the seven secrets Amol has uncovered for creating successful IoT technology.

What is the Intelligent Edge?

Kenton Williston: Your title is CTO for Intelligent Edge. The first thing that comes to mind for me is AI. What does “Intelligent Edge mean” to you?

Amol Ajgaonkar: AI is one use case for the Intelligent Edge—and this is across industries. You consider manufacturing, you take into account retail, energy, healthcare—and you look at all the devices. You look at how people are interacting. All of those entities are generating data. And there is some intelligence in that data that can be taken out and made actionable.

So Intelligent Edge, for me, is processing that data where it is generated, and then correlating that data with other data sets that are also being generated in that same area. And being able to provide actionable insights back to the users so that they can do their jobs better any time there is a repeatable action that needs to be done. And we can also automate that part.

Secret 1: Define Your “Why” and What Success Looks Like

Kenton Williston: I’ve seen studies that say up to 75% of IoT projects fail. Why is that?

Amol Ajgaonkar: The one question that needs to be answered before you do anything, or even touch any device technology, is “Why am I doing this?” If the “why” is defined, then your solution is bound to be a little more successful. Most of the time projects will fail because they have unrealistic expectations from technology. No one has defined the “why.”

The real value of an IoT solution or Intelligent Edge solution is to be able to look at that data holistically.

I think correlation of those data sets, being able to put all of that together, gives a holistic view—not just from one location.

Connecting back to the cloud and being able to collect data from multiple locations, and using the inferences and actions taken by humans, actions taken by machines—and then bringing it all back to the cloud, and then analyzing that data holistically across locations—provides a much richer actionable insight.

And then pushing that expertise back into those locations—so that the local AI models that are running are running smarter, because now they have additional data that has been provided for training, and the model has improved accuracy, or is taking into account variance in their independent and dependent variables.

Secret 2: Think Holistically, Beyond the Edge

Kenton Williston: So how do you get your company to think about IoT projects differently?

Amol Ajgaonkar: It’s a journey, right? There’s not an end state. But define your milestones in that journey. Define what you need to do, and then go step by step—take smaller approaches, carve out a smaller piece. But even for those smaller pieces of the puzzle, think holistically.

Then, look at the physical landscape: How many devices do you need? What type of integrations do you need? What type of data sets do you need? Who’s going to give you the data? Is it a machine? Is it human input? Is it cameras? Is it existing infrastructure that’s already developed? Is it the environment?

Secret 3: Set a Strategy with Clear Milestones

Kenton Williston: How do you execute this sort of strategy?

Amol Ajgaonkar: Once you have the strategy in place and documented, understand which teams need to be involved as well. Not just the teams that are going to work on the pilot, but also the teams that are going to be affected by that solution in the future. Because you need to have the right buy-in from those groups as well. Otherwise they will not adopt it.

If they see this solution as something that s going to add more work for them, they are going to resist. Humans resist change. So if you bring them on board earlier and understand their pain points, understand how a certain solution is going to affect their day-to-day job and if it’s going to make them successful—they are going to provide more data to you.

I think I really focus on the people aspect of the solution. Because if the people who are affected by the solution don’t really think that it’s going to add value to them, they’re not going to use it. And if they don’t use it, it’s of no use, right? It’s waste of money. So make sure those people are on board.

Once you have them on board and have helped them understand how this is going to make their lives easier, they will adopt. And they will ask for it, and they will give you feedback on what needs to change. And that is how that system will transform.

Secret 4: Build for Scale and Identify Your Resources

Kenton Williston: It sounds like a big part of success is having and end-to-end strategy. What does that mean for you?

Amol Ajgaonkar: If you want to take it to production, you have to think about scale. You have to think about security. You have to plan—where will you procure those devices from? Who will image those devices? Because you need each device that’s coming out and being deployed to be the same, so you get consistency.

Security is a big component. And so always think about security across all the efforts—whether it’s the hardware or the software stack. And look for frameworks that are already established and have been tested, rather than trying to build security frameworks from scratch.

