The Internet of Things (IoT) is slowly redefining the way different industries go about their business. While the type of impact naturally varies depending on the industry, there are common patterns. First, industries are learning to respond to real-time information, which is paving the way for customized, quicker products and services. Second, as customer expectations change — and fast — industries are using analytics to optimize their processes and resources at every point to cater to customer expectations. Inefficiencies are being identified and rooted out, and the basis is data. Third, the products and services delivered stand better chances of fulfilling customer requirements because they are made based on real-time analytics.
While IoT has impacted almost every sphere of our lives, it has had a particularly dramatic effect on business. This article discusses three industries as case studies: manufacturing and logistics, retail and healthcare.
Manufacturing and Logistics
The IoT will impact the manufacturing and logistics industry mainly in the following areas:
- Responding to changing customer requirements quickly
- Optimizing available resources and processes
- Delivering better products and services
Although the above areas are interconnected, it is possible to describe the impacts in each area:
Responding to Changing Customer Requirements
Customer requirements are evolving, just like in any other industry, and fast. The manufacturing industry needs to understand, preempt and respond to the constantly changing requirements. The situation is applying immense pressure on the existing processes and resources to evolve and respond. IoT analytics can reveal how customer demand for a particular product or service has changed over a period of time, say 12 months. Other connected analytics such as delivery time, average delays and packaging quality at the time of delivery can reveal how these factors have contributed to the rise or fall in demand.
Optimizing Available Resources and Processes
Manufacturing and logistics companies can optimize resources and processes in several areas. For example, digital control systems can automate process control systems, and those systems and applications that provide important service information. Companies can improve their asset management capabilities with predictive data and alerts as well as asset health evaluation through data. The companies can deploy smart industrial management systems with smart grids to optimize energy utilization on a real-time basis.
Manufacturers need to have more visibility of resource requirements, security issues and equipment performance. So, evolving connectivity applications and networking solutions can provide a dashboard view of multi-plant environments and it can foster safety, productivity, efficiency and return on assets.
Plants, in most cases, do not have real-time notifications when a piece of equipment or machinery fails. Open standards provide the ability to establish a connection with sensor-level networks that can detect issues quickly. In fact, many of these issues can be prevented. This helps develop overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
Delivering Better Products and Services
This use case applies especially to logistics companies. Logistics companies are able to track the vehicles and packages with the help of low-cost, connected and location-aware devices. Modern transportation vehicles such as trucks, trains, planes and ships all have sensors, wireless connectivity and embedded processors. The sites through which the packages pass are fitted with wireless connectivity devices, sensors and embedded processors. These devices are fitted in container handlers, yard tractors, forklifts and mobile cranes.
It is important to reduce or eliminate disconnect between enterprise and manufacturing networks. This is being done by manufacturers providing remote access to partners and systems, and thereby delivering resiliency, reliability and precision from the plant site to the enterprise.
The IoT can impact the retail sector in several ways as well:
Quick and efficient checkouts can boost customer loyalty. Retail stores can gauge the total footfall and the total number of customers in a retail store at any point of time with the help of sensors fitted throughout the store. The store is going to get the information as and when the customers pick up products from the shelves. Based on the footfall and the number of customers willing to perform transactions, the number of open checkout terminals can be increased or decreased.
You do not want to miss out on possible revenue because the product a customer wants is out of stock. Smart refrigerators (or Internet refrigerators) can not only keep track of the items that are stored inside, but also send alerts when a product inside goes out of stock. Manual tracking can be extremely tedious and inaccurate. The smart refrigerator tracks the RFID codes and sends signals whenever a product goes out of stock. An interesting example is that of the Egg Minder, which is a special egg tray connected to the Internet. It can detect when the eggs on the rack go out of stock and can send the information.
Most of the time, a customer makes a buying decision alone. While this is fine in cases where the customer is sure about the requirement or has a specific product in mind, there are cases when the customer is confused between two or more products. In such cases, the customer can receive assistance. This can be done with the Connected Fitting Room solution, demonstrated by Microsoft and Accenture at the National Retail Federation Big Show 2014 in New York. The solution identifies whether a customer has left behind clothes in the fitting room after a trial. This helps the retailer to not lose out on a possible sale with another customer. So, no more manual searching is required for the tried-on clothes left in fitting rooms.
Shelves need to be fitted with sensors that can send alerts when products on a particular shelf are running low. The backroom can in that case alert a store associate or even a robot to replenish the shelves.
The IoT can redefine how healthcare is provided to the end customers. The development of smart, wearable devices such as the Apple Watch can make healthcare more accurate, precise and timely. What such devices do is to provide accurate and real-time information to healthcare providers to take action, if needed.
Intelligent Implantable Medical Devices
Medical device makers such as those of pacemakers can implant intelligent sensors on pacemakers that can relay important information on the health of the person wearing it, the makers can receive status on the functioning of the pacemaker and can alert the customer if the pacemaker needs to be repaired or replaced.
Intelligent Personal Medical Devices
Smart devices are going to bring a lot of benefits, such as patients not needing to visit a clinic for monitoring basic vitals such as blood pressure, weight, pulse and heart rate. The devices are going to relay the information to the doctor and the doctor can prescribe medication, if needed. Smart devices will not only relay important health parameters but also provide intelligent alerts to the person who is wearing it. For example, the Lumbo Lift device which measures your posture can send you an alert when you are slouching or you need to correct your posture.
Intelligent devices can provide instant feedback on your health requirements. For example, when you are exhausted after a hard day at work, your watch could measure your vital parameters and give customized recommendations on diet and the kind of relaxation exercises you might need.
While there is no doubt that IoT is redefining industries and can deliver a better customer experience, there is always a fear of data misuse. With so much data flowing around, there will be points where it can be abused. Industries are still waking up to the IoT reality and it will be some time before we start to feel the changes. This will also be because companies need to review their investments in view of the IoT reality. It is possible that a lot of money will be spent in an effort to root out inefficiencies and improve business processes.