Learning by doing and the value of pivoting in an IIoT environment
Data-driven technologies and business models are becoming increasingly linked. For many companies, this means that the skills and assets they are today investing in bear little relation to those they sought five years ago, and neither do the services they offer. Mika Parikka, Managing Consultant at LINK Design and Development Oy, holds that the Industrial Internet of Things plays a central role in this redefinition process, as it is fundamentally affecting how businesses are being run and what kind of talent is deemed necessary.
According to Mika Parikka, the Industrial Internet has introduced a distinct shift in business models from times past, when often what companies sold was technology or machinery itself. Parikka is the former CEO of TreLab, an electrical manufacturing company whose activities include retrofitting wireless smart sensor solutions for industrial equipment.
“The question of IIoT must be understood as not being primarily about technology, but instead about positioning and differentiation. After you understand how the machinery is being used, you can begin to see how the business is, or should be, run,” Parikka says.
He doesn’t see the Industrial Internet as being completely defined by technology, although it determines the types of data companies will be able to offer their customers. Herein lies the crux to his argument; customers will essentially come to define the businesses which serve them. Parikka maintains that for companies to reap the benefits of IIoT and IoT, mentalities need to shift form ‘we are only selling hardware,’ to ‘we are selling services that benefit our customers.’
“This affects who the products and services are being marketed to, as well as how contracts between parties are being drawn up,” Parikka says. “At TreLab we provided our customers with technology which they could utilize in IoT and IIoT scenarios. We began seeing the kinds of problems that customers were having in selling and conceptualizing their services as they began telling us that their businesses were fundamentally changing, and that they are no longer billing their customers for what they used to.”
This is not a surprise when considering the types of customer relations that the Industrial Internet is spawning. “Previous business models were largely about selling machinery and technology to customers, whereas in the future, they will largely be defined by customers wanting total solutions. Thus, the most significant change that will occur is that sales, customer services and most notably contracts, will need to be done from the perspective of customer value, as opposed to selling things in the traditional sense.”
“The question of IIoT must be understood as not being primarily about technology, but instead about positioning and differentiation. After you understand how the machinery is being used, you can begin to see how the business is, or should be, run.”
Trial and error yields the best results
Parikka cites Kati Hagros, the Chief Digital Officer at Aalto University and former CIO of KONE, as someone who often speaks about the need for companies to learn from their customers.
“She often urges companies to go with the customer and try things out. Then after these tryouts, once the business model begins to take shape, to fund it lavishly so that is has the ability to overcome corporate inertia, which tends to stifle ideas that appear radical at first,” Parikka relates.
The willingness to engage in these tryouts necessitates a significant internal philosophical shift in companies, most of all from the people at top management level. However, Parikka feels that a mentality shift shouldn’t be seen as totally restructuring what a company has been doing or selling up until that point. This is particularly true for larger organizations who have the resources for testing and experimentation, as well as for setting up smaller units that have more autonomy in terms of serving the customer.
“I believe that those at top management level must start acting more like venture capitalists. Potential solutions to customer needs exist, particularly among those at the frontlines of organizations who understand and see both problems and solutions. The role of top management is to then recognize and understand which of the possible solutions to fund to put the company in the best possible position, and to allow the frontline people lead the change,” Parikka says
He asserts that this is particularly true for industrial organizations who manufacture and produce material products. “Especially for organizations that are now moving into providing anything as a service, the leadership need to clearly lead the way, saying: ‘this is important in our business, we need to do this and above all else try that.’ It is important to prioritize what seems to be the best option, going for it, and changing direction – or pivoting as they say in the start-up world – if it doesn’t work. Learning by doing is definitely the way to go.”
The birth of the knowledge worker
After successful learning and experimentation has taken place, the emerging business models will set new demands upon the workforce, breathing new life into them. Drawing on the topic of companies requiring new expertise and new talent, Parikka highlights how knowledge workers will play an essential role from an operational standpoint.
“Most of the work will be about defining the procedures and algorithms, when there are a lot of sensors and subsequent data coming in from different sources. A knowledge worker will need to be able to analyze vast quantities of data, and really understand where all the data comes from. On top of this, the worker will need to create ways to deduce action-oriented alerts from the data. In most cases this is not what we would call programming, but instead, the type of work we would be doing every day in Excel – creating rules and procedures to act on.”
Parikka, who is an engineer by trade, holds that this workforce will be increasingly made up of people with a technological prowess, who will then take the lead when it comes to business initiatives. He concurs with Bill Gates’ statement that ‘it’s very difficult to teach technology to business people, and thus much easier to teach business to technology people.’ Approaching business from a technological mindset will mean that issues such as IIoT data ownership will be prioritized and dealt with early on in contracts signed between service or data providers and their customers. For tech people to spearhead business model realization processes, they ultimately need the license, capacity and funding to experiment to get the best results.
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