I’ve attended tech conferences for years, and I have come to expect a certain amount of grumbling from users about vendors. But at the IoT for Manufacturing workshop at Georgia Tech, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of bad vibes directed at vendors.
Indeed, most speakers and attendees expressed a sense of gratitude that vendors were providing solutions to some of their very real problems on the plant floor. They know that it’s impossible to design these solutions on their own (although some have tried with limited pilots with off-the-shelf hardware and software) so they have to work with someone to get the results that they want. Occasionally that involves academic partners such as the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute(which has architectures and designs for retrofitting kits available to manufacturing partners, as shown in the slide below) but often vendors and systems integrators get involved in a big way.
In addition to supplying much-needed technology solutions, I heard over and over how much people appreciated the declining costs of components. Heath Cates of Mountville Mills mentioned the use of low-cost hubs to connect sensors, PLCs and other devices at their main facility. William Hill, who helps run digitization efforts at Delta Airlines’s sprawling machine shop said the company spends about $1,200 to $1,500 to retrofit a piece of legacy equipment, which he considered to be a reasonable cost. He also praised the cost structure of one of Delta’s main IoT partners.
Lance Johnson of aerospace supplier Moog Inc. said they were able to develop low-cost IoT systems working with its IT team and vendors. However, he also acknowledged that during the evaluation phase they identified enterprise software vendors whose high cost and “nebulous ROI” was unworkable. “It was a no-go for us,” he said.
One attendee questioned the “false promises” offered by many vendors, which he said leads to frustrations down the road about what the products and solutions can actually accomplish. But that was one of the only comments I heard that was generally negative on vendors in the IoT space.
Alain Louchez, who leads the Center for the Development of the Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) at Georgia Tech, started his presentation at this year’s IoT for Manufacturing workshop at Georgia Tech with some sobering numbers that should be familiar to anyone who has attempted industrial IoT: Most projects fail.
Citing reports from PWC, McKinsey,and others, the expert consensus finds that some 60%-70% of firms have trouble getting out of “Pilot Purgatory.” That can be a strong incentive to just throw up your hands and not push further, either because it’s assumed more failure will result or the team that pushed for the use of resources may even be punished … and who wants to be in that seat again?
As for the causes of the failures, there are many potential issues, some of them unique to individual businesses. Being too ambitious can be a problem. “Some companies have failed with their digitization projects, because they tried to do too much,” Louchez says.
That’s not only on an individual project basis; as one audience member noted, “We have 7 or 8 pilots, and it gets to be a bit unwieldy … there are a lot of fiefdoms.” Another advised to “think big but start small” when it comes to IoT pilots.
Earlier in my career I worked for IDG’s Network World, Computerworld, and The Industry Standard, respected trade publications covering enterprise and consumer IT. One thing I developed was a healthy skepticism for buzzwords and trends pushed by vendors and some analysts. What was red hot one year might be an dead end a few years later … or would develop in a way that no one anticipated.
At #IoTfM17 I heard some of the speakers cite fantastically optimistic statistics about IoT’s growth trajectory, including the mother of all estimates put out by Cisco in 2011 of 50 BILLION connected devices by 2020. I don’t believe self-serving numbers like this (who the heck will install and implement all of these things?), but estimates I do put some faith in relate to where the things will be used: Most will be for industry, not consumers.
Endpoint: Industry is one of the last frontiers for an information technology overhaul. It’s been talked about for years, but now it’s finally happening, as shown by a growing number of pilot projects in various areas of industry, including some fine examples that were showcased at #IoTfM17 (more below). There’s also a shift in how vendors are overhauling their product lines and enabling connectivity with other industrial and IT systems. Finally, there’s a new appreciation of the value of data — not just for simple reporting, but actually leveraging it for automation, predictive maintenance, and competitive advantage.