IoT infrastructure plans may seem intimidating, but they don’t have to be, says Cisco’s Maciej Kranz.
The internet of things (IoT) is digitally transforming businesses before our eyes. Throughout the past few years, companies across industries embarked on their IoT journeys with high hopes, focusing on improving and automating existing processes – tackling the ‘low-hanging fruit’.
Now that these companies have gained process, productivity and cost benefits, it is time to move to the next phase: leveraging IoT to create new value propositions, business models and revenue streams.
However, it is increasingly difficult for businesses to experience the full transformational potential of IoT if they implement it on top of infrastructure designed years ago for specific tasks. In fact, 85pc of businesses decision-makers cite legacy infrastructures as a key reason they are not reaching their full digital transformation potential.
As the technological foundation for your IoT deployment – comprising smart devices, sensors and actuators; wired or wireless networks; software, middleware for data management and more – your infrastructure should take full advantage of modern technology advances to enter the 21st century.
Traditionally, most organisations have implemented IoT within brownfield environments, encompassing specialised systems, often operating in isolation, based on decades-old protocols. These elements often lack the flexibility, speed, bandwidth, security and interoperability required to capitalise on the full capabilities of IoT technologies.
But, as we finally move to the next, more disruptive phase of IoT, businesses must address their insufficient infrastructures to remain competitive, no matter where they are in their IoT journeys.
The business value of a modern infrastructure
Completely ‘redoing’ your company’s infrastructure may sound daunting and costly, but it doesn’t have to be. And you don’t have to overhaul it all at once – it is possible to take a pragmatic approach and insert elements of a 21st-century architecture into existing workflows. In other words, you’re establishing the building blocks of the modern, end-goal architecture.
If you’re still wary of making these changes, consider the long-term benefits and business value. A new infrastructure will set you up for a faster, more significant ROI because the resulting IoT systems are far less complex, and optimised for latest technologies and applications. When based on open standards, these ‘digital transformation-ready’ systems enable interoperability so that businesses can quickly and easily introduce new solutions and capabilities that add leapfrog value now or later down the road, at a lower cost.
Moreover, you are future-proofing the infrastructure to take advantage of the 75bn connected devices that are expected to emerge by 2025, and the myriad use cases they will bring. Further, you’ll be able to integrate IoT more easily with other rising technologies, such as artificial intelligence/machine learning, fog computing and blockchain. You can even implement these technologies gradually once you have a design for your overall framework and architecture in place.
Now, consider the costs and expected ROI of an IoT implementation in a greenfield versus brownfield environment. IDC projects that a digital transformation-ready network, when combined with the right technology solutions and services, delivers an average ROI of 402pc over five years, with payback in just nine months. That breaks down into an average of $48,117 in savings per 100 users, or $3.1m per organisation, per year.
A real-world revolution
Look no further than PepsiCo for an example of success with an infrastructure overhaul. Instead of introducing IoT to a hodgepodge of outdated and inefficient technologies, PepsiCo replaced its existing infrastructure, adopting an ‘infrastructure-as-a-service’ model.
Working closely with partners Rockwell Automation and Cisco, PepsiCo adopted virtual industrial servers and a standard network infrastructure, coupled with centralised expert support on a pre-engineered, scalable server infrastructure. The solution included all hardware, software and network connectivity preconfigured to support PepsiCo’s unique business needs.
As a result, PepsiCo increased the reliability of plant manufacturing systems, while reducing support costs. Further, the IoT deployment allows support staff to communicate with all components of the infrastructure through continuous remote monitoring. This enables technicians to proactively address any issues before they impact production. The ROI from these revolutionary changes was almost immediate, and PepsiCo also reduced troubleshooting time by 90pc – meaning far less downtime.
How to get started on your IoT infrastructure upgrade
As mentioned, your infrastructure overhaul doesn’t have to be an overwhelming endeavour. Here’s how you can get started.
Define the business transformation
Too often, businesses get caught up in the hype of IoT and its ‘cool’ technologies and lose sight of its transformational value. Before investigating a new infrastructure or exploring IoT technologies and connections, define your use case and your desired end state. What business problem do you want to solve with IoT? And what ROI are you hoping to achieve?
Analyse your current infrastructure and design your new one
Identify what’s outdated and what’s state-of-the-art. What internet protocol (IP) are you using? How ‘intuitive’ is your network, or is your entire IP infrastructure (including switches, wireless access points and routers) securely connected on a unified platform? From there, you can design your overall, end-goal architecture, comprising flexible frameworks and leading technologies (IoT, AI, fog computing and blockchain).
Make a decision
Next, decide whether you opt for a one-time revolutionary overhaul or take a more incremental approach. Or maybe it makes sense at this point to simply retrofit your existing system with IoT, and that’s OK, too. Here, keep in mind the ROI and ensure your decision aligns with your business’ long-term goals. However, you shouldn’t make that decision alone.
Leverage your ecosystem’s expertise
IoT is a team sport. No single company can ‘do’ IoT by itself – it is too costly, time-consuming and complex, resulting in limited payback or even failure. As you determine the right approach for preparing your infrastructure for digital transformation, seek out the advice of your partner ecosystem. That includes horizontal and vertical providers, along with hyper-local regional experts, to ensure your IoT project (and results) meets your specific business need.
As this next disruptive phase of IoT progresses, incremental improvements to existing processes will not be enough to keep companies competitive. Whether you are starting your first IoT project or one-hundredth, take time now to assess your existing infrastructure. It may very well be holding you back. By bringing your infrastructure into the 21st century, you’ll be ready to take full advantage of the transformational power of IoT.
By Maciej Kranz
Maciej Kranz is vice-president of the strategic innovation group at Cisco. Kranz leads a team focused on incubating new businesses in blockchain, artificial intelligence, IoT/fog computing, security and others, taking co-innovation and solutions mainstream via the global network of innovation centres.