You have a view of your company in a few years time; everything will be connected, providing useful information for your employees to be more efficient in their jobs, helping grow the company to the next stage.
Perhaps your executive team have agreed that you need to be a digital company, utilising “big data”, the “Internet of Things”, social media and more. A digital company is thought to be where companies can take advantage of timely information, enabled through digital data collection and processing, to improve the quality and speed of decision making. This may improve customer experience, operational efficiency or even new business models as discussed previously in “The Beginner’s Guide to the Internet of Things“.
But that’s not where you are today. Today there remain annoying operational issues that consume too much time and slow the transformation of your IT department from an inward focus to an external enabling function for the business. You are feeling both the strain and challenge of beginning something new.
In this article we look at 5 ways to use the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve tangible outcomes that just get your firm started with IoT. These particular capabilities have been chosen given their relevance to many companies today and in recognition that these capabilities are fundamentally challenging previous “business-as-usual” processes. Whilst the mentioned capabilities embrace some of the more mature IoT technologies available, these technologies are not going to meet every new requirement or application, so careful due diligence is essential before proceeding.
Five IoT Capabilities
Let’s look at five types of IoT capabilities that are likely to have a disruptive impact on how things are done, at least in some industries today. The chosen IoT capabilities share the common feature that people and objects are connected in a manner that enables better communication and decision making and therefore goal attainment. Following a description of each IoT capability we will identify examples of how the capability is being adopted.
The five areas selected are:
- Wayfinding: the capability to guide people or objects to a specific destination
- Geofencing: the capacity to “fence” off a location as people or objects approach, or to raise alerts to people of events in their vicinity.
- Personal Safety and Health Monitoring: human vital signs monitoring in the workplace or home
- Facial Recognition: the capacity to seek out the identification of a person in a crowd or to authenticate a person for restricted access purposes
- Asset & People Location and Deployment: the capacity to utilise resources in real time.
Wayfinding has grown from a traditional requirement of moving to a desired location, based around navigation, to included the capacity to respond to real-time events that may interrupt the chosen route. Some examples of new wayfinding applications include:
- modern GPS based navigation for cars and delivery vehicles with traffic updates and real-time re-routing capabilities
- indoor navigation applications operated by shopping centre management, hospitals and sports stadiums to guide you via your phone, outdoors and indoors to your destination and provide advertising or information along the way
- large site navigation (e.g. university campuses, mine sites or construction sites) using up-to-date mapping and restricted areas management through geofencing.
Geofencing is the creation of a location aware capability where an electronic notification is triggered when a device reaches a specific location or geo-fence. Typically geofencing is used as a perimeter location-based service for restricting movement beyond a specific area and can be used for a wide range of purposes including:
- security services based on perimeter breaches
- assets such as mobile heavy equipment moving outside an allocated site
- people or animal movement alerts beyond a perimeter
- location-based mobile-phone reminders
- dynamic routing of vehicles to detour around an obstacle or event in a private road network such as a building site, university campus, hospital precinct or mine site.
3. Personal Safety and Health Monitoring
For many years different forms of personal safety monitoring have been used, from canaries in mine shafts to a lone worker monitoring technologies based on a person’s movement. Newer technologies are now being deployed that address:
- occupational health and safety issues in a workplace – there are various GPS and other health monitoring solutions available to monitor mobile workers’ location and vital signs
- in-home healthcare such as tele-health and tele-care solutions (in-home health monitoring and remote care respectively) – a common configuration is a wirelessly connected health vital signs monitoring device being connected to a specific application on a dedicated smart phone, which is permanently connected to the cellular network.
- new personal health fitness applications using the smart phone itself or other devices such as wireless scales and wrist bands
4. Facial Recognition
In recent times the security industry has driven the advancement of facial recognition technology, however there is a broadening range of applications including:
- airport security and passport control
- individual identification in crowded locations (e.g. football matches)
- restricted area access control
- electronic (phone and tablet) check-ins or logins
- facial recognition for digital advertising (e.g. based on the age of a person viewing an in-bank TV, the viewer would be shown aged-appropriate products such as first mortgages or pension annuities)
5. Asset & People Location and Deployment
Asset management is a critical activity in many companies, and traditionally limited by the ability to track smaller components or to confirm asset location in real time. Now with RFID tagging, both of these constraints have been reduced leading to solutions such as:
- individual items being tracked, creating new applications for asset management systems in hospitals and supply chains have been discussed in “The Beginner’s Guide to the Internet of Things“
- people wearing RFID identity tags also enable improved deployment and assisting in improving security by limiting access areas and improving safety practices.
There are many different network and device technologies available to support the 5 capability areas mentioned above. You may be interested in conducting your own research starting with the following links:
- Apple iBeacon (wi-fi, Bluetooth LE (low energy) beacons, iPhone motion sensors)
- Ekahau (RFID over wi-fi and infrared beacons)
- AeroScout (RFID over wi-fi)
The 5 IoT capabilities and their areas of application provide some guidance to the potential benefits of IoT, as well as illustrate the disruptive nature of IoT to business-as-usual. Although these 5 capabilities may not suit your company or be of immediate priority, they may help get you thinking of how to adopt IoT solutions. We recommend that you start by identifying the areas of benefits within your business where location control or people or asset monitoring can provide real business value.