Success in the digital economy is no longer achievable by simply having the best product. Today it requires a complex balancing act that brings together design, supply chain, manufacturing, delivery, service and operations to create a differentiated and optimised customer experience that is adaptable, agile, scalable and efficient to deliver. Whilst it can be said that this is how successful businesses have always operated, the difference in the digital economy is the speed at which the customer proposition has to evolve.

To adapt at speed organisations require data on demand. Data they can use to understand every aspect of the supply chain and every mode of operation. In the digital world, IoT is the source of this data.

According to the latest Vodafone IoT Barometer, 84% of adopters of the technology describe their Internet of Things projects as ‘mission critical’ to success and 72% say digital transformation would be impossible without IoT.  8% are even going further, saying their “entire business depends on IoT”.  Furthermore, and very tellingly, nearly all adopters saw a return on investment, with 95% already having gained measurable benefits from their IoT projects.

With the advent of narrowband low power networks (NB-IoT and LTE-M) and with 5G opening up more opportunities for IoT to be deployed at massive scale, it’s clear IoT is not just any technology, but the true driver of digital transformation for businesses.

How digital transformation journeys have evolved

Historically, businesses have invested in solutions that would ease bottlenecks and improve workflows within and between different departments, effectively breaking down internal siloes and eliminating unnecessary processes. What digital transformation does is take this to the next level, helping existing processes becoming automated as well as de-risking new and more complex ones.

Digital becomes then a way of working, not a technology. The technology has to go hand in hand with process re-engineering and with a mind-set change across the business. This means it can also have an impact on how organisations interact with the outside world, making their collaboration with partners, suppliers and customers simpler and more efficient.

Digitally transforming is as a much a cultural shift as a technology one. It’s not just a case of automating what exists: for digitisation to be a success, the outcome has to be defined in terms of a perfect transaction and then the technology applied to ensure that this perfect transaction can be delivered time and time again with the same consistent content and quality. This means a shift in the way organisations think about the result they want to achieve and the problem they want to solve, how they resource the process and how this is executed.

Digitisation has the potential to revolutionise the journey towards business outcomes. This means once a transaction has been digitised and the manual processes has been re-engineered and optimised, it is almost impossible to revert to a set of manual processes, as the whole business framework would have completely changed in order to achieve the desired result.

This creates a reliance on the technology and, in the case of IoT, puts the communications network at the centre of the ecosystem that delivers the benefits of the digital enterprise, making the choice of network partner crucial for business leaders implementing digitisation strategies.

IoT and digital transformation – the power of data

The real power of IoT is the ability to measure and record an ever-increasing pool of highly valuable data sets, with a granularity and completeness that allows businesses to become truly data driven and insightful.

In order for this data to deliver value and informative business insights though, it needs to be analysed and processed. Luckily, the combined rise of IoT, cloud computing and the emergence of AI creates an almost perfect environment for the safe, secure and rapid processing of large amounts of data. Whether this is used for predictive maintenance, the accurate scaling of infrastructure or to understand the customer interaction, there has never been a better time to leverage the value of IoT data.

With the introduction of 5G, the scope for IoT increases even further. The combination of low latency, high bandwidth and quality of service enables IoT networks to become control networks for the autonomous machines of the future, be these remotely controlled cranes, guided transporters in factories or autonomous cars and lorries. The combination of AI, mobile edge, cloud and IoT further enables the next step in digitisation, as it moves from data driven processes to real-time control.

A business fit for the future

IoT provides greater visibility and control over how a business operates and is essential for those that want to digitally transform.  Through IoT businesses gain a clearer perspective of performance and can control crucial outputs, quality and levels of service. Additionally, the valuable insights gained from analysing data can help inform decisions that are mission critical to the organisation and stimulate new creative approaches to problem-solving.

Some businesses are born digital, some have further to go with legacy systems and infrastructure, but all will ultimately need to undertake a digital journey.  Whatever stage they are at, enterprises of all sizes can safely digitally transform by relying on partners that can help them become more agile, virtual and software defined.

Now is the time to really capitalise on the way that IoT, in combination with mobile edge and AI and analytics, can deliver truly exciting benefits for business looking to embrace the digital world.

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Phil is Head of Business Development (IoT), M2M at Vodafone Global Enterprise. Phil joined Vodafone in 2013 having amassed a wealth of experience across a broad range of industries including defence, FMCG, manufacturing and media. A long-term exponent of telemetry, M2M and IoT and having worked within many of the worlds leading enterprises including Siemens, Landis & Gyr and Mars in the US, UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, Phil brings a highly strategic view of this rapidly changing and evolving market. “IoT is central to the current wave of digitisation and as Head of Strategy there are few other markets where there is so much opportunity to drive value for our customers. The potential for IoT to revolutionise the way we do business but also to have a positive social impact is a really exciting prospect and I am particularly excited to play a key role in driving this future direction”