June/July 2014

A friend recently asked for my perspective on the IoT (Internet of things) in the enterprise. From 2001 until a couple of months ago, I would have droned on about M2M, the Industrial Internet, dancing scarecrows, and the smart grid. But it’s clear now the innovations that expanded M2M into consumer electronics are starting to blow back into the enterprise. Wearables, connected cars, and ubiquitous computing (“ubicomp”)—along with the big-data engines that turn the tsunami of data these systems collect into actionable information—are beginning to empower employees as well as consumers to take control of their work, health, and lives.

The industrial Internet is largely populated by vertical enterprise solutions such as fleet tracking, security, telehealth, ATM/POS, and remote monitoring and control. These M2M cornerstone solutions are primarily ROI (return on investment)-driven, implemented to improve operations, reduce costs, improve safety or improve service quality, and/or timeliness. The best overview of M2M in the enterprise is still Beecham Research’s September 2011 infographic “M2M World of Connected Services.” The chart lists nine M2M verticals that break into 28 application categories and 46 device categories.

What strikes me when I look at Beecham’s chart is how sensor technology underlies all of the solutions it describes. Enterprise sensor networks date back to the 1960s when early large-scale computers and wired sensor networks enabled factory automation. They also enable wearables, cars, and a growing set of consumer products. Advances in sensor performance, battery life, connectivity, and user interfaces are driving sensors off the factory floor onto our bodies and into our cars and offices. Connected solutions using newer, smaller, faster, and more capable devices underpin new services and change the way things get done.

New IT Frontier
For example, smart glasses, watches, and clothing can improve employee performance and collect valuable information about their activities and outcomes. Wearables collect data and present it in actionable ways, such as a fitness wristband that vibrates when it’s time for an employee to get up and take a walk. Most wearables rely on smartphones for data transport to and from the cloud, and for the app that displays information to the user.

Workforce business cases for wearables include GPS and motion tracking, work order and workforce management, lone worker safety programs, and automatic cameras to record employee interactions with the public or with valuable items such as money or diamonds. Fitness trackers such as Fitbit are increasingly being adopted by corporations to provide exercise and lifestyle incentives that can improve employee wellness and lower medical costs.

Heads-up displays such as Google Glass and Vuzix’s M100 smart glasses use computer vision and augmented reality overlays to help service techs repair complicated machinery and factory workers fill complex orders more accurately. SAP and Vuzix have jointly announced computer visionbased warehouse management and field service applications, with pilots slated for later this year.

Smartwatches can keep employees on top of company events and communications, and improve productivity by allowing employees to screen messages and calls at a glance instead of constantly pulling out their phone in meetings or while driving. And forget about RFID (radio frequency identification) access badges: NFC smartphones and badges, or even smartphone app “Eyeprint” from EyeVerify all by itself, can be used to control employee facility access. Sensors onboard smart badges can monitor employee exposure to dangerous environments, such as nuclear facilities, in realtime. Even the level of collaboration, or how frequently they gather, can be measured using Sociometric Solutions’ smart badges.

Disney jumped onto the wearables train with its $1 billion investment announced March 10 in the “MyMagic” platform, which is anchored by the “MagicBand.” Worn on the wrist, the waterproof MagicBand serves as a guest’s hotel room key, theme park ticket, entry pass to prebooked rides and attractions and, optionally, their payment card. The bands can be used throughout Disney resorts by waving them in front of a Mickey-decorated sensor.

Improve Service and Safety
Connected cars also create opportunities for enterprises to streamline operations and reduce costs with automatic tracking of field employees, work order status, and road tolls. Pay-as-you-go auto insurance saves money and promotes safe driving habits. Realtime tracking of service and delivery vehicles enables rerouting based on traffic, work order changes, and staffing schedules.

Enterprise dash-mounted camera solutions such as Dashcam have proved that monitoring can create permanent improvements in safe driving behavior. These applications will naturally extend to newer cars with standard forward-looking cameras. Cloud-streaming cameras inside and around the car can reduce theft and assaults on drivers, and prevent accidents by sounding an alarm before a driver backs up over a bicycle (or worse).

Actionable Information
Technologies that alert individuals or work groups to emerging situations in a non-interruptive way are another rich IoT opportunity in the enterprise. Consider the Energy Orb from Ambient Devices: designed as a tool to lower electrical consumption and bills in homes that have opted for variable time-of-day rates, the Orb glows green, yellow, or red depending on energy pricing and demand levels. Walls or objects that change color in a call center, repair shop, or grocery store when queue times increase past a threshold or one-call completions drop off is a subtle yet effective way to inform employees about actions they can take right now to improve the performance.

An intranet of connected things within an enterprise feeds big-data engines that decipher trends from large streams of incoming data, bringing more information to the decision point and shedding light on business processes. Big data requires big backend resources, as the data stream from even one endpoint can add up quickly. A smart meter that transmits a reading every 10 minutes generates more than 50,000 readings per year. Multiply that by a utility customer base of 30,000 customers and the utility finds itself with more than 1.5 trillion meter reads every year to analyze, trend, and act upon. Fast databases and highly capable analytics tools such as Hadoop are needed to convert this Everest of data into actionable information.

These examples only skim the surface of the sea of opportunities for the IoT in the enterprise. Anchored by rich backend ERP (enterprise resource planning), the IoT will drive enterprise IT into the future.

Laurie Lamberth leads the IoT, M2M, and telematics consulting practice for 151 Advisors, a strategic consulting firm that helps technology companies solve problems, seize opportunities, and achieve results in today’s rapidly evolving business environment. To learn more go to www.151advisors.com

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