On many IoT projects, IT shops get left behind

Operations people are taking the lead more often

IT departments are playing second fiddle to operations people as enterprises tune up for the Internet of Things.

That’s one of the surprising findings from a survey of people involved in business IoT projects in the U.S. The survey, conducted last month by Technalysis Research, also revealed that monitoring employees is the No. 1 thing companies want to do with the widely hyped technology.

IoT straddles IT and operational technology, two disciplines that for decades have lived side by side without much interaction. Operations people handle things like lights, locks, and machine tools, while IT folks buy the computers and run them.

Now it turns out that very small computers, such as networked sensors, can help a company’s infrastructure work better. But more often than not, IT’s not in charge of those systems, the Technalysis survey showed.

According to the survey’s 620 respondents, 42 percent of IoT projects were being managed by facilities or operations departments, or other business units like manufacturing. IT was in charge of a third of the projects, while a quarter were run by a line of business within the company.

Conflict between IT and OT (operations technology) had been brewing before the IoT trend even began, as physical infrastructure was updated with new smarts. OT departments adopted those updates without asking IT, so whole new digital systems rose up in parallel with traditional computing and networks.

“It does represent a bit of a shift in power,” Technalysis Chief Analyst Bob O’Donnell said.

To make IoT a success, the two sides should start talking and then collaborating, and top management should buy into that process, he said. If the departments stay isolated, the company might miss out on getting maximum value from IoT data through deeper analytics.

In addition to organizational challenges, enterprises studying or adopting IoT are facing sticker shock, O’Donnell said. High capital outlay was their top concern, followed by time to deploy and security of IoT data.

That may explain why saving money, sometimes seen as a key driver of IoT, wasn’t the top objective they cited. More respondents were aiming to improve internal processes, a goal that could save money in the long run but is more focused on just making the company run better.

Early IoT deployments seem to be taking a conservative approach overall.

Ethernet and Wi-Fi, rather than LTE or specialized low-power technologies, were the networks of choice for most respondents.

And predictive maintenance, a highly touted system for replacing things before they break, isn’t the top application companies are using. Instead, it’s simple monitoring and alarms to keep on top of things that might go wrong, followed by security and identification. But predictive maintenance is on its way: It was the number one application respondents were evaluating.

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