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Lessons from a dynamic Internet of Things journey

Kenny MacIver — March 2016
Patrick Bass, CEO of ThyssenKrupp North America, outlines a business-changing implementation of the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things is uncharted territory and businesses embarking on that journey need to be ready to change direction as they realize the nature of the challenges they face at different stages.

That’s the advice of Patrick Bass, CEO for North America at ThyssenKrupp, the €43 billion ($48bn) diversified industral group. Over the past five years, the German company has increasingly come to see IoT as a potentially disruptive force across most of its business areas, with its $8 billion ($9bn) elevator technology and services operation — which runs a million units worldwide — ripe with opportunity.

“Because the elevator business has such a focus on service and the profitability of that service, it is the most natural fit for the application for IoT,” says Bass. The upshot has been MAX, a program launched last October that uses sensors and connectivity across its elevators so that ThyssenKrupp’s service technicians and engineers can be alerted to the need for preventative maintenance. The company says it is already delivering dramatic increases in the uptime of individual units and significantly fewer call outs.

“You’re talking about an IoT application that not only provides efficiency to you as a company, but also delivers immediate customer value because you’re improving the uptime of the transportation system in their building,
” says Bass.

“We started with the mindset that IoT was all about the device. Then we realized that we were down the wrong path.”

But not everything in the build-up to the launch of MAX went to plan. ThyssenKrupp’s initial R&D project focused on creating a monitoring device that would sit within elevators. That was near completion when Bass and his team realized they needed to rethink the challenge.

“In many ways, our IoT journey is interesting because we failed the first couple of times. We came into this with the mindset that IoT was all about device, and we thought we had succeeded there before. Fortunately, we realized that we were down the wrong path,” says Bass. “That was a hard lesson learned. We spent the money, developed the device and did all the research to prove it worked. Then we stepped back, took a hard look, and ultimately stopped that part of the project.”
Data epiphany

What they saw was that the addition of a smart device to each elevator might present more challenges than it solved. “The device had so much intelligence on it. But now it becomes another component built into the system that could fail, another component that our field engineers had to work with and service.”

However, the act of building the device gave rise to an epiphany. In proving its viability, the team came to appreciate that they already had access to the data from the elevator’s system that they needed and that the more important challenge was to create a simple way to communicate data between elevator sensors, services centers, field engineers and ThyssenKrupp’s business applications. “So this was no longer a device or an R&D project, it was a business integration project,” says Bass.

It was an invaluable lesson. “With IoT, it’s that journey that you go through — the realization that IoT is about the data in the broadest sense, about how the data is specifically tied to what you’re trying to challenge in the disruption of your business model.”

• Photography: Matthew Stylianou
First published
March 2016
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About: Patrick Bass
CEO for thyssenkrupp North America, Inc, Patrick Bass is spearheading digital transformation at €43 billion ($48bn) German industrial group thyssenkrupp AG. Phase 1: IoT-enabling a million elevators worldwide to deliver dramatically enhanced reliability and lower costs.

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