Throwing the Book at IoT

On television, up on the big screen, and in stereotypical real life, most men confront their midlife crisis by driving home in some new sports car.

Maciej Kranz is not most men.

No, instead of parking more horses in the garage, he wrote a book about the Internet of Things.

Kranz is VP of the corporate strategic innovation group at Cisco Systems, and has been on his own Internet of Things journey for more than a decade and a half. With so much experience helping customers develop and implement a plan to better connect their operations, and without any other practical book to guide those still wavering on how to start their own projects, he started to peck away on Sundays and during his seemingly unending flights around the world. The result, after more than two years of work and close to 1 million miles in the air is Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, Transform Your Industry, which blends instruction with dozens of applicable examples and case studies.

“It was important to me that the book be grounded in real-life experiences,” Kranz said. “With the case studies, I really focused on best practices, on the first projects you can start. The whole point was to not reinvent the wheel, and to learn from your peers. What are the most common mistakes your peers have made? People don’t tend to share a lot of mistakes — even successes, a lot of companies don’t feel comfortable sharing — and I thought it was important to make it practical.”

What follows is a discussion of the book (“There were lots of books that focused on technology, lots that focused on a big promise for the future, but there weren’t the practical guides that talked about minimizing the risk along the journey”), IoT in general (“We want customers to benefit from it, because it’s not just hype”), and how more companies can dive in.

IndustryWeek: So, you have now literally written the book on IoT. How did you get started in the space?

Maciej Kranz: My first, sort of, interaction with this space was many, many years ago — 2001, if I remember. Cisco and GE, we did this joint venture on the Industrial Internet, which didn’t work out, and then our next attempt was with Rockwell, and it worked out eventually.

IW: It’s changed a lot since 2001.

MK: It’s sort of fascinating, that we’re working together with Rockwell, with ABB, with Schneider. I was talking with a friend from Microsoft, we were in a session, sitting together, working together, and 10 years ago, it would have been inconceivable for us to do this. Now, we’re sitting down together, speaking the same language, hiring the same people, and it’s sort of a great story about how the industries aren’t just working together, but actually converging.

IW: And what was your inspiration to sit down and write a book about it — other than maybe wanting to share knowledge from your 30 years in tech and your 15 years in IoT?

MK: The motivation was quite simple. Obviously, we’re all believers that this opportunity is huge and that we should all be making it happened. I traveled 300,000 miles last year, to talk with customers, to get a feel for what they’re working on and how we can help. Two or three years ago, I started to look for a book that could help companies that have heard of IoT, but don’t know where to get started, don’t care much about technology — but do care about business outcomes. Is there a book I could recommend? I started looking and I couldn’t find one. There were lots of books that focused on technology, lots that focused on a big promise for the future, but there weren’t the practical guides that talked about minimizing the risk along the journey. We want customers to benefit from it, because it’s not just hype. Then someone suggested, Why don’t you write one? And that’s what I started.

It was an important balancing act. I’ve lived in the technology world, and it would be easy to just talk about the technology aspect of it. What really was needed, for people who run the plant, the field, the logistics systems, who have heard about IoT — how can they apply it and make sure they implement it right the first time?

IW: You traveled about 1 million miles over the two years and change you were working on this book.

MK: I don’t travel for the sake of travel. I travel because I think it’s important to go to the open pit mine, to see and understand the customer environment, because that’s how you can help them. It’s not just taking a generic solution and giving it to the customer. Every environment is different, every situation is different — from technology and business, to environment and culture.

IW: The case studies included in the book are really what should make it continue to stand apart from any books that might follow. Harley-Davidson was the first, and then you just included one after another.

MK: The point wasn’t to talk about, say, Harley-Davidson and how they’ve implemented IoT and reduced some process times from 18 months to two weeks, but to understand how it happened. How did the IT and OT folks get together? What were the skill sets required? What were the challenges? The outcome was important, but the lessons and the practical experiences — especially for readers — were what I was after.

IW: Out of all the case studies, all the plants you visited, were there some that jumped out? The folks there just got it and did a really good job implementing the tech?

MK: I’ll give you a couple examples. One that wasn’t a manufacturer was this ice cream shop in the middle of India. The reason I liked it is I am a big believer in hyper-local, in understanding the customer environment, the local environment, and the business case. If you think about what these guys were trying to solve — central Indian power outages, a big problem for an ice cream shop — our approach in the United States wouldn’t have worked. … They used a generic technology of remote sensing, but they implemented it in a local environment. When we talk about Harley, what I like about Harley, it was sort of a ground-up effort, five or seven folks in one plant getting together and deciding to do something about the problem. They secured the C-suite support and sort of went through the process. I also liked the basic use cases — Ford, Pepsi, Rockwell. It may sound easy coming from my world, to just connect all the devices on one network, but we all know this has been an interesting journey for manufacturers.

IW: What lessons did you learn during the reporting and writing process?

MK: If I look at some of the mining companies and predictive maintenance, it taught me a lot about this concept of not having a horizontal approach. You can have horizontal elements, and you should be leveraging horizontal platforms and elements, but you really have to understand the customer environment. The predictive maintenance solution for mining companies and transportation companies, for instance, would be very different. You really have to understand the customer environment.

IW: Were there any plants that impressed you so much that you came back to San Jose and maybe changed a little bit of the way you do things?

MK: Yeah, there were a lot of a-ha moments, to be honest, and a lot of them came from the realization that technology is just a small piece of the pie. Again, working for a technology company, we would work with IT organizations or service providers, then there would be a technology team we would interact with, usually at a very technical level. Working with organizations, I’ve realized IoT is not one market, it’s a collection of markets with specific ecosystems and cultures. Understanding that we are embarking on change management is more important than the technology.

It’s funny, coming from the technology person: the technology is in some ways easier than the change management, working with people, changing the culture, bringing organizations together within the company. Before coming to the IoT world, I was shielded from this because we were dealing with technical audiences in IT. Now that we’re working with OT and line of business, these kinds of challenges became the primary concerns we had to address.