IoT: The Corporate Prestige

Disclaimer

The following blog is purely a work of fiction. It is not intended to be a sales pitch about GS Lab’s expertise in IoT solutions (asset management, fleet management, energy consumption optimization, and analytics etc.) nor it is based on GS Lab’s experiences in delivering IoT solutions to variety of industries (manufacturing, process, healthcare, renewable energy, logistics and oil and gas etc. to name a few). Got the hint?

Title Reference

This article takes inspiration from the movie: The Prestige (2006). Especially the following quote from that movie.

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

The Pledge

The drama of developing IoT solutions for non-software industries, especially the core engineering industries (for ex. manufacturing and process industries), can really be imagined as a magic show.

Let us start by drawing parallels between a magic show and the business of IoT solutions. The magician / the IoT Solutions Provider is a service provider that wishes to enthrall their audience / the Customer company by their skill and craft.

For a IoT Solutions Provider, the skill and craft is their ability to develop complex software solutions using cutting-edge technology that solve their Customer’s problems (the Turn) and transforms the Customer’s business model (the Prestige).

But it all starts with the Pledge. The routine thing.

The IoT solutions are being called a new name every passing day: IoT, Industrial IoT, connected solutions, digitization/digitalization /digital transformation, industry 4.0 etc. All these names mean naught to those who are part of these projects. For them, all projects under these fancy tags are still normal every-day projects. The IoT Solutions Provider needs to deliver these solutions (as they do for any other project) to Customer’s satisfaction and the Customer needs to implement these solutions successfully to derive the envisioned benefits.

The gulf between the two domains (software and non-software) is evident right from the presales stage when the two industries mess each other’s terminologies up! Offers and Purchase Orders for the Customer are Proposals and SOWs for the IoT Solutions Provider. Any observer also would not miss the familiar ‘grey’ in the requirements specifications, the hastily assembled project team and the tight deadlines. Business as usual. No magic yet.

The Turn

From the reference of the movie quote, the Turn is an event in the magic show when the audience starts witnessing the ordinary change into extraordinary. In the IoT movie under focus, it would not be as dramatic as a magic show but one can still imagine and draw parallels. Here, after all the normal stuff the Pledge has so far shown, the Turn can be imagined as the event when the Customer sees that the Proof of Concept solution is working! The devices are talking with each other, there is real-time information that can be accessed from anywhere at any time because of cloud technology and mobile apps, there are reports and insights based on which decisions can be taken. In concrete terms, here are some real-world situations:

The Turn is when a user is able to check the usage and status of a remote machine via a mobile app. The user may or may not know that this is possible because of the telematics device installed on the remote machine (for example, a construction equipment or an industrial refrigerator) that is sending the data to a cloud where it is standardized, stored and analyzed before being fetched by the mobile app.

  • Another user is ‘Turned’ when they are able to see, from a hospital, the live location of an ambulance along with the vital signs of a patient lying in the ambulance. Again, the user may or may not know that a GPS device, smart medical equipment, and cloud technology are all backing this Turn.
  • A Customer gets excited to see that all the control systems (PLC, SCADA, DCS etc.) on their shop-floors across multiple geographical locations are sending real-time data to a central server which they can access anytime and view multiple insightful dashboards.

But. Yes, there is a ‘but’. Going is not always as smooth as planned or envisioned. There is a second part of the Turn. Consider an example of an energy-intensive unit where the Customer is implementing an energy management system. The first phase the IoT Solutions Provider would implement is ‘monitoring’ the energy consumption at the unit in a central system. The Customer gets too excited by seeing the insights and wants to jump to ‘monitoring and control’ immediately. The Solution Provider is also eager to demonstrate their skills in fetching the ROI at the earliest. But the problem is in the understanding level of the Customer and the Solutions Provider. Things that the Customer thinks are too obvious are not even in the Solutions Provider’s consideration. For ex. The temperature of a furnace is monitored and when it reaches a threshold, the machine is turned off automatically. The Customer assumes that the IoT Solutions Provider would cross-check that any material is not being loaded to or unloaded from the furnace at that time. This is not so obvious to the IoT Solutions Provider and they miss this check-point. Imagine the havoc created in the unit when the furnace switches off automatically when the loading is going on!

Okay, the example might be too simple to be real. But the point is about the gap in the understanding. It takes time and efforts for both parties to fill that gap up.

The Prestige

Again referencing the quote from the movie, the Customer is captivated by the Turn but not enthralled yet. In fact, with the second part of the Turn, the Customer is bordering on the cautiousness than being excited about the next developments. There is a real chance that the project is stopped. But with aforementioned time and efforts from both sides, there is still a chance for magic. And that happens with the Prestige. It is a point in time by when the Proof of Concept solution is scaled and deployed in production environment. That means the Customer has reached the ‘digital transformation’ milestone in its journey of digitalization. The drivers are, of course,

  • The Customer’s will to see the real value of IoT solutions beyond the reporting and dash-boarding: to see the transformation.
  • The Solutions Provider’s expertise and experience in digitalizing the processes and transforming the business models.

Continuing on the real world situations given above,

  • The owners of the remote machine (for example, a construction company owning the construction equipment or a cold storage owning the industrial refrigerator) are sticking with the Customer for all purchases (spares, service or new equipment) because the Customer provides them with a mobile app that can:
  • plan preventive maintenance before machine breakdown
  • optimize usage so that the machine delivers the best performance
  • even recover the machine from theft!
  • An emergency ward at a hospital is able to save a life because they could do all the necessary preparations required for the surgery before-hand! They already knew the time it would take for the ambulance to reach the hospital and they were already able to do primary diagnostics on the vital signs of the patient.
  • The multi-location shop-floors Customer is able to save significant costs on electricity spends by a) analyzing the usage data from the shop-floors and b) based on that analysis, they are able to schedule shop-floor activities in the most optimized way so as to reduce electricity consumption peaks and still maintain production throughput.

A keen mind would understand that these scenarios are not merely reporting and dash-boarding kind of scenarios. This digital transformation is possible because of the complex analytics backend developed by the IoT Solutions Provider.

This is when the Customer applauds and the Solutions Provider takes a bow! Well, okay, no there won’t be such drama. In fact, IoT being an ever-progressing landscape, the solutions are often incremental in nature. Thus the ROI derived from these solutions also becomes incremental in nature. But if milestones can be isolated from the digitalization journey of a Customer, they would be surely as exciting as a magic show for an interested observer:

The Pledge (things) interests no one. The Turn (connectivity) is where excitement levels go up. The Prestige (digital transformation) is where the magic is! Are you watching it closely?