No, we don’t mean that woolen underpants are coming back into vogue, or that Elon Musk has discovered a way of making CO2 fuel cells, the next industrial revolution will not be a physical one, but will be by no means less dramatic than the advent of steam. Just as steam power opened up a host of new opportunities in the 18th Century, M2M technologies will be the catalyst that transforms business, industry, and life as we know it.
With estimates ranging from 20-50 Billion connected devices by 2020, businesses must change their attitudes, production methods, and customer interaction to cope with this new and wave of digital enhancements. While applications like smart fridges and automated cars continue to capture the headlines, the largest impact of the IoT is already being felt by early adopters in industrial sectors, and Gartner predicts that industrial sectors alone will consist of 2.9 Billion connected devices generating 3.7 Trillion dollars annually by 2025.
Perhaps the best way to visualize the benefits of IoT M2M optimization is to explore the possibilities in a manufacturing setting – other sectors such as agriculture and energy will also be irreversibly changed for the better, but the sheer amount of production, logistics, and marketing processes involved in manufacturing make it an ideal case study.
Sensor technology is getting cheaper and more advanced every day, and tiny pressure, flow, optical, humidity and accelerometer sensors can all be applied to factory equipment and components to measure every phase of a production line. From monitoring and controlling the exact amount of inventory used in making a product, to detecting faults in machinery and enabling real-time communication and planning between production stages, sensor technology can immediately achieve significant results in factory setting, so much so that operational optimizations alone in this area could be worth up to $1.8 Trillion by 2025 (Gartner).
Domo Arigato, Sensor Roboto
This is of course only one example of where the IoT can revolutionize industry. To help reduce leakage the city of Tokyo implemented sensors in their 25,000km of water piping, which led to a 98% pipe replacement with more durable materials, saved them $112 Million in leakage costs, and cut their CO2 emissions by 73,000 tons. These kind of benefits are easily achievable with even the most basic level of IoT, as sensors immediately and continually feed back data, and even suggest improvements. The only real barrier to gaining significant and long-lasting change from the IoT, then, is by no means the standard of technology, which is advancing faster every day, but the lack of a robust ‘data culture’ within an enterprise.
This ‘data culture’ can be seen everywhere in our society now, we forge our social lives online, we have relationships without physically meeting the other party, and we can ‘visit’ anywhere in the world without leaving Starbucks. But there is a serious lack of response to this in business environments, where the power of data can be underestimated or worse pegged as a distraction from progress: 38% of companies surveyed by the pWc said they rely on the limited data analysis capabilities of only one employee. To take full advantage of the IoT this must be addressed, and companies must develop an extensive top-down education process so that wherever sensors are generating data, there are people who can interpret that data and see how it fits in the wider picture.
A good way of getting an overall insight into your network of sensors, and improving your level of data proficiency, is to use a management platform to view and organize your devices. These tools enable you to view and change the status of all your devices, active, inactive or on a short term ‘factory test’, to consolidate all the data generated by the sensors and analyze it accordingly, and, thanks to the cloud, to integrate data from partners and even other sectors to find further optimizations.
Another advantage of platforms is the option to have a customer-facing site linked to the back-end, allowing businesses to directly respond to customer needs and desires without the usual communication delay. This then acts as a communication channel between customers, suppliers, manufacturers and any other stage in the value chain, which becomes not only a shared source of relevant data, but a means of embracing digital culture and spreading it throughout your business.
The Times They Are Connecting
The unrestricted flow of data will be a key factor in the coming IoT revolution, and in fact is an essential element in creating an IoT ecosystem that benefits all members. In future, products will become ‘hybridized’, with an element of service provision integrated within a physical product, such as Michelin’s Effifuel tyre system which uses sensor data to teach fleet drivers how to save fuel with their driving habits. This will lead to an even more blurred and internally operative network of connections, with data being generated at every stage of production, product use, and aftermarket services.
This free-flowing data will of course create more cross-sector competition from data giants moving into traditional sectors, like Google’s foray into automated cars, and the expansion by traditional sectors into data services, like General Electric’s predictive maintenance services. Platforms are a good way of fostering a good relationship with data and maintaining your market share in light of this uncertainty, but the best way to stay afloat in this tide of information is to adopt a flexible connectivity service that will keep up with drastic changes to cellular network bands, m2m specific options that are currently in development and operate outside of licensed frequencies, and the advent of 5G which is sure to shake everything up.
Yoga, but for the IoT
With the future so primed for change, the most adaptable option right now is a cellular connectivity that enables connection to multiple network profiles, or IMSIs (International Mobile Subscriber Identities), as cellular infrastructure is well established all over the world and having multiple IMSIs allows users to connect to the strongest possible signal without being tethered to one network or network band. This leaves the user open to whatever changes may occur, such as the sunsetting of the 2G band currently being made by AT&T in the US, or the emergence of entirely new network technologies that can be added to the SIM profile at a later date, without having to remove their SIM from the field and disrupting the flow of data between devices.
In the coming industrial revolution, scalable IoT ecosystems need to be accepting of the constantly developing hardware and network technologies, and with the right mentality, the right management system, and the right connectivity, there is no limit to what your business could achieve.