Just as it was with virtualization and cloud computing, moving into an Internet of Things (IoT) project can unleash a barrage of questions aimed at C-level executives from their board members. These questions usually center around what the company is doing (or planning to do) with IoT.

When these questions build pressures to get going, a natural impulse might be to rush into an IoT project. But it is important to first ensure that the company has a clear vision of what it wants to accomplish with IoT.

Defining this vision generally falls on C-level managers, as it should. It is also the CEO and senior managers who are responsible for laying out an approach to IoT that middle managers can use as guidance in their projects.

SEE: Quick glossary: Internet of Things

Track and trace

The best way to show how this is done is by example.

I recently visited with Brad Bartlett, director of sales at Cooltrax, an IoT solutions provider. Bartlett told me about how the food transportation and distribution companies have been adopting IoT to track and trace shipments of food that require both timely delivery and refrigeration.

To effect the tracking and tracing of food in the supply chain and to conform to regulations like the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), which mandates tracking and tracing of foods for safety, companies were moving to IoT sensors that were placed in vehicles at locations throughout the food chain--and even on individual containers and pallets of food. These sensors can track food movement and continuously monitor elements like temperature and humidity to ensure that foods are not at risk of spoiling.

"The biggest challenge that companies face when they begin to implement IoT is not in attaching sensors and monitoring them--but in learning how to get the most out of the information that the sensors generate," Bartlett said.

For instance, a logistics and distribution manager might carefully note the locations of the company's trucks throughout the day and receive a continuous flow of environmental readings on the food that is being stored or transported. If an alert generates, the manager can take action.

But wait: The same manager could be interpreting these reports and asking whether other continuous improvement steps could be taken. For example:

  • Are certain drivers leaving doors to trailers open longer than they should so that refrigeration is lost?
  • How often are trucks broken into and cargo stolen--and is this occurring more often in some locations than others?
  • How fast are the end customers (like retailers) unloading perishable goods when they arrive?
  • Are there delays in customers unloading goods and then forcing transporters to take the loss, affecting the bottom line?

These are just a few possible follow-up questions to the initial act of monitoring food track and trace--and all can make profound differences in company operational efficiencies and in gaining employee buy-in to IoT.

"When we first started with track and trace, many of our customers told us that their drivers were having trouble accepting t IoT," Bartlett said. "Then, employees began to see that fuel costs were going down because the IoT sensors could alert them when trailers were properly cooled and they no longer had to run a truck four to six hours to get the refrigeration cool enough. Track and trace also identified end customers who took longer than they should unloading goods."

Three takeaways

What can corporate leaders learn from this approach to IoT?

  • First, it's not enough to just implement IoT. Your board might be clamoring for action, but unless you can spell out a strong business case, you shouldn't pursue it.
  • Second, it's important to get IoT buy-in from your employees. This happens when employees see how IoT helps the business and helps them in their jobs.
  • Third, don't assume that your middle managers will know how to get the most out of the IoT information they are getting. IoT, and knowing how to optimize it, is new to most of them, too. It often pays to bring in a knowledgeable consultant to help them learn how to use all the information they're getting. As a senior executive, you can drive this process by letting your middle managers know upfront what you hope to get for the business from the IoT investment (reducing costs of operation, shorter lead times, etc.).

IoT best practices are still emerging, so an approach to IoT that blends business purposefulness with technology investment and employee buy-in can go a long way toward helping you execute your IoT plan.

More IoT resources