The application of industrial IoT is only as good as the opportunity it serves. We are witnesses of technological marvels that our predecessors would struggle to comprehend. History is also full of examples of the short sighted and dangerous use of new technology. Industrial IoT has a common connection with every other innovative new technology of the past. The best use of new technology is always associated with an innovative insight or fundamental understanding of a subject.
Root Cause Problem Solving First, Technology Second
Understanding the subject is always the first task in innovation or improvement. There are many ways of gathering and analyzing relevant information. I have used many different methods in my career. The methodology is not as important as the ability to draw insight into the relationships between things or why something is happening. Getting to the root cause requires more than just a cursory overview of a subject.
I’ve seen numerous examples of solutions which solve nothing. Or worse yet, create more issues. Following a methodology like CISR SOFAIR or Six Sigma DMAIC provides for a robust framework to ensure solutions will target a root cause and have a chance to be implemented effectively. Not using a robust methodology would be like aiming at a target while blindfolded. The chances for hitting the target will certainly be less. I have seen this happen frequently and one of the main reasons given for not using a robust methodology is the need for a solution at top speed. However, getting to the wrong solution faster never helps.
I’ve heard it said that there is always time to do things a second time if you don’t have time to do them correctly the first time. I would like to add to that saying. There’s not always time to do things three, four or five times because you didn’t use a robust methodology and never identified a root cause. Speed comes through experience in solving root cause problems and seeing the same or similar opportunities again. This is the reason that learned knowledge and dedicated practice creates powerful solution providers. When these root cause-based solution providers intersect with challenges worthy of them the stage for radical innovation has been set.
Using Industrial IoT in Context
So, we have used a robust method and understand the root cause of our problem. What now? If the use of IoT is the best way to solve a problem, then justify it and use it. However, many solutions require only minor changes to expectations, process or behavior not new technology. The question to answer is what is the simplest way to reach the end goal I have in mind? You also need to understand how your solution aligns with its stakeholders.
Ask yourself these questions to understand organizational alignment. Does the solution align itself with the goals of the organization? Does it meet the needs of my stakeholders? If you don’t know how to answer these questions you have more work to do in the areas of Hoshin Kanri and stakeholder engagement. When you complete this work, you will have a better idea of whether to pursue the project further.
There are many excellent case studies on the effective use of IoT. There are just as many, if not more, well intentioned undocumented failures. Using IoT solutions when simpler solutions are available documents the lack of root cause problem solving in a project. Using technology for technology’s sake is equivalent to flipping a coin without a robust methodology informing its use.
The use of industrial IoT will improve reliability, create new value and spawn whole new industries when used in context. The skills needed to identify and solve root cause problems will be in higher demand than ever before. Using these skills in the right context on projects that are aligned with the goals of your organization will help you and your organization succeed.