Leveraging the convergence of Industrial IoT, digital transformation, and design

Knowing that design can enhance strategic competitive advantage, more commercial and industrial companies are using design to establish leadership positions.

Recently, a colleague and I attended the Smart Industry 2017 conference in Chicago, joining roughly 250 attendees representing a broad range of commercial/industrial segments.

Our experience during the conference led us to further internal discussion about where design fits into an industrial context, and I’ll get to that in just a minute.

To first set the stage though, some observations we made while there were:

  • From food manufacturing to heavy machinery, everyone we spoke with was excited by the prospect of using the Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT) and digital transformation to improve the efficiency of their manufacturing operations.
  • Two paths of organizational transformation were represented: Using IIoT and digital solutions to (a) improve operational efficiency and analytics, and/or (b) create digitally-enabled customer-facing products and services. Most attendees seemed to be focusing on the former.
  • We were one of the few, if not the only, experience design firm in attendance. This was surprising given the opportunity we see for design to impact the success of these companies.

Over the course of three days, we heard from Caterpillar, Rexnord, Navistar, Exelon, Honeywell, and many other best-in-class companies. And the topics they discussed covered a host of subjects, including using IIoT and associated technology for:

  • Tracking usage patterns to predict potential problem areas
  • Transitioning from being a commoditized equipment-maker to a solution provider
  • Enabling significant energy savings through real-time temperature monitoring
  • and many other interesting use-case scenarios.

It was clear that nearly every organization in attendance believes in the value of digital transformation. However, their challenge is figuring out what opportunities to prioritize to create/extract value in the near-term.

It was also clear that there are many digital experiments underway, but only a few fully-baked applications of technology are driving significant change enterprise-wide.

Given the above, we see a technical and operational design challenge: IIoT and Digital Transformation efforts are typically driven out of IT and/or operations. This makes sense because so many of these efforts are dependent upon the deployment of technology. But the most impressive solutions have roots in design. This is because design serves to amplify the impact of a solution by keeping the user (internal employees, external customers) at the center of the solution’s creation before any technology or process is selected or deployed.

Graphic showing the relationship between design, IIoT and digital transformation

As more and more commercial/industrial companies mature in their use of IIoT and other connected technologies, the technology advantage any company may enjoy will become minimized. It’s at that point that the companies whose solutions are rooted in design will enjoy a competitive advantage over solutions that are not.

Leveraging design as a competitive advantage across an entire industry is not a new thing

We envision design impacting the commercial/industrial sector in much the same way design has impacted other industries that have similarly evolved over the past few decades.

Knowing that design can enhance strategic competitive advantage, certain companies are using design to establish leadership positions. We are part of that equation: we’re advising commercial/industrial clients on how they can embed design thinking methods and UX design execution into their application of IIoT strategies to affect a greater net positive change with the aim of leapfrogging their industrial peers.

We know that as new technologies promise new benefits, internal users and customers expectations for usability and efficiency will increase. Good design in the commercial/industrial IIoT space is critical to adoption and success.

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