Only three years ago, the buzz surrounding the Internet of Things was confined only to the tongues of industry analysts and raised only in conversation amongst the most tech savvy IT engineers, but now the relevance and powerful capability of IoT is becoming increasingly well understood within the enterprise, with all corners of the IT industry now expecting an explosive adoption of IoT technologies over the next 3 years.
There’s much more to it than the ‘smart home,’ and home automation, and although that is where the early technology has evolved quickly, with IoT heating, IoT lighting, IoT ovens, IoT coffee makers and IoT locks all available to control from your Smartphone today – but the real power of IoT are the capabilities it presents to our organisations, within our buildings and even within society.
The rate of adoption is going to spark a fundamental change in the architectural requirements of our networks. That transition is set to be rapid, with numerous analysts now predicting that by 2020 the current 10 billion network-connected devices will rise to circa 25 billion – that’s 300 million new devices a month, and there is little doubt that a significant proportion of this growth will be seen in our technologically advanced UK economy.
But what is the IoT, and what does it mean for our businesses?
IoT is about collecting data to drive the integration between key business technologies, and using these in real-time to drive smart, informed decision making. A key part of IoT is machine-to-machine (M2M) communications – or networks of devices and sensors automatically collecting data and transmitting this back into an analytics database in real-time. These ‘big-data’ sets become subject to real-time analytics that triggers workflows in other customer systems to help drive smarter decision making, and optimise outcomes. It helps the retailer to improve customer engagement, manufacturers to improve productivity, healthcare to be more efficient, and emergency services to get to incidents faster.
With the continuous evolution of M2M technology, these IoT sensors are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and with evolutions in public 3/4G technology can connect back remotely either over mobile networks, or internally within the enterprise Wired or Wireless LAN. The IoT technology allows digitisation to become a reality; digitisation that can improve our businesses and society.
Some examples –
M2M sensors in our cars, relaying our position automatically and instantly in the event of a crash, saving the time of someone calling and trying to describe their position, but could go further to include a voice and video stream from a camera embedded in the car, or a signal from the GPS to focus any public CCTV cameras onto the crash site, helping to invoke a proportionate emergency services, and close roads and alert hospitals to ease emergency vehicle response, all in near real-time, rather than waiting for a voice-only call from a passer-by.
Within the retail market, using location technology to identify and track customers with GPS or triangulation from their Smartphone WiFi or GPS when they pass or enter a retail store, and follow up with a real-time offer sent to their Smartphone, or an automated survey text or a call from a Customer Services Contact Centre if they don’t complete a transaction, stay only a few minutes, or return unwanted goods, helping to build brand reputation and customer loyalty.
To improve manufacturing or logistics productivity by installing M2M sensors across the factory to monitor the performance, accuracy, environment or maintenance cycle of any machine in a production line or logistics facility, using analytics to detect out-of-line situations both in real-time against acceptable thresholds, but also drawing on historic data analytics to spot trends that have caused infrastructure to fail in the past. If a fault does occur, using location tracking of support staff to automatically dispatch the nearest available technician to resolve the fault, rather than relying on manual fault detection and dispatch.
Within a hospital environment to track healthcare equipment, and clinical staff allowing resources to be dynamically assigned based on real-time proximity to a patient in need, reducing the typical 4 miles walked by nursing staff during a shift, and 1 hour spent looking for equipment. Consultant patient contact time could be increased with Video Conferencing technology to draw from a pool of onsite or offsite specialists to provide an initial consultation over a video link – which could start in an ambulance, before determining if a local specialist should be dispatched, or to prepare a team to receive an emergency patient in A&E.
IoT can also be used to reach out to out on-call or remote staff at their homes, in the event of a local emergency requiring anyone available to assist at the hospital, saving the time and inefficiency of a all-around system.