Industrial manufacturers have embraced the concept of future-proofing their organizations via the Industrial IIoT (Internet of Things). What started as a growing realization in 2019 as pressure to meet the needs of rapid change and escalating volatility has fully solidified as a business imperative in the wake of the pandemic. According to a recent survey conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Analog Devices, “industrial manufacturers who have made investments in connectivity technologies are better positioned to drive innovation and gain a competitive advantage compared to firms that have been slower to implement connectivity….”

However, many organizations have questions about transforming from manual processes to automation via IIoT—to future-proof the organization against current market realities and those on the horizon. This transformation requires creating a connected environment beyond a company’s four walls. It means being connected up and down the supply chain and with customers so that a company can react quickly and dynamically to supply chain changes even while responding to a customer’s tastes. At the same time, future-proofing an organization via IIoT also means empowering employees and vendors to work in a hosted environment with realtime collaboration.

There are five major keys for successfully deploying IIoT:

1. Assess Your Digital Maturity: The assessment should examine more than just an organization’s technology. There is a misperception that the digital transformation is complete once a company’s technology has been upgraded.

The assessment should also examine the company’s digital maturity from a cultural perspective. Understand how your organization’s technology and culture work together and where the maturity of each is today. Cultural change is almost always required. Digital transformation isn’t about the software or the technology but organizational adaptability.

2. Understand the Business Case: What are the business outcomes expected from IIoT? The organization needs to be crystal clear about its expectations. Don’t invest in technology just for the sake of having it; there must be a well-thought-out business case. This understanding is especially key to getting all organizational stakeholders onboard.

3. Understand the Organization’s Infrastructure: Determine whether your organization has the proper infrastructure to support IIoT. This activity is necessary because most manufacturing companies’ technology was installed 20 years ago and cannot support IIoT data requirements. Based on a survey of more than 300 manufacturing, operations, and connectivity executives across the globe, one study found that more than half (53%) of low maturity organizations report their legacy equipment could not communicate with other assets.

4. Develop a Robust Transformation Roadmap: The roadmap needs to show where the organization is, the planned destination, and the route to get there. It also needs to be flexible enough to deal with unexpected circumstances (i.e., COVID-19 and weather-related business challenges). You may need to re-evaluate the roadmap periodically to re-prioritize and reflect changing business conditions.

5. Build a Connected Environment: Today’s workers expect organizations to have a connected environment. Unfortunately, workers often leave their connected smartphone environments when they enter the workplace, where they still have to work with outdated, paper-based processes. They want the same technical capabilities in the workplace as they do with their smartphones, tablets, and similar personal devices. Such an environment is critical for organizations to attract the best talent.

A connected environment means being connected up and down the supply chain and with customers to react quickly and dynamically to supply-chain changes. For example, if one supplier has an outage, you can switch to another. Alternatively, you might want to respond to the individual tastes of each customer who want products with different features and functionality.

Deploying IIoT is a process. By first taking stock of your company’s culture and digital maturity and then defining the expectations for a successful outcome, you can develop your roadmap to a successful deployment of IIoT and build a connected environment that includes your supply chain. This transformation will enable your company to act quickly to business challenges and, in doing so, more fully meet customer needs while future-proofing your operations.