Q: Why are deployment services so critical to enterprise IoT solutions?
A: Enterprises have lofty expectations regarding speed to market and the pace at which they can transition IoT projects from trials/proofs-of-concept (POCs) to scaled deployments that deliver meaningful business value. However, we’ve conducted research where 49% of respondents indicate the number one roadblock to meeting this expectation is the challenge and complexity of deploying IoT solutions at scale. Many companies lack the resources, expertise, bandwidth, and experience needed to provide the level of support enterprises need for a successful implementation.
Q: What are some common challenges respective to IoT deployment?
A: Modernizing technology infrastructure and digitizing long-standing analog business processes within large enterprises can overwhelm and overburden internal IT/OT teams, especially when it comes to managing the daily operations and complexities of distributed deployments. Keeping scaled IoT projects on time, under budget, efficient, and delivered in accordance with the customer’s business requirements is no easy task – often requiring orchestration between multiple partners and teams to thoughtfully plan, execute, delegate, and manage workloads critical for the success of an IoT initiative. A meaningful digital transformation typically requires a solution to be delivered across all locations or operations of an enterprise (e.g., thousands of retail locations, multiple warehouses, or a large manufacturing facility) to move out of a pilot phase. Even the largest companies can be intimidated by the sheer magnitude of these projects.
Unlike more common or standardized technology rollouts, IoT deployments require an in-depth understanding of several components:
- Customer needs
- Underlying technologies employed
- Intricacies of each device
- The architecture of the overall solution
- Each specific use case at hand
Even the smallest of details is essential to the solution's overall success. For example, when rolling out a temperature monitoring solution in the food services space, the installation approach involves configuring each device to transmit data at a frequency meeting the customer's reporting requirements. Additionally, identifying and adhering to food-safe compliant sensor locations is critical for consistent, accurate readings and ensuring devices are properly secured and protected from accidental displacement.
Q: How can an enterprise overcome these challenges?
A: Outsourcing complex, project-based work to an experienced, reputable IoT deployment services partner mitigates the challenges above and offers substantial savings in cost, time, and resources needed over an IoT project’s lifecycle. The burden on internal IT/OT staff is also relieved when projects are managed externally, freeing their time to focus on core business priorities. Ideally, finding a partner who can provide both the right IoT network and end-to-end deployment services streamlines everything from project ideation to execution, implementation, and ongoing support.
Q: What services are included under the “Deployment Services” umbrella?
A: There are typically four stages of any deployment: pre-deployment project planning and strategy, logistics and fulfillment, installation and management of field activity, and day-2 support. A partner that can execute at each stage and effectively project-manage across that lifecycle is vital to the success of any enterprise IoT rollout.
Q: Can you explain the purpose of each stage?
A: Pre-deployment or planning for the complexities of an IoT project is the first step. Much of the work invested upfront represents some of the most impactful, high-value contributions to project success. This is the stage where enterprises need to identify installation and data requirements.
Having the resources to deploy at a large scale and high velocity provides no value if those resources are rudderless. This stage of the project is also where corner cutting is most common. Often, key components required for successful delivery are overlooked simply due to a lack of IoT deployment experience and not asking the right questions upfront.
Many aspects of a viable IoT deployment are diverse, varying by solution type, installation environment, delivery timeline, and unique customer requirements. Something as simple as failing to review a customer’s site access, security, and training requirements can accrue day-of failures, extending time and cost.
Examples of project strategy developed during the pre-deployment phase include installation/support documentation, technician training plans, and customer communications and reporting approach. Additionally, optimized job routing and schedule architecture yield key efficiencies at this early stage.
Logistics and fulfillment
Large, distributed IoT projects generally require a large amount of hardware. Significant quantities of gateways, sensors, and accessories should be moved in a structured, systematic fashion to ensure the equipment is readily available and accessible for technician crews during deployment. Incomplete hardware and accessories provided for each environment, failed, or delayed deliveries, lost field inventory, and uncontrolled logistics costs can threaten a project's viability.
An essential piece of the IoT delivery puzzle is a partner with the sophistication to manage complex supply chains amidst challenging global macroeconomic conditions, along with the scale logistics capabilities to receive inventory, pick, pack, kit, and ship hundreds of thousands of devices, gateways, and accessories.
During this phase, hardware requirements determined during the pre-planning effort are assessed from a procurement and logistics strategy perspective. Custom requirements such as developing a device mounting bracket, sourcing project-specific accessories, or providing bespoke labeling for each kit or sensor are all topics at play here.
