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How businesses should approach the Internet of Things.

11 June 2018:

Abel Smit, IoT Consulting and Customer Success Director, Tech Data Europe 

How businesses should approach the Internet of Things.

More and more businesses are realising the incredible value that the Internet of Things (IoT) can add to their operations. This opportunity stretches across multiple industries including manufacturing, insurance, transport, the provision of government and public services, utilities, healthcare – the list goes on. Chances are, whatever your business does there’s an opportunity for IoT to transform it, and there’s an opportunity for the channel to help guide your business through this process.

IoT in practice.
The potential uses of IoT in everyday life are wide ranging. For example, intelligent systems can greatly improve the management of our transportation systems, automating simple and repetitive tasks to allow more time to be spent on developing and improving services. Cities across Europe have invested in connected signalling solutions to better promote the flow of traffic, specifically for buses and bikes. Public transport vehicles can communicate their position, number of passengers and any delays they are experiencing with smart traffic signals to request priority signalling, saving valuable time on journeys for people using environmentally responsible means.

IoT has also seen widespread adoption in manufacturing, with IDC forecasting that this will be where the most investment will be made in 2018. The primary use of IoT in manufacturing is for predictive maintenance, where IoT sensors monitor various inputs and outputs to track the wear-and-tear of machinery. This allows manufacturers to repair or replace parts before they break, avoiding critical failure, which causes unplanned disruptions to production and incurs significant costs for manufacturers. The data from IoT sensors is also often used to track performance, allowing manufacturers to understand what is normal for that piece of machinery and create an automated system that will halt production if an abnormal circumstance arises, preventing mistakes and the waste of valuable materials.

IoT is also playing a critical role in digital twinning, a technique that has practical applications in a range of industries, from predictive maintenance to design and architecture, and even managing major logistics operations. Digital twinning is the process of taking a physical asset and creating an exact copy in the digital world, informed by data collected by IoT sensors. Where previously design components had no intelligence, digital twinning allows you to assess how these components will react to different environmental conditions without impacting the physical asset. The clear advantage is that experimenting in the digital world is much less destructive than doing so in the physical, with the capability to do so at enormous scale.

These models can also be monitored using real-time data, allowing for rapid diagnostics and prognostics of assets. This provides actionable insights to engineers and maintenance staff and prevents mistakes and breakdowns from happening, saving costs on materials and avoiding the costly business interruption that breakdowns and unplanned maintenance entails. The application of IoT in this regard has proven particularly useful in instances where the machinery being monitored is difficult to reach, such as on a wind turbine or oil rig.

The challenges of realising this potential.

However, deploying and securing all of these sensors can represent a significant challenge. Firstly, if you have several devices from multiple vendors all using different communication standards, this will present a number of siloed networks that need to be made to understand each other. Also, securing several networks is monumentally more difficult than securing just one. Working with the right channel partner is crucial to alleviating these problems. The channel has the right expertise to consolidate disparate vendor technologies and manage the difficulties and vulnerabilities that present themselves in any complex IoT solution. With all of the necessary components in an IoT solution, another major obstacle to fully realising the potential of the IoT is addressing the current skills gap. Identifying productive opportunities to leverage IoT, creating and securing networks, and capitalising on the data the IoT produces, requires expert knowledge and insight. Businesses should spend time to understand what core skills they need. Do they need knowledge of gateways and sensors for producing data? Is expertise in networking security and the cloud necessary to ensure information produced gets to the data centre?

The necessary skills for the IoT world.

Typically, data is being augmented with other data in the organisation – for example, in a smart building, data related to temperature and lighting will be compared against the number of people in different rooms, desired energy performance and the day of the week – which will require knowledge of databases, software integration and even middleware. Naturally, data that can’t be understood is useless, so you’ll also require knowledge of creating dashboards that enable the actionable insight you created your IoT system for in the first place.

Having all of these skills under one roof is an unlikely luxury that most businesses cannot afford and ought to try not to. Fortunately, the channel offers businesses a wealth of partners with complementary skills that can fill gaps in expertise, covering a broad spectrum of industries and markets, poised to augment customers’ knowledge and help leverage IoT technology to transform business processes and become a market leader.

Paired with visionary thinking, IoT has the potential to, and almost certainly will, reinvent numerous industries. IoT presents businesses with an enormous opportunity to improve productivity, reduce errors, drive to greater efficiencies and do so in a more environmentally sustainable manner. In turn, this opens up a wealth of possibilities for the channel to discover new and innovative ways to deliver IoT solutions to customers, and meet their growing technology demands. Ultimately, the allure of this potential is too great for anyone to ignore.

Published in Digitalisation World, June 11 2018
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