Apologies if I’ve piqued your interest in video tape recorders but I’m afraid you’ve been led astray. This article is not about the Panasonic PV-V4520 or the Sony SLV-N700, although I’m sure they are fine products. VCR then, I’ll touch on this later.
In the meantime, a confession. I have to admit that I’m fairly new to the world of IoT, despite over 20 years’ experience in ICT. This consists of some experience at HCL Technologies working with Microsoft and a large Swiss conglomerate and then a very interesting year and a bit at Fujitsu with a wider variety of technologies and use cases.
An expert? Possibly not, however across various exhibitions and numerous direct customer engagements I’ve had well over 100 real discussions with real businesses about IoT and what it could mean to them. Many in the IoT space are still operating at the commercially theoretical layer, even if they have some form of “working” product. Interesting times!
It is increasingly evident there is the confusion in the market, not only with customers but with IoT providers themselves. If suppliers (the experts??) can’t get across what it is (or more importantly what tangible value it brings) then what hope do most customers have? To be fair I’ve had a few customer discussions where they have started to make their own inroads, typically however not Enterprise-grade and far from production ready. Understood, it is an immature market but it is also an area of great interest and the opportunity for value-based first movers is high.
This is not a technology-led opinion piece about “what IoT is”, if you want a view on this I’d recommend the excellent article “10 Predictions for the Future of IoT” by Ahmed Banafa, which clearly breaks IoT down into its various technology components. Please see here:
I’m also going to avoid talking about consumer-focused IoT such as Google Nest, Samsung SmartHub et al. which most would agree is ahead of enterprise IoT in terms of a complete value proposition (you can buy it, it’s fairly cheap, easy-ish to deploy, it works and benefits are at least partially tangible).
Instead I’ll talk about the business or enterprise impact. After all, gone are the days where customers will blindly throw money into an ICT project and “hope”. These days it’s all about agile, fail fast, prove a business case as soon as possible to save throwing good money after bad and increasingly outcome based pricing. Don’t tell me the value, show me the value, if I succeed, you succeed. “Digital”, if you will.
And this is where VCR comes in. I made it up, I’m in ICT, acronyms are in our DNA. Sorry, nothing to do with obsolete tapes.
V is for Visibility
At its base IoT is all about visibility. What is going on (in your operation) that you don’t know about and hence have no control over? This needs a business event view, which events are important, which are not. With the digital mantra of “think big but start small” where should the initial priority lie? The complexity grows when you consider the “network” of how your organisation interacts with its customers and suppliers but let’s go with KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. We can build from here.
In Retail this could be knowing your stock levels in real-time. Selling an item is a business event, running low on stock is a business event. Hang on a minute I hear you cry; retailers have staff to manage this! True, they do, but not very effectively. Some obvious questions:
What level of visibility does a store manager have to manage inventory (too much inventory equals wasted capex, too little results in lost sales)?
What ability to identify stock that isn’t in the right place (customer picks it up, puts it back somewhere else)?
What ability to identify “zombie” stock (items that have been in store for an excessive period of time and remain unsold, despite often being moved between the store and storeroom multiple times)?
What ability to identify perishable goods that have not been keep within expected environmental parameters (e.g. left in the sun too long and no longer fit for human consumption)
As part of their role staff will “keep an eye” on stock but they provide better value serving customers and making sales. Most retailers instead rely on manual, out of hours’ inventory management which at best will complete a whole store inventory over a number of days (often it is weeks) by which point it’s out of date again! Result? They do not have accurate inventory control and cannot manage their customer facing inventory effectively nor the corresponding replenishment supply chain. Real result? Lost sales, poor customer experience and on top the manpower cost of this manual effort, in a very competitive market where margins are thin.
Retailers who have introduced basic (i.e. handheld) RFID inventory management have seen 3-10% uplift in sales, after all you can’t take something home if it’s not in stock and many retailers have a poor ability to find merchandise which is, in theory “in stock”. Recent advances can enable a store-wide, real-time view of merchandise, without human intervention at very high levels of accuracy. The business case is tilting more favourably and it will come in time.
In Construction and Facilities Management this could be knowing that your operatives have calibrated tools and the correct education/knowledge/certifications to use them. Health and safety is a key driver in this market, as is first time fix rate.
Do operatives have their health and safety equipment?
Are they wearing it?
Has any of it expired and hence is potentially dangerous?
Have you scheduled an engineer with the right parts for the job?
How can we keep an eye on lone workers?
Even basic assets such as ladders have “expiry dates” after which they should not be used for risk of failure, potentially with fatal consequences.
These are just a few examples in a couple of markets and are by no means exhaustive.
There are hundreds of use cases across all industries. Even Financial Services, which can quickly “close down” your IoT discussion (given high levels of process automation and predominantly “virtual” assets) can envisage benefit.
Here, think on the connection between insurance premiums and recording “real” risk by understanding how we actually live our lives, rather than at present where we are aligned into a theoretical (albeit cleverly calculated) “risk bucket”. For example, when are we really at home, how often has our smoke alarm gone off in the last 6 months, how safely do we drive? Some of the more innovative insurers are already offering products in the automotive space by reducing premiums for careful drivers through driver monitoring systems. This will evolve elsewhere too.
I hope this has sparked some thought. Any comments and opinion very welcome. In the next article I will cover C.