Over the past few years, I have flown about a million miles and met with dozens of customers throughout the world and in every industry to talk about the Internet of Things (IoT). Many of them have heard about IoT, but are confused about how to implement IoT for business impact.

There are also thousands – many in the chemical industry – who are well on their way to realising significant IoT value in their organisations. In the process manufacturing area alone, IDC has predicted a $167 billion IoT revenue opportunity by 2018.1

What’s the best way to tap into that potential value? I have looked at the cases these companies have picked as their first small projects and grouped them into four categories that are proven fast paths to IoT value.

Connected operations    Begin by connecting existing devices and assets to your unified IP network and adjust your business process to take advantage of these newly connected things.

When all the devices in a plant – or any facility – are networked, you suddenly have a window into every part of the operation, enabling you to collect data from sensors that can help you to optimise operations.

German chemical company BASF has taken this concept further than most with its ‘Verbund’ concept, which connects, integrates and optimizes its entire supply chain. It has even entered the realm of mass customization in one plant, where RFID tags on empty shampoo bottles communicate with production machines, sending the specific combination of soap, fragrance, bottle cap colour and labelling required for each custom order.

Remote operations – Once you’ve connected your devices on one IP network, adding remote monitoring or asset management capabilities is a logical next step. This is by far the most popular use and is especially valuable in hazardous or widely dispersed environments. Previously, a company might have to send two people out to investigate a malfunctioning piece of equipment – one to fix it and the other for safety. Now, with remote asset management and remote monitoring solutions, many problems can be fixed immediately – without having to leave the manufacturing control centre.

Predictive analytics – According to Vernon Turner of IDC, less than one per cent of data generated today is being analysed. That’s a lot of data going to waste! Predictive analytics can help your staff sort and understand what’s coming in from sensors across your industrial network, so they can take intelligent actions. For example, energy costs can be a big part of manufacturing OpEx in any industry.

My own employer Cisco started to get a handle on these costs by deploying sensors in just one manufacturing plant. Energy analytics software helped them identify inefficient and underperforming equipment, resulting in a 15 to 20% reduction in energy consumption across the entire plant. They are now implementing these improvements across 20 other factories across the globe, and targeting savings of 30 percent.

Predictive maintenance – Many industrial operations today run on a 24/7 basis. Downtime can costs plants as much as $20,000 per minute. By using the data coming from your connected machines, combined with industry data and algorithms, predictive analytics can turn into predictive maintenance – identifying probabilities of equipment failure and sending maintenance alerts.

With predictive maintenance you can schedule production, materials, and spare parts as needed, and fix a problem before the next failure.

In any industry sector, these four well-proven scenarios are ideal candidates to get started on IoT projects.

Armed with an early success, you can then build momentum and begin to tackle more transformative IoT solutions throughout your operations.

As vice president, Strategic Innovations Group at Cisco, Maciej Kranz is deeply involved in accelerating strategic innovation powered by the Internet of Things (IoT). He has written a definitive book on how to implement and capture the unprecedented value of IoT. The first of its kind and a New York Times Bestseller, “Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, Transform Your Industry” (Wiley, 2017) gets past the hype to guide organisations across industries through the IoT journey.