Kimberly Hayman

August 2, 2018

IoT Pilot Project Series – Blog 1: Tips to Quickly Deploy an IoT Pilot Project

Do you have an IoT idea? Have you considered running a pilot project? A pilot project is often a good first step to validate the feasibility and viability of an IoT idea. In this blog, we’ll discuss tips for quickly deploying successful IoT pilot projects.

Identify what you want to learn  

Before beginning a pilot, it’s important to identify what you want to learn or validate. Once you know why you want to conduct the pilot, that can guide your decisions about what the pilot should include and how much investment is required to achieve the learnings.

Some IoT pilot projects focus on technical feasibility for device-to-cloud connectivity—collecting data from the device and transmitting it to the cloud. We’ve seen pilot projects evaluate technical feasibility topics like sensor effectiveness for data collection, wireless communication reliability for connectivity, and integration capabilities into an existing system. If the connection is wireless, evaluating connectivity is especially important. Better to know early whether an interior space causes interference or a remote location doesn’t have reliable cellular connection. Pilot projects can also provide preliminary measurements of cellular data usage, an early indicator of future operational costs.

Other IoT pilot projects focus on business viability, product value, and monetization. We’ve seen pilot projects utilized to obtain customer feedback, evaluate and iterate on usability, and validate that the gathered data leads to the intended business outcomes. For example, if a user has access to data provided by the IoT solution, will the expected savings occur?

Pilot projects can also serve as useful demonstrations to socialize an IoT idea and build momentum for a project with internal stakeholders in an organization. A working pilot can be a powerful and tangible example for those who are new to the technology. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a pilot may be worth a thousand pictures.

Leverage readily available components  

An IoT pilot project can leverage a number of off-the-shelf, readily available components like gateways and sensors that allow the project team to minimize expense and time in order to achieve the needed learnings. Later, the pilot components can be swapped out for those that meet the stricter criteria needed for the production design, such as lower cost, smaller size/dimensions, and better durability and tolerance for the operating environment (e.g., outdoor temperature). The pilot hardware simply needs to meet the near-term need: providing the connectivity necessary to prove out the technical or business feasibility. When communicating to stakeholders, it’s important to highlight that some components are specific to the pilot and may differ from an eventual production design.

For IoT software, rather than building from scratch, consider leveraging purpose-built solutions that minimize the amount of development time and effort needed to get a pilot project off the ground. For example, ExoSense™, Exosite’s condition monitoring solution, pulls together the necessary software, tools, and end application to provide a condition monitoring solution that’s 80-90% complete. We then made it simple for users to customize the last 10-20% of the solution through a configuration environment that requires zero coding—anyone can make changes to to the solution to fit their business, branding, and use case, regardless of their experience with IoT technologies. ExoSense can be deployed in under an hour and ready-made devices can be connected in a day, making it easy to visualize data in customizable dashboards that provide a clear, compelling idea about what an end solution might look like. Users can then launch a pilot deployment to get customer feedback and move on to production with the same solution—in months rather than years.

Test the pilot in the real world   

Real-world testing is invaluable to provide some of the best and most practical feedback about the feasibility of the IoT idea and the usability of the solution by intended users. The development team can hear first hand from users about the pains and gains seen with the solution. Ultimately, armed with this knowledge, a team is better positioned to assess the validity of their assumptions, define product requirements, or entirely scrap the idea.

Some key questions and assumptions to validate during real-world testing:

  • Does the system have connectivity as expected and is that connectivity reliable? (This is especially helpful for wireless systems that may encounter interference or service availability limitations.)
  • Is the data obtained helpful?
  • Is there enough data?
  • Is there too much data, making it difficult to sort through?
  • Is it the right kind of data?
  • Does the data collected lead to the outcomes you expect (e.g., service alerts, predictive maintenance info)?  

Remember: Lots of data doesn’t necessarily lead to outcomes. It’s easy in the excitement of IoT to want to collect lots of data. In some cases, especially with cellular wireless connectivity, large amounts of data can increase costs.

Iterate on the design

In a pilot, it often makes sense for the development team to be highly engaged in setting up and monitoring the IoT installations. The team can get feedback and make changes quickly to iterate on the design based on real-world use in order to make the most of your pilot project.

Consider what’s next

Once you’ve completed your pilot deployment, it’s time to iterate on your design to move your IoT solution forward and build support within your organization. In part two of this blog series, we’ll discuss key considerations as you make the transition from pilot to production.