The 4 keys to a successful manufacturing IIOT pilot

The 4 keys to a successful manufacturing IIOT pilot

If you have read our previous post focusing on the challenges of planning,  launching and scaling IIOT use cases, you’ve narrowed down the business problems you’re trying to solve, and you have a plan that is both created by the implementation team and supported by executive management. Here’s a plan to make sure you’ve got it all down. 

Think of these success factors like the legs of a kitchen table and the results that you desire, a bowl of homemade chicken soup. If you’re missing any one of them, your project (the bowl of warm soup) is unlikely to succeed and it could come crashing down into your lap.

Checklist for Success

#1 – Your People

We talk a lot about having buy-in at the executive  level, and yes, it’s an absolute imperative to have management or executive buy-in in order to be able to scale your project. While that’s step 1.1, it’s equally important to look down the line to see about agency and buy-in at all levels. 

  • Do you have the necessary number of people to work on the project? 
  • Do these individuals have the skills and knowledge required to perform their tasks on the project, like interfacing with IT colleagues to bridge OT/IT gaps and serving as the IIOT champion in your organization? 
  • Do they have the resources they need to be successful in their work when it comes to infrastructure? 
  • Do they understand in very clear terms the objective and importance?
  • Do they understand their role and individual objective?

If your team doesn’t have the skills or resources to be able to successfully carry out their tasks, pause and reevaluate where you’re investing your resources. Investing in upskilling and reskilling is a top priority for most business leaders, and if you find that your team lacks the skills to pull off an IIOT pilot project, jump on that trend and make training an integral part of the pilot project. Don’t let yourself get caught in a situation where you have buy-in for your project from the leadership team, but don’t have the resources, understanding of business objectives, or understanding of their role in driving success to carry out the pilot successfully.

#2 –  The Process

Once you have your team in place, spend some time to define what aspect within the organization you’re going to digitally transform. Remember that digital transformation isn’t just about replacing or updating IT infrastructure — it’s also about understanding how to use the new tools to the fullest. It’s just as much about changing the way people view business problems and diversifying their avenues of researching business solutions as it is about implementing specific IoT technologies. 

An important aspect of the process is your metrics. Peter Drucker summed it up when he said (more or less), “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Define the metrics you are going to use to measure your progress and success. Common measurable metrics that are tied to the pilot’s overall proof of value include Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), end-user statistics, and database and security monitoring. Whatever metrics you are using, they need to be simple and easy to access and report. As we mentioned in our previous blog post, if you don’t know what progress and success look like and don’t have anything to compare it to, you’re not going to have a reliable proof of concept.

#3 –  The Technology

There are several potential pitfalls within the progression from prototype to pilot to rollout. More often than not, most believe that  it relies on getting everything right from the start. Fortunately, there’s a solution to avoiding that — a minimum viable footprint. Ron Adner, a professor of strategy at the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth, defines the minimum viable footprint, or MVF, as “the smallest configuration of elements that can be brought together and still create unique commercial value.“  It’s a blended outcome of the concept of the minimum viable product (MVP), and the idea that innovators need to go beyond just their product and need to consider the ecosystem their solution will affect. While the MVP zeroes in on a version of the product (including a specific set of features that solve a core problem), MVF refers to the broader elements of a pilot project as a whole.  

Adner offers an approach to thinking of the broader ecosystem — and doing so in a comprehensive way — that can provide a helpful way to approach scaling your pilot. “You are no longer an autonomous innovator. You are now an actor within a broader innovation ecosystem. Success in a connected world requires that you manage your dependence. But before you can manage your dependence, you need to see it and understand it. Even the greatest companies can be blindsided by this shift.”

When implementing each step of the process you’ve outlined, work with your executive sponsors and internal and external teams to come up with a minimum viable footprint that demonstrates the success of your solution, and only then plan to scale once you’ve proven its value. 

What is the platform you need to build your individual use case? If you zero in on a single business case and don’t factor in the bigger impact, your pilots can’t scale. Similarly, don’t try to architect the entire solution before you get started — or if you do, make sure to have a plan B, C, D, and E, because manufacturing lines, people processes, and methodologies change rapidly, and it’s unlikely that the grand architecture you planned early on will need to be changed by the time the pilot project is complete.

#4  – Organizational Structure

If your current organizational structure doesn’t lend itself to a culture of change, then it’s quite possible that all your planning may be in vain. As previously mentioned, digital transformation and Industry 4.0 isn’t just about changing IT infrastructure — it is a mindset. Your team will need some organizational  liberty to pivot, so you can investigate new business problems and solutions on a regular basis. 

Many times, an appointed leader may have excellent leadership qualities, but can lack the specific skills required to successfully run a project from start to finish. It’s important to think about whether your team brings the right skills to the table, and if not, who else you need to bring in. The most successful IIOT projects will have buy-in and support from a broad set of stakeholders throughout the organization for this exact reason — it helps to diversify the skill set.

IIOT helps drive Industry 4.0, but what exactly is that? Learn more about Industry 4.0, here. 

David LeGrand
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