7 Questions About the Internet of Things
Analyst firm Gartner predicts that there will be $300 billion spent on Internet of Things (IoT) products and services worldwide by 2020.
But why should businesses spend their money on IoT projects in the future and what opportunities will there be for them from this investment?
We spoke to Patrick McFadin, Chief Evangelist for Apache Cassandra at DataStax, to find out what benefits businesses can expect from the Internet of Things. Here’s what he had to say:
BRE: What is the Internet of Things?
PM: The “Internet of Things” is a technical phrase that has been around for many years – it describes how everyday devices can connect to the Internet and create real-time data on what they are doing.
While it’s been possible to connect things like refrigerators and washing machines to the Internet for a few years, it has remained a niche market...until now. This is changing the way companies think about how to use data from connected devices.
Why is this data becoming a vital asset?
The value of collecting data comes over time. As you collect more and more information, you start to get a very accurate picture of preferences, location details and how your business you can profit from it. People do this every day and call it “experience”, but it applies to potential projects around the Internet of Things, too.
Saving data from devices across a network creates an asset called time-series data, listing what took place and when. Once you start collecting this information, you can quickly begin to look at where and how it can be used to make intelligent business decisions.
You say data allows you to make smarter and more strategic decisions. Can you give me an example of this for Internet of Things today?
Sure. i2O Water is a UK company that stores data about what is happening on water networks. For the utility companies that i2O Water works with, this information can be used to alert them on where maintenance might be needed, as well as where money can be saved through reducing pressure levels.
This use of data over time allows utility businesses to take immediate action and save money on repairs where they can, as ongoing maintenance is far more cost effective than fixing damages. More generally, companies can think about getting data from customer assets over time to improve the service they offer.
How does data help you understand your customers … and yourself?
Creating time-series data is useful, but it is not valuable unless you know how to use it. Analytics can help here. While many companies have lots of data stored, not all of them know how to use it to their advantage. Simply taking data from connected devices is not magically going to help you cut costs or think up a new service; you’ll need to use that data in the right ways.
Buildings are another great example. Heating, lighting, air conditioning and more general electricity use all add up in different ways. However, looking at each of these in isolation won’t add up to much in the way of savings. Instead, combining data from each can help spot where more power is being used, which can be particularly useful for companies with multiple locations.
What does this look like in practice?
Combining data from multiple sources is where there are opportunities for the future. For example, U.S. retail chain Walgreens sourced data on power use across its 8,000 stores, storing data from each of these building systems and analysing the data created on power consumption at each location.
Additionally, a large store location in Texas will have different power requirements than a small office in Seattle. Offices in different regions or countries will have different power needs. However, the ability to look at “like for like” situations can really help cut costs.
By analysing what those individual locations consumed, the facilities management team could get a picture of best practices and encourage these at other sites. Walgreens was able to reduce its spend on power by approximately $19 million a year.
How does spotting different patterns and how things are changing over time lead to more value for the business?
Everyone, by now, has heard the example of analytics spotting that the sale of diapers, or more commonly known as nappies in Europe, increased in correlation with beer sales on Fridays. This was apparently caused by fathers going out and doing the shopping on their way back from work. The result from this for retailers was to place those items closer to each other, increasing sales of both.
While we aren’t there yet, the Internet of Things will have this moment as well. It may come from car technology, where spotting information on driving styles and use patterns could be correlated against wider traffic conditions. Imagine if you could spot where different drivers’ behaviour could have an impact on service plans and safety recommendations, even on the same vehicle?
The opportunity here is to use this information in a way that benefits the individual driver and makes their life better, while also providing greater sales to the company involved. At the moment, the data that companies source around driving is tied to the phone or the vehicle, rather than the individual.
What happens to all this data once it has been created?
The value from data is only possible when it can be analysed. The devices that are being connected up to the Internet are not “smart” themselves. This means keeping a lot of data over time, which requires management.
For business projects, it’s likely that data will have to be stored. There are two reasons for this – one is that it’s possible to spot more opportunities when you can see what is taking place over time. The second is that companies may have their own compliance requirements to consider around that data once it is created.
There are plenty of options available, whether you store the data yourself or use a cloud provider to host this information. Whatever your approach, it will have to keep pace with the creation of the data by the devices themselves. This comes down to how much data is being created, and how fast it has to be written to the database.
There are elements like security, data protection and compliance that have to be considered too. Customers will want to know what their data is being used for, who has access to it and how it benefits them. For companies, the emphasis has to be on how it helps reduce costs to them, or provide better quality of service.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”