In an ever-evolving world, digital transformation is key to business survival. This means companies must go beyond technology for its own sake to become what we at 4Sight call Enterprise 5.0 businesses.
The Enterprise 5.0 concept looks beyond 4IR technology, including the internet of things (IoT), to generate benefits for clients in almost all sectors. These benefits derive from the data collected by affordable, smart, connected devices, which is then processed to generate business insights.
When it comes to IoT in commerce, most companies have been experimenting with putting smart sensors onto equipment or goods at scale to improve efficiencies rapidly, make better decisions and save costs. But this is only the beginning: True IoT is typically aimed at aggregating and analysing the data from these devices to deliver business insights, increase control and automate as much as possible.
One of the most attractive things about IoT is that the solution can be implemented rapidly and it will deliver returns in a short space of time.
The first step is to put the right technology solution in place. Three main elements need to be considered. First is the technology to connect a large number of sensors to the Internet, the second is a managed portal and gateways to aggregate these connections and provide the bridge to the Internet, and the third is a place to store and process the data.
Decisive factors in the mainstreaming of IoT in commerce have been the steady reduction in the cost of providing device connectivity, and the availability of cost-effective data storage and processing in the cloud.
The use cases for IoT in commerce are legion. For example, in businesses where energy efficiency is becoming critical, smart sensors can automate the manual and often inaccurate process of meter reading. Tangible benefits derive from the aggregation of all the accurate information generated by the smart sensors to identify risks and ways of improving energy consumption and management.
The same can be said for water meters. Another good use case is industrial refrigeration, while others can be found in the mining, agriculture, retail and healthcare sectors.
Use cases for commercial IoT exist in almost all businesses, irrespective of size. One of the most attractive things about IoT use cases in commerce is, that once identified, the solution can be implemented rapidly and deliver returns in a short space of time. This is because typical use cases involve no more than adding on smart sensor technology to existing sensors to connect them to the Internet — true value comes from the insights delivered by the processing of the data.
In other words, most organisations can leverage their existing technology investments to obtain the massive benefits associated with the Enterprise 5.0 model.
We tend to partner on projects that deliver a return on investment to our clients within two to three months. Following this methodology, projects can essentially be self-funding and, once the initial investment is recouped, returns can be used to fund the next IoT project.
Clearly, though, the specialised technology solutions that will allow the existing technology to be integrated into the Enterprise 5.0 model are critical. 4Sight partners with FastComm, a leading developer and vendor of specialised gateway and modem technology that provide the necessary connectivity. These modems are supported by the mobile networks and are suited for mass deployment. They cover a wide area, and they have low power requirements, lengthening battery life. In addition, they consume minute amounts of bandwidth, making the solution extremely cost effective.
The range of the local network can be further extended using the LoRaNet wireless extender, thus allowing more sensors to be connected to the gateway that connects the sensors to the cloud.
In partnership with FastComm, 4Sight provides an IoT gateway, Hellothing, that can connect with all the latest mobile technologies including LoRa, NB-IoT, radio-frequency identification (RFID), LTE-M, Thingworx, Bluetooth and SigFox.
As already noted, automation is a key benefit of IoT, and automation and better use of assets can deliver reduced costs over the short term. But the real, long-term benefits come from the accumulation of data to streamline business processes and then support better, fact-based decision making. We call this the Learn and Optimise phase, and it sets up a continuous feedback loop that supports not only the optimisation of existing operations and processes, but the identification of new opportunities. The feedback loop also positions the company to respond to market changes rapidly and effectively.
In essence, IoT provides insight into the physical world that had previously not been possible, or at best was extremely difficult to obtain. Commercial operations rely on this physical world of vehicles, equipment and so on to be profitable, IoT, properly planned, can make managing this environment much easier and more effective, and thus generate sustainable, increased profits.