Tech forum: The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is often used as shorthand for the connected devices that are available to consumers, whether that be a smartwatch or some other type of wearable.
However, the Internet of Things is also enabling businesses to drive massive changes to their internal ways of working, creating more efficient processes and new revenue opportunities.
Speakers at Barclays’ latest Tech Forum, held in February at The Shard – Warwick Business School, discussed both the consumer and business angles of the Internet of Things, covering existing use cases as well as predicting how the technology will evolve over the next decade.
Several of the speakers looked at how businesses are using the Internet of Things to create value added services for consumers.
Oliver Bath, head of client services at Sentiance, gave an overview of the wealth of data that is available from the sensors that live within most smartphones. Using this data, we are able to learn a lot about a person's lifestyle, such as how active they are, where they live, how far they commute, or when they typically get up in the morning.
This can then be used to learn and predict real-world behaviour, enabling companies to personalize and contextualize customer engagement and drive behavioural change that improves people’s lives. Bath referred to this as “motion intelligence.”
There are already notable examples in the insurance sector, where providers are using data from IoT devices to offer lower premiums to people who have a healthier lifestyle or are seen to be safer drivers. According to Bath, this value exchange is key if consumers are going to allow businesses to access their data.
“People are more willing to share their data if there is a utility at the end of it. Business have to offer something compelling, like a reduced insurance premium or some other product, otherwise people won’t let you track their data.”
The business case
Consumer applications aside, the Internet of Things is also proving to be valuable in big industry. Parag Lapalikar, Tata Group’s IoT business lead in Europe, began his talk by asking a question which cut through the hype around the technology: what are the benefits to your business of using IoT?
He stated that businesses shouldn’t just use IoT for the sake of it, but should aim to use connected technology to help “transform their business to a different level.” According to Lapalikar, this is true of all industries, whether you operate a factory or a football club.
He highlighted uses cases including connected supply chains, smart manufacturing, and improved inventory management. In one instance Tata was able to save a client millions of dollars by using data provided by an IoT system to greatly reduce the time it took to install industrial equipment.
Across their business divisions, Tata is using IoT technology to drive efficiencies, by giving their teams greater visibility over their assets and increased operational data
Jon Thompson from Barclays discussed how the Internet of Things is already being used to collect real-time contextual data to provide a better working environment and increase productivity.
Barclays' Whippany Campus already uses smart technology for relatively simple tasks, such as monitoring space utilisation. Thompson showed how this form of IoT can be extended to help with a problem that will be familiar to most office workers – a lack of available meeting rooms.
"You can use sensors to detect whether people have booked a meeting room but then haven't shown up. If they don't arrive after a certain time, then that resource can be reallocated," he said.
Alongside solving productivity issues, smart buildings give businesses greater opportunity for revenue generation, according to Nitu Kaushal, Head of IoT Sales, Multi-nationals at Vodafone Business.
“Most buildings have CCTV, but how is that footage used? With smart technology, the data taken from CCTV and other sensors can be used to manage footfall and optimise the visitor experience,” said Kaushal. It’s not difficult to see how this might be used to drive business value at visitor attractions or in a retail environment.
Kaushal also struck a note of caution for businesses looking to increase their use of IoT, whether that be for smart buildings or any other use case. The proliferation of smart devices means that businesses will have more network assets to maintain, which could open up more opportunities for connected devices to be misused or hacked.
“Device management is really important, it requires additional security layers that protect your business,” she explained. “You have to make sure that’s part of your IoT strategy. At Vodafone, we integrate security into every aspect of the IoT chain, from individual devices through to the network infrastructure.”
IoT relies on an ecosystem
With so many use cases for the Internet of Things already on the market, it will be fascinating to see how connected technology evolves in the next decade.
A common theme noted by each speaker was that the nature of IoT means that it’s unlikely that any one business will dominate this space. Instead it requires an ecosystem of partners to drive innovation and enable new IoT products and services to develop.
“If anyone says ‘I will implement IoT’, it’s a very bold statement,” said Lapalikar. “Without a strong ecosystem of partners and tech providers, you can’t deliver an IoT system.”
Kaushal said that the IoT ecosystem actually benefited start-ups because they can be more agile. “We get small businesses in to work with us, as they aren’t held back by legacy infrastructure. They can work quickly and drive innovation.”
It’s this innovative, connected nature of the Internet of Things that makes it such an exciting space, and one that will bring many more benefits and efficiencies for businesses.