Internet of things (IoT) has been flying around for a few years now, with many people predicting it will be the next big thing in homes and in businesses. As with many technologies that make a big initial splash, IoT devices moved to the margins for a time while companies developed and integrated the technology into their products. We’re now starting to see the commercialisation of IoT technology and have seen some exciting applications that we can use as a source of inspiration.
Soon after the calendar flicked from September to October, the NZ IoT Alliance held its annual half-day conference on all things IoT related. Held in Auckland’s Generator @ GridAKL facilities, we heard how several businesses are making considerable gains through IoT tech and the real-time data it generates. These thought leaders also shared insights into how we could accelerate our pathway to IoT success.
Here’s what we learned:
Life before smart cities. And beyond.
We launched into the IoT conference with a surprising take on smart cities. Jannat Maqbool, a former CIO, from Hamilton City Council reminded us that what makes a city smart is not what resulted from the advent and implementation of IoT devices. Rather, a city is smart because of the attitude and way of working of its governors, which is just as applicable to councils as it is to businesses of any size.
Instead of rushing into implementing new technologies, smart cities take their time to understand the problems of its residents. Once identified, smart cities then develop new technology or repurpose old technology in a new way to overcome these problems and make life easier for residents.
While the private sector has typically front footed the adoption of customer-centric mindsets, Jannat was encouraged by how the public sector is catching up.
Never lead with the technology?
There are always exceptions to rules. And Brent O’Donnell from Ento is one of these exceptions. With a background in software and knowing full well how taking a technology-first mindset can limit the scope of projects or channel projects down paths that could lead to muted outcomes, Brent had identified several use cases (problems that could be solved) for IoT. This resulted in Ento creating two miniature, multi-sensor IoT devices.
The particular use case he shared was the deteriorating wooden power poles that litter Dunedin’s streets. Utilising movement sensors in one of their devices, Ento partnered with Aurora Energy to monitor the most at-risk power poles. When they reached the maximum leaning angle, Aurora would replace the poles. With limited resources, Ento’s IoT devices gave the energy company much greater awareness of the state of their network, enabling them to be more proactive in replacing the poles before they completely collapsed.
Data privacy and security
The whole notion of data privacy has turned on its head in the 21st century. Where people were previously more guarded about what information they gave out, they’re now generally more willing to impart with personal data, providing there is adequate value in doing so.
A result of this is that people have an ever-increasing expectation of businesses to take appropriate steps to protect their data. End-to-end encryption and vetted algorithms are two of the security protocols businesses use to mitigate any form of compromise.
As there is often a reasonable investment with implementing IoT, security should always be front of mind and be a foundation pillar with the project. After all, it could take just one breach to significantly dent public perception of the project or technology. So if you’re working with an external firm on an IoT project and security is not a top priority, then be very cautious about moving forward with them.
Identifying unidentifiable efficiencies
Industry 4.0 doesn’t quite carry the synonymous tag of IoT, but this time next year it likely will. Industry 4.0 is where manufacturing meets IoT. With international pressures squeezing the margins out of domestic production, manufacturers are using IoT as the catalyst for innovation, leading to the identification of efficiencies where none were previously believed to exist.
Darren Wilkinson, who has consulted in the IoT space for some time, shared Tait Communication’s IoT success story. Tait’s production facilities already worked around the clock. They worked hard but not smart. So Tait implemented cameras and sensors on the production lines to see if they could spot any areas of improvement.
They analysed the data collected from the lines to paint a picture of what was happening in production. The analysis identified that certain parts of the manufacturing process had similar setups on the factory floor. By grouping the production of similar parts, Tait reduced the time taken to set up each line. The result was a staggering 37% increase in productivity.
The fine line between caring and creepy.
Matt Hector-Taylor shared an initiative with us called BeSure, which helps to relieve caregivers from the burden of looking after loved ones who aren’t able to receive the full care of the public health system. These loved ones include the elderly, impaired, or disabled.
BeSure’s IoT network is made up of sensors that monitor the activity and status of a house and its assistance-requiring occupant. Data from each of these sensors are collated in the cloud and shown via an app. Patterns are identified through data analysis, and notifications are sent to caregivers should any behavioural patterns of the occupant change. This means caregivers don’t need to physically check in on their loved ones as often as was previously needed.
The challenge for businesses is to navigate the fine line between caring and creepy. While applications like BeSure may play an inherent role in reducing the stress and burden on caregivers, the rights of the 'patients' must be respected. Transparency through this whole process is key, which also requires the need for consent.
The road to IoT success
Similar sentiments echoed throughout the conference regarding how to approach implementing IoT into a business. The common themes were:
- Let data lead the way. Don’t try to discern where projects should go on intuition alone. With the right balance of data analysis, strategic insight, and intuition, the right direction can be arrived at in a shorter space of time.
- Think big, start small. Rather than over-investing in the initial stages of the project before it has even proved itself, start with a pilot to validate its worth.
- Reducing operational cost is key. Most businesses implementing IoT are doing so to increase process efficiencies. The key to ensuring buy-in from stakeholders is to prove value with smaller, easy wins first, then using the findings to forecast a wider ROI.
- Bring in experts to guide and facilitate. Due to the complexities of IoT technology, existing infrastructure, internal tunnel vision, and wider market forces, it’s often easier to enlist the help of external parties who can use their collective experience and third-party perspective to provide a balanced view of how projects should proceed. As Vikram Kumar from KotahiNet reminded us, there are also times where you need to innovate from both a physical tech and a software point of view. And as businesses very rarely have the in-house capability to deliver such projects, it’s vital to involve external parties.
- Manage customer expectations. Customers tend to initially be very forgiving, particularly when it comes to new technology. However, customers also expect that any frustrating experiences are improved in a timely fashion – there’s a limit to their forgiveness.
- Make security a priority. As breaches can cause significant loss of confidence and engagement with the project, it’s critical to create a framework of modern data security and privacy practices. This will give the project the best foundation to launch from and succeed.