And this is just all pre-production. Once you have the procurement, once you have the installation, once you have the imaging, and you have your security strategy in place—then comes deployment.

The first time you’re going to deploy, you try and deploy to one or two locations. As part of deployment you have to plan for what kind of effort is required in deploying that kind of solution. Is it cameras that you have to go and install? If so, do you have the wiring in place? Do you have the electrical in place? The networking in place? Is your networking infrastructure capable of handling the additional load? Will that affect any other existing systems that are already in place?

All of these things have to be planned before you start deploying to production. Going back to why projects fail—if some of these things are missed in planning, when they actually deploy then they realize, “Oh, for this, I needed to upgrade my network.” Or, “I don’t know who’s going to install the cameras, or who’s going to integrate into the PLCs.”

And when you get into production, there should be even more focus on security: “If I were to ship this out to 10 locations, who is the person that’s going to install it? Where will it get installed?” All of those questions need to be answered.

Secret 5: Plan for Management and Maintenance

Kenton Williston: So you’ve got your solution, it’s working, it’s successful—then what?

Amol Ajgaonkar: Let’s say we have all of it planned, and we’ve deployed now to one or two locations. Then comes the question: who’s going to manage these? Once it goes out of your facility and the solution is in production and it’s at the location—well, it’s on its own.

And if something were to change and you need to update your software stack—let’s say you’ve got containers running and you need to update those containers; how are you going to do that at scale? And do you have the right teams in place to support a solution like that? Or should you rely on partners to come in and help you support the manageability of those devices.

So, management and support—or monitoring after the fact—is also super important for a successful solution. All in all, it does seem complicated. It does seem like, “Oh my God, there’s so much to do to make this successful.” But if you rely on partners, and if you have a good plan in place, it’s actually not that hard.

It is just like any other project—where if you plan and do it right, and take into consideration all of these aspects, the solution will definitely succeed.

Secret 6: It’s a Journey, not a Destination

Kenton Williston: How do you communicate a new approach to colleagues? And how can Insight Enterprises help you execute?

Amol Ajgaonkar: First, be okay with ambiguity, because nobody has all the answers. It’s fine, because the problems that businesses face never come with a manual on how to solve them. It’s always a new or newer problem.  But as long as you define why you’re doing what you’re doing, everything else will fall into place in due time.

Secret 7: Leverage Existing Infrastructure

Kenton Williston: From a practical point of view, where should designs start—in other words, how can you make best use of what you already have?

Amol Ajgaonkar: It all comes down to two things, in my mind. One is cost. Nobody wants to spend money building a solution from scratch. That’s why the point solutions or off-the-shelf solutions make sense, because you can just go and buy and test, and you don’t have to spend so much time and money in building a solution. Makes complete sense. When it’s a brownfield situation, where there might already be certain solutions deployed, we also work with those solutions and integrate them.

We don’t always have to build everything from scratch. We rely on our partners a lot, and bring their solutions in to provide that big-picture, holistic solution back to our customer. We work with Intel a lot—and not just on the hardware side, but also on the software side.

Using the frameworks that Intel already has, like OpenVINO or OpenAMP, and looking at how they’re designed—it really helps leverage whatever infrastructure that the customer already has. Which is great, because cost is a big factor in building the solutions.

If the customer says, “You know what? I’ve got these Intel-based servers, or these smaller devices that I already have in my facility. Can you reuse those?” And if the answer is “yes” it’s amazing, because I’ve just saved my customer a ton of money. They don’t have to spend money in buying new hardware at that point

It might feel like it’s a lot of effort, but truly, with the right partners in place it makes that solution easy to build, deploy, and see the value of. Maybe it’s just that I’m passionate about the Edge and solutions at the Edge, but I feel there is a huge value for our customers in building solutions at the Edge, and then managing these solutions or these workloads through the cloud for scale.

It’s not all hype. There is some real value in the solutions. It’s just a matter of realizing where that value is.

Related Content

To learn more about why IoT projects fail, listen to our podcast on Seven Dirty Secrets of IoT.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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