Buy, Build or Blend: Find the Best Path for Navigating in IIoT

October 11, 2018

Smart manufacturing is changing the way industries work, delivering unprecedented levels of productivity and performance. You definitely want in on IIoT, the Industrial Internet of Things, but where to start?

Moving from your current system to a more sophisticated solution – one that supports machine-to-machine communication – requires a deep dive into a range of variables, from how your team works today to how your company will perform tomorrow.

Once you’ve decided to leverage IIoT capabilities, the next step is determining whether the systems and software that connects your industrial devices should be bought, built – or a blend of both.  A comprehensive needs assessment will lay the foundation for the right choice.

Three out-of-the-gate questions

According to a study from a leading research firm, businesses complete 60 percent of their buying process before talking to a vendor. Instead, shift your focus to determining why you’re making the change, then find a partner to help you move forward. The three most meaningful questions to ask:

  1. What will the new sensors, communications infrastructure, and software do?

Sounds simple, but all too often, businesses think broadly about this question. Instead, dig into the details. You’ll need a thorough list of every necessary function the system must perform.

  1. What goals do you hope the new system accomplishes? (And how will you measure them!)

When you determine the goals you need the system to support – reduce machine downtime or increase customer satisfaction – you’re already prioritizing the platform’s must-have features. Next step: Metrics. Determine how you’ll measure success, whether that’s reducing costs, increasing revenue or building customer loyalty.

  1. Will the new IIoT system need to integrate with current systems?

Your industry may require a specific platform for certain functions. If that’s the case, integration capabilities may be high on your list because one thing’s for certain: You don’t want to lose functionality moving forward.

Which is best: Build, Buy or Blend?

When companies get down to tackling the big question– build new, buy off-the-shelf or blend the two – the answer should be fueled by functionality. In other words, what does a business need its IIoT system to do?

To do that, start with these two steps:

Identify the current state

Original intent is one thing. Actual use is another. Figuring out the current state of your hardware and software should go well beyond remembering why it was purchased.

 Talk with employees about how they engage with the systems on a daily basis. Maybe different teams are using it in different ways or maybe they’ve created work-arounds. This type of information helps companies identify must-have functions for the new IIoT solution.  

 Identify the future state

 Take that list of must-have functions and imagine those in play on a daily basis. With IIoT, capabilities expand considerably. For example, your future could include predictive maintenance, sensors that alert you of a potential issue before it occurs. Or the future could include real-time analytics, giving you in-the-moment customer usage patterns. That’s where an experienced vendor partner can help. Clearly communicating those needs to a vendor with vast IIoT experience will help you build a roadmap to a more productive future.

Learn from others

 Before any business embarks on a project this complex and crucial, it’s a good idea to learn from others. These companies all underwent a comprehensive digital assessment and chose the right solution for their unique needs.

 Build: BEB Industrial Asset Management realized they were struggling to set themselves apart in the materials handling industry. After working with Blue Ocean Consulting, they determined building custom software was the best solution.

Blend: Employees at the law firm Scharnhorst Ast Kennard Griffin PC were stymied by record-keeping management issues. BOC found an off-the-shelf product that could be customized to meet SAKG’s needs.

Buy: Woodside Health and Tennis Club found its current club management software didn’t provide the controls and insights they needed.  BOC helped  leadership identify a tool within its industry’s space that met the club’s needs.

Your IIoT partner

If you’re interested in pulling ahead of the pack, talk to MarksNelson Smart Technology about getting a Digital Solution Assessment. Partnering with MarksNelson will help you find the best solution within IIoT for your specific needs – whether that means buying, building or a combination of both. Contact your MarksNelson professional at 816-743-7700.


Mike is an experienced business development professional and software architect involved in the design, implementation and deployment of critical business applications. He has been working in the software industry for over 25 years with significant experience in CRM, ERP, custom application development, and systems integration.... >>> READ MORE

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