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After the dawn and rise of the internet in the post-industrial age, IoT looks like the biggest opportunity to enterprises. And it will be probably even bigger. With more than 20 billion devices on the IoT by 2020, IoT product and service suppliers will generate $300 billion+ in revenue.

Connected devices and sensors, robotics, immersive reality and artificial intelligence are taking over the physical world with a new level of technological sophistication. But the IT infrastructures needed to support these systems are obsolete and the businesses that assume otherwise are doing it at their own risk. Harvesting this rising opportunity means bringing together sensors, connectivity, cloud storage, processing, analytics and machine learning to transform business models and processes. And yes, this requires a plan.

Understanding the market and the consumers’ needs, evaluating the opportunities with deliberation and attacking in the right place are key in successfully bestowing this opportunity.

The challenges

Industry leaders predict 2018 will be the year of consumer IoT. IoT applications in healthcare, autonomous vehicles, and the intelligent enterprise are the hot topics this year, industry leaders argue.

"Advances in IoT-connected biotechnology will take healthcare to the next level, with around-the-clock monitoring, targeted treatment, and even automated doses of medication," states Mark J. Barrenechea, CEO and CTO at OpenText.

Autonomous vehicles in smart cities, when everything will be connected to the IoT grid, will save one million lives annually by eliminating car crashes caused by human error. Then, in the intelligent enterprise, “the IoT will connect the global supply chain from end-to-end, enabling pervasive visibility, proactive replenishment, and predictive maintenance” says Barrenechea.

IoT will become the new standard in decision making around industries and in our everyday life. 

For example, the agro-tech companies are shifting models and specialize in post-harvest self-life and freshness management, improving product margins and profitability, from growers to retailers, all along the supply chain, not to mention reducing food waste, costing only the US $218 billions per year. They use sensor-based technologies to help suppliers and retailers manage the freshness and quality as well as tracking and traceability. At the same time, infrastructure automation specialists warn that the staggering rate that companies are deploying IoT sensors brings vast amounts of data when tracking things in real-time. This may be a blessing, but also a curse. This entails that companies need to implement technology that can handle the constant stream of data in addition to looking at more effective ways to analyze that data in order to get actionable insight.

Information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) have traditionally been separate domains. This is likely to change in 2018, with IIoT deployments forcing IT teams and OT teams to work closely together to achieve success, meaning that OT will affect the design of IIoT apps in 2018. 

It’s worth noticing that in the coming years IoT will move from being seen as a massive security risk for an enterprise, to a critical part of its success. Once the security issues that could undermine IoT progress will be dealt with, companies will be on track to take full advantage of this revolutionary technology.

The plan of action

While 2017 was about exploring IIoT and led to an explosion of concepts and pilot implementations that is likely to continue in 2018, an awareness increase about the business value edge technologies bring is also expected.

Enabling intelligence for the next generation of technology demands an overhaul of existing IT infrastructures. Cloud and edge computing need to be balanced along with a renewed focused on hardware.

Reaping the fruits of AI, robotics, and other revolutionary technologies require significant effort across key areas of business processes and strategy. Smart investments in service design, infrastructure transformation, and hardware will empower intelligent environments that meet people’s needs, wherever they are.

But first, It all begins with a “landscape analysis”, states former Amazon executive J. Rossman for CIO.com. “You need to thoroughly understand your industry and competitors — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). This will help you see the big trends and forces at play in your market.” Then, creating a landscape analysis and value chain of the industry you’re in is also important. "Where do customers get frustrated? What data or what event improves that customer experience? What's the sensor or IoT opportunity that provides that data?" are important questions that need to be asked, says Rossman.

Customer needs and the key friction points future customers are experiencing in the present are capital. Sometimes a good solution can be to launch a business in one part of the value chain as a way to get a better perspective on the rest of the value chain and to identify other business opportunities. Keeping a broad view of the industry and not getting caught in a tunnel-vision perspective of your own business is also essential.

If an organization is new to the field of connected devices it might be a good idea to measure the success of a project by what can be learnt from it rather than whether it can be classically considered a success. That means that you might actually undertake some early IoT initiatives purely to gain experience, with no expected ROI. Small steps should be favored to test the ground, especially when you have a big vision.

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