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How IoT and the use of data can help in the return to the new normal

Nick Sacke discusses how Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the use of data can boost and support industries and the wider economy to unlock more efficient and sustainable production cycles, to help businesses survive in the short term and thrive in the future.

Many UK and worldwide businesses are struggling to stay alive in the current business climate. Months of some businesses being forced to stay shut, furloughed workforces, and a reduction in consumer expenditure are ratcheting up the financial pressure on multiple industries.

Without the right technology and business continuity processes in place, many organizations were unable to adapt their models quickly enough to survive when they needed to. Organizations have had the biggest possible wake-up call to get the right solutions implemented to ride the waves of any future storms that come their way. COVID-19 has also accelerated the need to work collaboratively and stay connected to protect both society and the economy. 

As businesses scan the way ahead in the hope of emerging into a ‘new normal’ during 2021, IoT technologies and the use of data are offering one ray of light, promising to help unlock more efficient and sustainable production cycles, as well as offering greater insights into product value and optimization to help businesses become more agile and resilient.

Big data analytics and IoT

With the increase in the volume of data that is being produced, identifying, analysing and using the useful information that is scattered around an organization is a key business challenge, but also an opportunity. This can be addressed by the optimal use of data, deploying innovative IoT technologies including sensors, and targeted insights from ‘big data’ analytics systems.

Key information (data) is vital to ensuring businesses have 24/7 insight across their operations so that pinch points and potential problems can be identified and remedied almost in real-time. A good example of this is in the freight and cargo industry, where real-time monitoring of consignments using sensors can be analysed and used by operations executives to identify problems in the flow of goods, so that service level agreement can be met, and ‘just in time’ economic models can be reinforced. IoT, smart sensors and connected technologies are starting to play a key role in providing valuable data for effective decision making across all industries. Improving products and processes through data collection and analysis is now necessary for companies to future-proof their businesses in a highly volatile global market and identify additional revenue streams or alternative routes to market to soften the blow from any economic fallout. 

The more data we gather, the more centralized and secure organizations can become to limit the potentially devastating impact of future pandemics.

COVID-safe technologies 

Elements that have had a significant impact on the economy are the need for social distancing measures, restrictions in gatherings, and other safety elements that have had to be implemented. Particularly for industries such as manufacturing, retail, and logistics, with less staff able to be present within the same environment, organizations faced significant challenges to meet demand. But this is where IoT technology is playing a vital role, especially once businesses start preparing for employees to return to their original work environments.

The use of IoT technology can support additional sanitisation measures and automation of shared touchpoints needed to limit cross-contamination. For example, detecting sanitiser bottle fill levels, monitoring the distance between people via infrared beams, alerting when social distancing thresholds are crossed, and analysing movement around working spaces with thermal imaging camera systems. By deploying innovative technologies such as these, businesses can still operate safely and more productively while generating revenue to remain operational and ultimately, boost the economy.

Green agenda

Sustainable supply chains can help to future-proof businesses and provide long-term resilience for organizations during challenging times. By taking a circular economy approach, which is an economic system that which keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracts the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life (Wrap), organizations can reduce waste, extract the most value and obtain cost savings by optimising their use of resources. 

Advanced digital technologies can help to unlock the benefits from the circularity of resources. Through the collection and analysis of data, digital technology such as intelligent, interconnected devices, have the potential to identify challenges, outline the key areas of waste of resources, and inform more effective decision-making on how to address these issues as they occur. By capitalising on innovation which will underpin sustained growth, businesses can benefit from a rise of new economic opportunities, such as substantial savings, mitigation of supply risks and long-term resilience of the economy, while ensuring that assets are used to their maximum potential and value.

Moreover, particularly in a manufacturing environment, by having visual insight into the location and the condition and availability of each asset, this overview is of value to businesses to enhance their productivity through factors such as predictive maintenance. Overall, this helps to make products and services more effective and efficient, while reducing costs and waste in the supply chain. Initiatives supporting a circular economy offers businesses a more resilient and sustainable future.

5G and connectivity 

Parts of our global critical infrastructure remain siloed, unconnected, or with varying connectivity quality. In a pandemic when social distancing measures are in place, and workforces are remote, it’s vital for businesses to have a robust, high-quality Internet connection and IoT connected devices on-site in factories, warehouses, construction sites, power plants, transport grids, hospitals, schools, government buildings and utility distribution networks. This will provide visibility on-site and remote access as required, resulting in reducing the need for engineers and IT teams to make unnecessary and potentially risky site visits. 

The deployment of 5G will help to increase network capacity and data flow; supporting connections of one million devices per square kilometre. By supercharging the potential of IoT with new 5G networks, connected buildings, vehicles, transport infrastructure and healthcare devices could all benefit from the value this enhanced connectivity will bring.

For example, 5G could help to revolutionise traffic and congestion management, in turn, reducing delays and allowing quicker access for emergency services. Smart buildings are the future, and post-COVID-19, can help to boost the economy by reducing the costs of running the public sector estate, such as the introduction of smart lighting and optimising the use of air conditioning. 

Optimisation of facilities management will be especially important now that the population is set to be a nation of remote workers for the foreseeable future – heating and cooling entire buildings is now unnecessary. Building managers should be able to rely on intuitive technology to heat and light only those areas that are in use to save money and help support environmental initiatives in the process. Ventilation is now acknowledged to be a critical factor in preventing the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 in buildings. The monitoring of indoor environmental conditions and ventilation systems will be another tool in the new facilities management service portfolio.

Conclusion

If businesses were to embrace innovative technology and use the data they collect and store in the right way, the new normal post-COVID-19 may be a smoother transition for many, while preparing them for any future unprecedented crisis. The opportunity to deploy innovative sensor-based technologies and data analytics services has given a growing number of start-ups and small businesses entry to enterprise and government supply chains, and lucrative contracts to aid the collection and optimal use of data. 
By leveraging the most value from their data and resources, as well as the management and more efficient use of resources to meet green agenda objectives, organizations can help to keep their running costs low, which is particularly important during uncertain times with reduced services and furloughed staff. This preparation, in turn, will help businesses to ride the waves of uncertainty and keep them trading to ultimately boost the economy in both the short and long-term.

The author

Nick Sacke, Head of IoT and Products at Comms365.



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