The field of objects connected to information networks—commonly referred to as the “Internet of Things”—is growing at an explosive pace. And interest from companies looking to capitalize on this technology is at an all-time high: the recent Internet of Things World 2016, the largest conference dedicated to object connectivity, saw a 74% increase in attendance from the previous year, tallying more than 10,000 visitors over the course of the fair’s three days in Santa Clara, CA.
On the consumer side, mass IoT brands like Nest have become household names, as customers are beginning to expect that nearly every new product will be able to connect.
“There’s no boundary of imagination when it comes to consumer IoT,” says Daniel Krauss, global advisory innovation leader at EY. He, along with Aleksander Poniewierski, co-leader of EY’s Internet of Things Network of Excellence, gave a presentation at the IoT World conference about how businesses are seeking to improve the capability of the burgeoning technology.
Rather than add to the mass of new consumer IoT products, they pointed out, organizations are considering an often-overlooked option: industrial IoT, which can potentially add substantial value for manufacturers, retailers, and energy and utilities companies, among others. Many firms could be well-served by looking into the benefits afforded by industrial IoT applications.
Krauss and Poniewierski report that, in many cases, they’re seeing venture capital flowing into industrial IoT, where the technology could generate not only new products and processes but also new business models and whole new industries. Silicon Valley’s increasing activity in the automotive field is just one example of the kinds of transformative industry convergences created at the intersection of consumer and industrial IoT.
But whether it’s employing sensors to locate inefficiencies in a supply chain or using predictive maintenance to anticipate equipment flaws, where to start with IoT implementation often remains a big question mark. And that question mark, according to Krauss and Poniewierski, is exactly where businesses should begin.
“We are encouraging our clients to ask better questions,” says Poniewierski. “Many of them simply don’t know how to phrase the question, so they can’t imagine the possibilities that can come from the integration of IoT. The answer can be to start with smaller implementations, learn and then scale across the organization.”
The right question can provide the necessary focus and drive for the best implementation of IoT, uncovering previously unseen opportunities for potential revenue, higher productivity, and cost savings. In manufacturing, asking a targeted question such as “Can you improve the prediction accuracy of our wind power generation?” can yield more fruitful decisions than “How can we use IoT to manage resources and save money?” In Krauss and Poniewierski’s research, this type of query leads to a better answer (i.e., prediction accuracy can indeed improve, using a neural network-based predictive model), which, in turn, could lead to more accurate forecasting and, in turn, better business outcomes.
Albert Einstein once remarked that if he had an hour to solve a problem and his life depended on finding the solution, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper line of inquiry—once he knew how to state the question, the answer would follow in the remaining five minutes.
The same principle applies to maximizing the potential for industrial IoT in sectors across the board. While easy answers might seem to present themselves, especially in the field of consumer IoT, the greatest benefit to be gained usually comes from doing the challenging intellectual and strategic work to find the kind of issue-based questions that could unearth potentially world-changing solutions.
EY’s Better Questions series asks some of the tough questions faced by today’s global businesses. Better questions. Better answers. Better working world. Discover more. #BetterQuestions
This article was produced on behalf of EY by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.