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Ushering in a New Era: How IoT Will Alter the Project Management Landscape

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a nascent industry, but one which will blossom rapidly in coming years. To a consumer, IoT may be most familiar by using the refrigerator example. By placing sensors in a refrigerator and hooking the appliance up to an Internet connection, consumers have the ability to have their fridge notify them via text when a certain foodstuff is getting low, or when their fridge door is open. This sounds very appealing for those of us who, like me, tend to go shopping and immediately forget all the necessary groceries while picking up items of which I have too many already.

2017 is going to be a banner year for IoT. According to Gartner, 8.4 billion connected “things” will be in use in 2017, up 31% from 2016. By 2020, they predict some 20 billion devices will be connected. The consumer segment is the largest user base of connected things, with 5.2 billion units in 2017, which represents 63 percent of the overall number of applications in use. This power will lead to a whole new way of producing devices, everything from the pants you wear to road construction to your microwave.

The reality of IoT, however, is much broader in scope and more expansive in its impact as to how businesses run, and how the products they produce are engineered. Project Management is one of the many areas that will face a change in its practices due to the advent of IoT. It will not be a revolution, perhaps, but it will certainly be an evolution of immense consequence.

IoT and Project Management

Commercial application is slowly but surely expanding now, though, and will only grow more quickly once the IoT space reaches a greater level of maturity. For many of these devices coming online, projects are going to be initiated and project managers assigned to lead these to success. Project Managers will have to contend with new obstacles ushered in by IoT’s prevalence. However, they will also be armed with greater efficiencies to tackle these projects.

The people who will be leading IoT initiatives are, right now, fairly new to the IoT space. Project Managers do not typically have years of experience (if any) related specifically to IoT projects. The demand for “IoT-ization”, though, will create a market for PMs who have the expertise and experience working with IoT.

There are essentially two manners in which IoT will affect project management. The first way, as mentioned above, is that it will provide greater efficiencies for Project Managers. The second will be new considerations for PMs to manage related to IoT. With the maturation of IoT, some of these will increase in their scope and scale while some of the considerations might diminish in their disruptive capacity.

The way PMs go about their jobs, too, will undergo a significant shift. This blog focuses on the ways in which the field of Project Management will change with the advent and proliferation of IoT projects. 

Big Data Will Lead to Improved Analyses

Project Managers will benefit from the proliferation of data points from which they can gather insights. With the increase in connected devices and their output of datasets, projects will see an increase in both qualitative and quantitative relevant data from which to make decisions. This data can then be integrated seamlessly with an enterprise system such as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform or a Project Management tool.

Smart companies will use this data wisely to make decisions based on the empirical value of the outputs. Progress reporting and estimation accuracy will be augmented by broader, measurable data points. In addition, as IoT matures, the data being returned from sensors will exponentially increase the value for consumer and commercial application alike. This long-lived data feed will provide companies with a rich set of quantitative elements that will help them gauge not only current quality and performance measures, but will allow them to predict performance in the future.

Testing Will Require More Context

Although testing in more traditional projects has included such specifics as stress testing to ensure that actual enterprise volumes will not break a system, IoT will require a much greater degree of “contextual testing”. As an example, one can look to a series of IoT-enabled devices which might be tested in a laboratory environment under nominal conditions. But when those devices are put in the field, conditions might be vastly different than those found in a laboratory setting.

Although a sensor built in to a lighthouse might easily pass inspection when testing within the confines of a controlled environment, what happens when the lighthouse in question sits on a barren rock outcrop just west of Sachs Harbour, where conditions are more suitable for penguins and polar bears than humans? Project Managers will need to rethink testing scenarios to ensure that they achieve the contextual settings of real-world application.

Tools Being Used by PMs Will Change

Microsoft Project has long been a stalwart for PMs as the de facto tool for resource planning and scheduling. Regardless of one’s affinity for the tool, IoT will force significant changes to tools like Project. With real-time data available to Project Managers, automation of previously onerous administrative tasks will change the dynamic betwen the Project Manager and his or her tools. The path and scope of this change is not yet fully clear, but in coming months and years the toolsets used by IoT PMs will evolve as the pervasiveness of IoT increases.

Changes the Collaborative Framework – Siloism is Outdated in the IoT Model

Even in a SaaS model, where the infrastructure and software may not be hosted internally, there is still the need for collaboration between the provider and the client, as integration points and system feeds likely will be required.

Also, silos within a client organization itself must be broken down, as IoT brings with it a need for greater fusion between the oftentimes contrarian areas of I.T. With all the integrations required for an IoT project, with its many devices and their connection points to internal systems, collaboration will become not simply a nice-to-have but a critical element to project and operational success.

Broadens the PM Role into an IoT Advocate and Specialist

One of the truisms coming out of the IoT space is that Project Managers will be needed to direct the IoT initiatives that will inevitably come up, especially for larger companies. As such, PMs will be on the front lines and will be required to learn the ins and outs of IoT. This places them in a strong position to be advocates and specialists in the field.

Project Managers, having a keen interest in, and needing to use, accurate and measurable data, will serve as champions for the new IoT landscape. Their ability to obtain data more quickly, and for that data to be more accurate, will mean that their roles become increasingly important as IoT matures. And until the rest of the teams become familiar with IoT projects, PMs will be a guiding force in understanding IoT projects and their ultimate goals and efficiencies. Project Managers who are flexible and able to adapt will be the likeliest to lead the next generation of IoT projects.

Requires a New Standard for Interoperability and Compatibility

While IoT has the potential of creating a wealth of data for use by companies, it also raises the issue of interoperability. As with any new technology, the IoT industry and the manufacturers of IoT devices have yet to firmly establish the standards necessary to guarantee interoperability and compatibility. Until such time as these standards are entrenched in the industry, we face a situation where data moving from one organization to another’s analytical tools will be incomprehensible.

Security Considerations

One of the biggest concerns raised around IoT is the security of it all. It’s not hard to envision this, given that we recently saw (in 2016) the single largest cyber attack in history. The Dyn DDoS attack was the result of a number of IoT-enabled devices being maliciously compromised and transformed into botnets which flooded, and brought down temporarily, popular websites like Twitter and PayPal. While Gartner predicts that some $550 million will be spent in 2018 on security for IoT, the fact is that cyber security has a way to go.

Project Managers will have to ensure that proper provisions are made to solidify the security of any IoT-enabled devices on networks being implemented. Full security audits will need to be performed for all enabled devices to ensure both security and stakeholder confidence. It will be the responsibility of PMs to ensure that this rigor and discipline is baked into every IoT project, not as an afterthought, but as a key component of planning.

Conclusion

Smart is as smart does. The possibilities of IoT seem endless at this point. Although the jury remains out on whether there will be significant impact on the methodologies used for IoT, there will be changes to what PMs measure and how the plan. Efficiencies brought by IoT may make certain aspects of the PMs’ jobs easier, but other areas will require a greater degree of rigor and control.

With great power, however, comes great responsibility. The Project Managers who are at the forefront of the IoT world will benefit greatly in coming years from their activity in this space. However, the truly smart PM, dealing with Smart Data and Smart Devices, will require the ability to be flexible and able to adapt quickly in an ever-changing world. Being armed with the knowledge of how IoT will change their roles, for better or for worse, will make the PM of the future the leaders that IoT, and the companies that embrace it, needs.

Hitachi Solutions is a leader in the IoT space. As a recognized trailblazer in analytics and business intelligence, we continue to innovate, bringing to the market new, efficient products and services. For questions on how your organization can adopt an IoT strategy that’s best for your business processes and goals, please contact us today.