Be smart with your IoT dollar - The EE

Be smart with your IoT dollar

Where should you invest in IoT? It’s easy to say just throw money at your weakest areas or go and spend money without knowing about the payback. If we want to be a good steward of our resources, we need to be smart with our resources and specifically your money! Baseline, where are you, asks Joseph Zulick of MRO Electric and Supply?

In what level does your Internet of Things (IoT) program currently reside? Think of this in terms of Dante’s Inferno. No, wait, all of those rings are in hell and none of the IoT scenarios will get you banished to eternal damnation. Instead let’s look at this as rings that extend to prosperity. This is not quite Dante’s Paradiso or Heaven but let’s call it Paradise City.

Some companies in blissful ignorance

In Zaid Dahhaj’s article, he talks about the four stages of learning. In a similar view we can talk about the four circles of productivity. The outermost ring is ignorance or as sometimes referred, “unconscious ignorance”. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can’t blame someone who has no idea of the information they should know already. Many companies run along blissfully ignorant as they slowly lose market share and fall further behind. The problem is today, it is too hard to keep up with companies who can outspend you.

Conscious incompetence

The next ring, sometimes referred to as “conscious incompetence”. You are now aware of the problems. You’ve taken inventory of your needs. Moving past this ring is complicated, mainly because, I believe, this ring has three levels within the main ring. The first is that of “waste”. It seems like many companies in an effort to get on the train of Industry 4.0 are trying to outspend their competition. Million+ dollar ERP systems with integrated plug-ins are all the rage. Money can cover up a lot of ignorance and bad decisions.

Some firms hem and haw

This level is also that of the “slow and indecisive”. Often caught between two IoT solutions they hem and haw until the train has left the station. Paralysed by fear of a bad decision and unable to progress, they know what needs to be done but never make the critical decisions that are required to move forward.

The next level are the “blamers”. They blame every other person, cause and effect in an effort to deflect blame from their IoT solutions or lack thereof. No matter what ring you currently find yourself in today, the great thing is, nothing is written in stone at this point.

You know your shortcomings and are making a conscious effort to correct them. This is an incredibly powerful moment when you are now being impactful and making a difference to the future of your company. This is also the execution phase.

The problem in this stage is people become very invested in their solution and start to become emotionally attached to the solution and it can, at times, cloud their judgment. Stick to your metrics. Remember, this is the foundation on which all of your IoT will be built. The investment should provide you the greatest ROI for your time frame.

What are the solutions?

First establish your destination, over the 3-5 years what should your IoT look like? Is it integrated? If so, to what extent? How hands-off and automated should it be? Don’t pull out your Scrooge McDuck, this is a time for optimism and dreams! If you’re currently satisfied with your ERP system, then integration with your existing system will be your concern. Every day, the issue many plants talk about is their need for the systems to talk to each other.

You even see it in your home; does your smart speaker work with all types of voice systems and apps? Probably not. You need to make sure the same is true plant-wide.

Knowing the platform your system is programmed for is very important when investing your money intelligently. If most of your systems use SQL server as their main system, excellent. Maybe you have several open platforms or IO interfaces.

These are nice from a programming standpoint as long as you have a programmer. Maybe you want an out-of-the-box system. Realise that most out-of-the-box systems will have the limitation that you need to adapt to your platform.

Expectations; where do you want to be?

Understand all of the parties needs and expectations. This needs to be not only the desired information but the format it needs to be in and the cost or value of the information. What is the information worth to you and your company? When you hear this, you may be taken aback since you may only look at the information you gather currently.

You may also look at the way you gather this data. Remember, even in the matrix there are gaffs; acknowledge yours and determine where you need to invest. This doesn’t automatically mean to back-fill with information that has no value.

Instead, determine what information you need, various ways to achieve this gathering and the costs of each, followed by the value of each. How do you put a dollar figure on a value? That’s related to the next two questions, what is it you’re gaining from this information? Second, what is the cost of not knowing this information? This tends to be the big impact.

Unconscious competence

Joseph Zulick

The final ring is that of Unconscious Competence. This is the level where you are running on autopilot and you have moved to a level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that is no longer requiring a conscious involvement. This is also where its ingrained into the process. This is where Automated Processing takes hold.

Often in systems like Lean you find that the process is the most important structure. If your process isn’t solid it becomes apparent when they remove the key individual from the activity. Apply smart technology that will give the greatest return on your investment.

The author is Joseph Zulick is a manager at MRO Electric and Supply.

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