By: Linda Rosencrance
By 2020, 21 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be in use, up from the 6.4 billion estimated to deployed worldwide this year, according to Gartner Inc. The analyst firm expects enterprises will spend the most on IoT versus other technologies, connecting such things as HVAC, building management systems, lights, and devices to support transport logistics as well as networks to send and receive data.
In part one of this story, we explored how companies successfully begin their IoT journeys – typically by starting small, proving the concept on one piece of key equipment, for example. Still, some companies remain intimidated about deploying and managing IoT technologies, while others embrace it and achieve high operational efficiencies.
Some of those companies understand its benefits to manufacturing and supply chain, but are unclear how it can help them. Still others are connected, but not yet taking full advantage of IoT.
Where there are assets, IoT provides visibility, predictability
“Most of the companies that have a lot of equipment, a lot of devices, are very good candidates to connect those devices and equipment to a centralized system like cloud so they can send the data to people across the world on their mobile devices or laptops,” says Anubhav Dwivedi, CEO, founder, Microsoft Azure partner Saviant Consulting.
Internet of Things technologies are best suited for asset-intensive companies, which includes manufacturing and distribution companies, plus rental equipment companies, oil and gas companies, even healthcare (consider crash carts in a hospital)-all organizations that want to know how their assets and equipment in the field are performing in real time, or simply where those assets are.
At a high level, IoT is all about tracking something in real time, which is just part of collecting real-time data. But IoT is also about intelligence into the operations, Dwivedi says.
“That means that the moment you start collecting real-time data, you should also be able to make sense of that data and put it back into the operations,” he says. “For example, if you know that your equipment is working correctly now, can you predict if your equipment will be working correctly next quarter. If your system can tell you when your equipment and devices really need service, that will reduce the cost of your operations.”
Eric Veldkamp, executive director of sales and marketing at Dynamics Software says that a variety of companies, including manufacturers, can benefit from the IoT.
Companies that have outfitted their equipment with sensors can generate data, analyze the data connected to their back-office ERP systems and then use that information to make better business decisions.
“The same is true for professional services companies, food services companies, for instance, who can do the same maybe [for] equipment-based support as well as any type of production companies whether it be discreet manufacturing, or process manufacturing,” Veldkamp says.
Azure IoT Suite, data analytics
Many companies in the utilities industry are taking advantage of IoT via smart meters, Internet-connected devices that record how much energy is used in specified intervals, then communicate that information back to the utility for monitoring and billing. The utility can use the data collected by the sensors on the meters to, for example, monitor voltage to better manage for outages.
Cloud-based technologies like Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite lend themselves to managing vast quantities of data in an affordable and efficient manner, Veldkamp says. Organizations should also invest in stream-processing applications that enable real-time analysis of sensor data.
The Azure IoT Suite is a managed service that lets business connect, monitor, and control millions of IoT devices that run on a variety of operating systems and protocols and send trillions of messages each month.
“Connecting devices to cloud and then analytics on top of It and then using machine learning as a predictive intelligence is all a part of IoT,” says Veldkamp. “There are many industries that can benefit from the promise of IoT.”
For instance, Dynamics Software is working to help Royal Brinkman, a supplier, installer and consultant for the professional horticultural industry, benefit from Internet of Things technologies.
“They are working on a scenario with Azure Machine Learning,” he says. “Their goal is to train the model with meteorological data and historical information about fertilizer tank levels. The underlying business goal is to get a better prediction mechanism to control fertilizer stock levels at their customer sites.”
Connecting ERP data to the cloud
One of Saviant’s customers, the food distribution company JJ Food Service Limited, is using IoT technologies to make its business processes more intelligent and more efficient as well as to improve its service offerings, according to Dwivedi.
“JJ Food Service has one of the largest Dynamics AX implementations in the world and we help them connect their ERP to the cloud for IoT,” Dwivedi says. “They want to track every single item, every single truck, every single driver, every single payment that comes in on a real-time basis.”
Azure as a platform is helping JJ Food Service put the required data from the ERP to the cloud, store it in the right format, connect it with all the equipment in the field like its trucks, then collect in and put it on a dashboard.
“Then they can monitor whether their customers are paying on time, and whether their trucks are delivering on time, for example, Dwivedi says.
Use of IoT still uncommon
If Internet of Things technologies provide proven benefit for companies like JJ Food Service, why do other companies hesitate?
One segment of companies has not yet deployed smart devices at all, and therefore don’t know what kind of devices they need to start tracking the real-time data, says Dwivedi.
Another segment has smart devices in place, but, those devices are not smart in terms of communicating directly to the cloud. “So those companies have to invest in more infrastructure to turn those devices into smart devices in terms of gateways or routers or sensors to connect that data to the cloud and then decide what data they want to collect,” says Dwivedi.
But even companies that do have devices or equipment sending data to the cloud are not taking advantage of the Internet of Things, according to Dwivedi.
“The biggest problem they might have is how to collect millions of data points that are coming in every second or every hour from their smart devices,” he says. “And even if they can do that, are they ready to store [all that data]? And do they have the right cloud platform to analyze and make sense of all that data? Are they really prepared to do analytics on top of all the data they’re going to capture? I don’t think companies today are ready to [do all that] easily.”
Veldkamp says there’s still another reason why a company decides against investing in Internet of Things technologies – lack of talent.
“If you work with things like machine learning and Azure IOT, doing the big data analysis, you need different types of people doing that,” he says. “If you look at the average company, especially in equipment manufacturing, they maintain the applications they have. They don’t necessarily have data analysts working for them in their IT departments. So that’s holding some companies back from [embarking] on effective IoT projects.”