Diligence during this phase also covers a cost-benefit analysis of different logistics modes to align with the overall project plan. For example, what factors impact a decision to ship thousands of individual packages directly to customer locations, compartmentalize pre-kitted shipments and use depots based on job routing, or bulk reposition hardware to a strategic partner or customer-owned sites? These are not simple equations with one variable.
International projects also add complexity and cost from an export compliance, taxation, and capabilities perspective.
Installation & Validation
Here is where the rubber meets the road. If the team responsible for overall project delivery recognized the criticality of proper planning and preparation in the previous two stages, the installation effort becomes vastly more manageable, with many potential points of failure already removed and addressed well before the first truck is rolled.
Relatedly, the most important task during installation is ensuring strict adherence to all the pre-planned project components and strategies and swiftly course-correcting any deviations in real-time. With potentially hundreds of technicians in the field at once to track, guide, and quality control, this is yet another area where your choice of an IoT deployment services partner can make or break the project.
Having dedicated project management and day-of-job quality control teams to monitor all field activity and track deployment progress ensures failures are minimized, and, more importantly, that issues requiring a pivot or strategy change in the field do not accrue across the project without corrective action.
Day-of-job tasks during the installation phase include checking technicians in and out of each site with proper access and customer communications, validating the use of installation tools and applications, ensuring compliance with the complete project plan, and quality-inspecting the work performed along with gateway and device connectivity checks.
For many customers, reaching the finish line of an IoT deployment is just the beginning. Now that a solution has been successfully implemented and business processes have been upgraded to leverage the new insights and data being gathered, end users will need ongoing support and may have changing requirements as they adjust to a new way of working. Planning the delivery of an IoT solution without thinking through the post-install support of that infrastructure may mute the overall value proposition over time.
A reverse logistics strategy and spare inventory/replacement plan will solve ongoing hardware needs in a timely and efficient manner – should a location or an asset require a sensor replacement due to field loss, damage, or other environmental cause. Additionally, normal business activities like new construction, renovations, or relocations of prior installations require pre-planning to ensure the IoT solution keeps pace fluidly with the business itself.
Changing data requirements, sensor configurations, gateway and device firmware upgrades, and expansion of use cases on a pre-deployed network are all part of maintaining and extracting value from your IoT investment.
Ensuring that your IoT services provider can install the solution for you and support it afterwards with remote and in-field resources in a scalable, efficient manner is a fundamental part of the longevity and sustainment of an IoT implementation.
Q: Can you provide an example of a successful large-scale deployment?
A: Starbucks needed a digital temperature sensing solution to automate their food safety compliance processes – which took 25 minutes per day per US-based, company-owned store to complete, distracting staff from connecting with customers and performing the fundamental tasks that keep each store running. Additionally, manual recording of temperatures was error-prone and gave only limited visibility into cooler performance throughout the day. MachineQ provided the device, custom mounting accessories, a dedicated IoT network to connect thousands of stores economically, a full API suite and data integrations to get payloads into customer systems and applications, and end-to-end project management and field installation services.
The deployment piece, specifically, included all the steps highlighted in the discussion above, e.g., schedule design, equipment kitting and logistics strategies, procurement and inventory management, store partner communications, technician trainings, day-of-job oversight, and holistic project tracking. Additionally, daily communications, defined multi-directional escalation paths, and a strong partnership with the customer led to the on-time completion of a massive project. Close collaboration with the field, customer, and internal teams allowed in-flight implementation of lessons learned and real-time process adjustments.
In total, MachineQ installed 114,000 MQflex multi-sensor devices across 9,500 of Starbucks’ US-based, company-owned stores in less than a year - helping their staff gain back 85.5M minutes of productivity annually.
Q: How did you achieve such a quick deployment?
A: In one word – collaboration. We managed multi-disciplinary teams across Starbucks and Comcast Business, with the MachineQ team architecting all key facets of the successful IoT deployment.
The effort included strict quality control of every installation to ensure connectivity, validation of data flow, and enforcement of precise sensor placements in adherence with Starbucks’ food safety requirements. As mentioned throughout this discussion, proper strategy and planning, prior experience, and the right resources to execute are the recipes for a seamless and efficient IoT deployment, no matter the scale.
Innovation Starts Here: Jumpstart Your IoT Initiative
In partnership with Comcast Business, MachineQ, a Comcast Company, provides end-to-end network connectivity and deployment services to empower enterprises with technologies that drive competition, promote cost savings, and future-proof operations.