Three Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) myths that need busting
There is no doubt that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market is evolving quickly. In the report Digital Transformation – an Internet of Things perspective, International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that the installed base of IoT endpoints will grow from less than 13 billion units at the end of 2015 to 30 billion by 2020. The industries that IDC predicts will spend the most on IoT solutions are manufacturing, transport, energy and utilities, and retail, with a wide range of IoT use cases.
In other words, the Industrial IoT clock is ticking, and businesses not already addressing the opportunity offered by IoT need to create and implement their plans – quickly! So why are some companies still hesitating? One answer is that there are several misperceptions, or myths, regarding IIoT that are making decision makers hesitate, and sometimes delay or stop an IIoT project altogether. A heavy focus on standards, exorbitant expected costs and the fear of big changes are all cited as reasons for not pursuing IIoT projects. Let’s take a closer look at these in more detail.
Myth: We should wait for standardisation
Unlike consumer markets where standardisation - formal or by market dominance - is key to success, IIoT standardisation won’t be a concern for decades. Sure, there are multiple emerging standardisation initiatives in IIoT and yes, it’s not yet possible to know which will grow or be marginalised. But it doesn’t matter. Unlike consumer markets where new standards for say NFC chips in smartphones can roll out and get near full market presence in the few years it takes for people to replace their phones, industries are run on equipment that is anything from years to several decades old. This equipment has been provided by tens, or hundreds of different suppliers.
Even if the equipment manufacturers “IIoT enable” their latest generation according to some IIoT standard, it will take decades before industries have replaced all their existing equipment and assets with new IIoT standardised versions. For industries wishing to pursue IIoT, it is just to accept that for the foreseeable future there won’t be any standards on how to connect up all their things. Instead, industries should expect and plan for doing bespoke integration development, or even retrofitting of other sensors and communications capabilities to equipment and assets in order to get them connected.
Myth: IIoT would be a giant leap for my business, demanding a lot of work
IIoT success is all about choosing small, actionable steps that will improve your business today – not giant leaps that will transform your industry tomorrow. For many people IoT still brings to mind disruptor companies like Uber or Netflix. But in most cases IIoT develops, rather than disrupts the entire business. According to the previously mentioned IDC report, the main drivers behind IIoT are to improve day-to-day operations, including improving productivity (14.2 percent of the companies), improving quality and time-to market (11.2 percent), improving process optimisation (10.2 percent), reducing costs (9.9 percent) and improving decision making (9.3 percent).
A look at the vast majority of companies who have already operationalised IIoT, shows that the successful ones often started with a few well-chosen processes and incremental change. It can begin with connecting just one piece of equipment. Earning a little more revenue from this can then inspire us to take a bigger step – what would happen if we integrated these findings with input from another data stream? External events, such as weather forecasts or temperature changes for instance. How could changing operations on this machine according to these inputs optimise its performance?
The key is to ask ‘how can we make this a little more efficient?’ not ‘how can we revolutionise our whole business?’ Incremental change is the name of the game. IIoT is about improving performance.
Myth: IIoT will be expensive and capital-intensive
A few years back this statement might have been true but three key developments have made IIoT implementation more affordable than ever before:
- The falling price of IIoT hardware and software: everything from the smallest sensors to the largest gateways has fallen in cost. There is now a range of smarter, cheaper sensors and gateways available to all industries, increasing your level of software control. If we take a typical example - a forklift truck. Ten years ago, connecting one of these would have cost at least €1000 – out of reach for most logistics and manufacturing operations running several of them. Today a single forklift could be connected for not much more than a €10 note.
- Cheaper, broader internet access: This has made it even easier to connect a broader range of machines and equipment across a wider geographic area at a low cost. New developments such as 5G mobile networks and LoRa will make sure this trend continues.
- Cost effective IoT cloud platforms: on the platform side, we’ve seen big, exciting changes. Ready-to-use, cloud-based IoT platforms that can handle massive scale, storage and computing are now more available than ever before.
These three changes have made it possible for companies to get started with IIoT projects quicker and with lower risk than before, enabling more experimenting to reach success.
Operationalising data - the key to IoT success
In addition to these IIoT myths, there is still one factor many companies tend to overlook - and that is how their IIoT data should be operationalised. In order to get returns from IIoT investments, it is important not to stop at only collecting and analysing IoT data. Just doing that doesn’t earn you money. To benefit from IIoT, the knowledge and insight needs to be turned into actions that optimise your business — whether it is an optimal maintenance plan, higher service levels, improved logistics, to engineering better products or to develop entirely new business models.
This can be done in several different ways, but one key step in operationalising your data is automating the right processes based on gathered data. To illustrate with an example: equipped sensors capture data about too high temperatures. Instead of just collecting, registering and manually acting on this data, a process is created for automatically dispatching service personnel to replace a part that has suffered overheating and thus preventing future catastrophic failures. Operationalising and automating - this is when the true power of IIoT comes to life and can generate significant revenues.
Dan Matthews is the Chief Technology Officer at IFS, a multinational enterprise software company. Dan leads the Research & Strategy unit within IFS, as well as managing IFS’s partnerships with Microsoft, Oracle and other players.
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.”