What can IoT do for your business?

Shane McHugh
On: 10 Oct 2019
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Imagine if you had a car with a powerful engine, but you could only drive it by looking in the rear-view mirror. It might sound strange, but that’s the situation many businesses find themselves in today; they rely on historical information to help them decide where to go next. Arguably one of the biggest benefits of IoT is how it delivers insights in real time. There’s no more waiting for reports about what happened in the last quarter or the last month. Now, businesses can measure what they do, get up-to-date information, act on it dynamically and make informed decisions that drive the business forward.

Even for a relatively small investment, an IoT project can deliver cost savings to a business. That could be something as simple as fitting sensors to office lighting, to be able to tell how much electricity the fittings consume. Armed with this information, a business might look to change lighting patterns – for example, automatically switching lights off in the evening times – and gain cost efficiencies.

Automating routine tasks.

Another benefit of IoT is its ability to automate routine manual tasks. Checking the correct temperature on fridges in an industrial kitchen is the kind of work that used to involve a person who would inspect all the fridges and take notes on a clipboard. By installing a connected device that automatically sends temperature information back to a database in each of the fridges, a catering business instantly knows if there’s an issue that could result in food being spoiled.

Today, we only know there’s a problem with a piece of equipment when it breaks down, but another advantage of IoT is its ability to provide predictive information. To use the example above, let’s suppose the sensor logs that the temperature in one of the fridges is starting to fluctuate. That could be a sign that the fridge may not be working correctly. Knowing this information allows the business to take action such as sending a maintenance engineer to deal with the problem before the fridge breaks down. In this example, the business saves resources – the staff time needed to check the units – and it saves money on potential loss of stock because it spots potential problems before they escalate and cost more to fix.

New revenue generation.

Identifying issues early is one of the many areas where IoT can help a business to improve its quality of service. By using connected sensors to record a range of different measurements about the health of a piece of equipment, it allows companies to maintain uptime. For example, some lift and escalator companies have developed a revenue model based on a service level agreement with the customer to deliver guaranteed uptime. By measuring the ‘health’ of its systems, IoT is enabling them to meet their agreements with customers.

From our experience delivering successful IoT projects, there tends to be some elements in common to all regardless of the industry. The first is to have a clear understanding of what the business does and what it wants to achieve.

How to uncover IoT use cases in your business. 

Invariably, the discussions reveal pain points; internal or external challenges facing any group or business, and from there, it’s about trying to understand the impact they have and to think about ways of addressing them. Note that we didn’t start with the technology; first it needs to be a business-led discussion, and then potential IoT use cases start to emerge.

We applied a similar approach on Arranmore island, where we partnered with its community council on a project to reverse the island’s population decline and rekindle its growth, by improving connectivity on the island. In our early meetings with the islanders, as we would with any business, we listened to residents tell us about all aspects of life on the island, from fishing to agriculture, hospitality and more. This process gave us an idea of uncovered areas where IoT could help, from tracking the location of lobster pots and logging catches at an online marketplace, to home monitoring sensors that help the island’s elderly population live in their own homes for longer.

The next step is to understand the technology landscape in place within the business today, and what building blocks it needs in order to roll out an IoT project. This is never an overnight change; this stage calls for realism and prioritising. Some companies will need something as basic as good-quality internet connectivity; others may have LAN and WAN infrastructures, but they need different ways to connect the sensors, whether that’s over the cellular mobile network, or low-power wide area network. Other factors to consider include: where will the sensors be located? For example, if they’re embedded in the ground, this might require a measuring device with a long battery life.

Understanding what you measure.

Once you think about putting devices in the field, the next question to ask is: what are we measuring, and what insights are we looking for? When the sensors start providing this information, you then need to establish how you will interpret it, and what rules need to be in place to do this. That’s when you can start to derive insights from that data and see where you can start making a change in the business.

With an IoT proof of concept or pilot, some people have a clear picture of what they want to get from the project. Those limitations are useful – to a point. But such is the huge potential of the technology that we have found it often uncovers new insights, or new ways to do business, that even the project sponsors didn’t initially anticipate. IoT can be a great mechanism for innovating, but it often happens by chance as by design, and you need to be ready for that.

Three recently worked on a proof of concept with a company in the food industry that involved putting sensors in industrial grain silos to measure just-in-time filling. As it happens, the device we used also measured moisture levels in the silos, and it turned out the levels were over 60%. This made the silos a breeding ground for mites, which unintentionally solved an issue for the company, who were seeing an increase of stomach issues for their livestock. It was the IoT sensor’s ability to measure moisture levels that unearthed a previously hidden connection – insight that gave the business hard data to act upon and fix another problem that existed.

Before the arrival of IoT, companies tended not to measure many aspects of their business processes or operations because they had no easy way of doing so. But now, the ability to put embedded and connected sensors in the field or in a part of the business operations or processes delivers dynamic data in real time. This infrastructure can deliver insights a business might never have known about. IoT has the potential to change a business quickly, from a revenue, cost or efficiency standpoint. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about the business benefits of this technology, Three will be running a series of IoT events over the coming months. Please email our events team at threebusinessevents@three.ie for further information.