IIoT Pilot Purgatory in 2021: How to avoid Pilot Hell

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Industrial IOT Pilot Purgatory

IIoT Pilot Purgatory in 2021: How to avoid Pilot Hell

Apr 6, 2021

We first published this article in 2018 on the problem of Industrial IoT development where 71% of projects were stuck in Pilot Purgatory.


Now, exactly 3 years later, we report that some estimates have risen to 84%. How is the problem increasing even while IoT investment have ramped up over the years?


iot investment 2017-2020

The problem is likely not the budget nor the resources (many of the problems faced are by the biggest names in tech). The problem is in the development.


As engineers ourselves, we know how hard it is to drum up the team towards a different direction. Your internal department is focused on the projects already on hand. You’d have to find an intrapreneur in your organization to spearhead the development of a new IoT project. Otherwise, you’d need an outside perspective to analyze your business case objectively. What we’d ask you first is:


  • Is the implementation of IoT technology critical to solving a real customer need?

Technology alone does not make a good business case. Technology can only accelerate what is already an outstanding product or service.

  • Do you have someone committed to the role?

Developing a new IoT product requires a team who’s top priority is in making sure the Proof of Concept is made quickly and rapidly iterated upon. If the project doesn’t move fast enough, your pilot is dead in the water.

  • Do you have the right people for the role?

Experts in Industrial Change suggest that promoting a CDO (Chief Digital Officer) to “jumpstart” your IIoT program can actually lead to negative results. What you need are people with a long tenure in your industry and know what the key business problems are to solve with IIoT (if IIoT is the right technology at all)


On the flip side, there are also perspectives that disagree with the term “pilot purgatory” as referenced in the 2018 McKinsey study. The IoT Business Index 2020 finds that 2017-2020 was merely a phase between planning and early implementation in which most companies were testing the waters. Recent figures suggest a ramp up in investment as businesses generate data on IIoT’s positive impact. The reality is that IIoT “pilot purgatory,” whether it exists or not, is really a state of being undecided.


We’ve taken this excerpt from an article published by LNS Research:


“Almost every manufacturer we talk with has an [Industrial Transformation] mantra that is something like: “try a lot, fail fast, find the winners.” They do not see it as pilot purgatory if anyone or any set of technologies do not roll out.”


What companies really need is a development process to discover whether or when IIoT transformation is right for them.


Cisco reported that only 26% of projects survived the IoT pilot stage, but most companies agreed that learnings from stalled or failed IoT initiatives have helped accelerate their investment in IoT. Is this a failure of the technology? Or is it a failure of the development process?


Our experience in the Product Development Process have informed us that failures can occur at every step of the way without careful planning and swift execution. The following scenario still occurs throughout organizations today:




Abid Hussain nicely described how this typically goes down:


  1. Top management says: “We must get into IoT!” Budgets are approved and business units get money earmarked for pilots.


  1. The IoT provider focusses on showcasing its capabilities/distinguishing features, not necessarily on solving the problem. This may be due to the vendors’ own agenda, or the fact the customer may not even have an identified problem – the biz unit was just told to do “an” IoT pilot.


  1. IoT program never gets rolled out because the biz unit sees no value, and is not willing to spend their own money.


Technically it’s all doable, especially when using tried and tested hardware and platforms.


The issues tend to be on the business case and the human side of things. Looking back, many pilots should never have been started.


IIoT in 2021:


A recent LinkedIn article has generated a lot of discussion on the primary problems we’re facing today. We’ll highlight two and the breakdown of how we would approach the problem:




Every manager wants to be able to walk into the office and receive real-time updates across their operations. But every equipment manufacturer also wants to design machines that are the easiest for them to maintain and debug.


Something has to give if we’re trying to achieve an IoT Standard. In our Design for Manufacturing, we often have to act as the bridge between the client’s individual needs and the “standards” of manufacturing for modular components, compatibility, and firmware protocols.


Security: As inter-connectivity increases, so does the security risk and greater incentives for cyber attacks. As shown by the recent Acer ransomware attack, there would be more access points than ever in an IIoT connected world. Balancing interoperable IoT devices with cybersecurity protocols is one of the biggest challenges to IoT adoption.


3 Tips for IIoT Solutions Providers

From a design perspective as embedded solutions providers, we offer the following advice:

  • Protect the ports:

When we design industrial electronic products such as Point-of-Sale systems, we look at all the ways the systems can be tampered with. Clients may request USB ports for ease-of-use with mouse and keyboard connectivity. However, the ports can also be used to connect mobile devices (users charge their phones with the ports) wherein malware can easily breach the system. Think about the interconnectivity of that system within the IoT network and how much damage can be done if breached. High risk embedded systems should consider limited-use access such as disabling Universal Plug-n-Play so that unauthorized devices cannot access the network.

  • Provide as-needed functionality:

Does an embedded system need access to the internet? We often get requests for features that offer marginal benefits to the client, but pose much larger security risks. Devices with 24/7 internet access, while not receiving regular updates offer a potential backdoor for hackers. Therefore, we recommend placing security at the forefront of functionality.

  • Implement fail-safes:

We encourage multiple authentication security and regular firmware updates. To effectively combat security threats in your IoT connected devices, you need to ensure security protocols across the full stack of development. As embedded solutions providers, we make sure to help our clients audit their devices to assess vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity isn’t a one-time fix, but a constantly evolving process of prevention and protection.

Case Engelen

I'm the CEO of Titoma and I've been working in electronic product development in Taiwan & China since 1994. What I've discovered is that to get to market FAST you need to take time to prevent delays. And the most important way to do that is with early supplier involvement. With us doing both Design AND Manufacturing, we save our clients time, aggravation and a quite a bit of money. If you're an established B2B company needing a Reliable Custom Device, on Time and on Target, we should talk!

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