Technology has been a key enabler in the business world for decades. But having the fastest new laptop, the latest productivity tools on your computer and around-the-clock availability via your smartphone aren’t even advantages anymore. They’re baseline expectations.
However, there are new tech revolutions on the horizon, and they may be more transformative than anything we’ve experienced yet. Groundbreaking advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are destined to shape the business landscape for years to come.
Think of artificial intelligence and machine learning as the super-brains of modern business. Constantly learning and crunching data at a higher speed than any human, they help companies make sense of gigantic data loads quickly. They turn data into action in real time, automating and optimizing time-intensive tasks to help businesses reduce risk and maximize efficiency.
And they work best when paired with the IIoT. Using a symphony of sensors, wireless connections, cloud services and on-site computing devices, the IIoT is capable of collecting new forms of data -- and better forms of data -- from the machines and processes in an organization. Combined with artificial intelligence and machine learning, the IIoT can provide insight into business operations, predict problems before they occur and unlock new revenue streams.
For many businesses, these technologies are as confusing, intimidating and abstract as they are powerful. It’s difficult for any organization to adopt technology that everyone knows about but very few of its employees have actually used. And of course, technology deployments shouldn’t be rushed into, especially when the future of your business is at stake.
Despite differences in the details of every deployment, many organizations run into similar barriers. A few of the common hurdles are seen again and again across several industries, but there are ways your organization can avoid them.
Don’t confuse “cool tech” with solving a problem.
This may sound counterintuitive, but you should ignore the “tech” during the planning stages of a tech deployment. While everybody wants a state-of-the-art setup with all the latest bells and whistles, planning a major deployment should start with a huge non-tech question: What business problems does your company want to solve?
Finding the answer to that question should be a collaborative effort. To ensure you get it right, you will need input from several departments in your organization, not just the IT department or the engineering team. All the key business decision-makers should be involved, including your executives, your sales and marketing leads, your business development team and your analytics and research teams.
Once you have defined your business goals, make sure your IT department and engineering teams understand that those goals are the key drivers for a successful implementation. Getting a complex system up and running can be a major achievement, but it won’t be worth the effort unless it solves real problems.
Otherwise, you’re sinking a lot of time, work and money into a “solution” that doesn’t solve anything.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies run into this problem. According to a recent survey from Cisco, many tech deployments suffer from unclear business goals: Even when the IT department delivered a successful technology implementation, those solutions often failed to address key business needs.
Don’t give up too early -- and get the right kind of help.
In the case of a big tech deployment, the “deer in headlights” effect can take hold quickly. Your team may be installing, upgrading or servicing thousands of devices in multiple locations. The intimidation factor -- and the estimated costs -- can stop a project dead in its tracks.
Seeking out an experienced partner (rather than just a product vendor) can make all the difference. Rather than pushing products and services on you, a good partner will understand the entire universe of solutions for your needs, work with you on identifying opportunities to save and help tailor a deployment for your business needs.
In an IIoT deployment, look for partners that have experience in real-world deployments. It’s even better if their business model aligns with your success; an “emotional joint venture” is what you need, and a good partner will be incentivized to make you succeed. They won’t just sell you a solution and walk away!
Up-front investments can be kept reasonable through a “pay as you grow” model. A good integration partner can help you cut costs through a deployment that unfolds in stages. If your organization has a lot of specialized legacy equipment, such as manufacturing machines that are very expensive to replace, the right partner can identify add-on sensors and modular solutions that will give it state-of-the-art capabilities.
The process of minimizing risk doesn’t end when your new technology is up and running. Many organizations don’t have the on-staff skills needed to troubleshoot and maintain their new technology ecosystem. This is another area in which an active integration partner can help: They can work with you to provide long-term support, devise a long-term plan for your deployment and help fill your organization’s technological skills gaps.
Don’t wait for competitors to make the first move.
In the case of new technology, it may seem wise to take a “wait and see” approach. Your existing systems and processes may have pain points and limitations, but at least you’re familiar with them. It’s the old “better the devil you know” mentality, as the status quo is a comfort zone.
As such, many companies wait for a “trigger event”-- evidence that a competitor is using new technology to thrive -- before considering a major implementation of their own. It seems like a safe and measured approach, but it can put you in a constant state of catch-up.
Instead, you should proactively explore ways to use technology and, more importantly, technologies available at low risk. Explore innovative business models to improve your business results, while minimizing the risk of high up-front investments. Otherwise, that leisurely “wait and see” approach turns into a mad scramble to implement the latest and greatest technology. Organizations rarely make the best decisions when they’re in panic mode.
So even if your company is years away from pursuing a major move, you should begin exploring your options immediately. After all, any real partner should improve your own business processes with the right combination of technology and minimal-risk business models. Doing it right requires plenty of time and input.
Once you’ve settled on the right solution and project road map, you’ll be able to execute that deployment clearly and smoothly and with ample guidance. You’ll be able to tailor the deployment to your own timeline, and you’ll be addressing your own organizational needs. It leads to better results than deploying technology as a competitive reaction.