The role of IoT and data in keeping us safe and boosting the economy
Nick Sacke, Comms365, discusses how IoT technologies and the use of data can boost and support industries and the wider economy to unlock more efficient and sustainable production cycles, as well as offering greater insights into product value and optimisation to help businesses to survive in the short-term and thrive in the future.
With the UK going into its first financial recession since 2009 as a consequence of COVID-19, many businesses are struggling to stay alive in the current business climate. The economy has shrunk by 20.4% compared with the first three months of 2020, following months of businesses being forced to stay shut, furloughed workforces and a reduction in consumer expenditure. Additional restrictions in place at the time of writing are ratcheting up the financial pressure on multiple industries, with the prospect of a ‘double-dip’ recession an increasing prospect.
Without the right technology and continuity processes in place, many organisations were unable to adapt their models quickly enough to survive when they needed to. Now it’s a wake-up call to get the right solutions implemented to ride the waves of any future economic storms that come their way. COVID-19 has accelerated the need to work collaboratively and stay connected to protect both society and the economy.
Big Data analytics and IoT
With the increase in the volume of data that is being produced, identifying, analysing and using the useful information that is scattered around an organisation is a key business challenge, but also an opportunity. This can be addressed by the optimal use of data, deploying innovative IoT technologies including sensors, and targeted insights from ‘Big Data’ analytics systems.
Key information (data) is vital to ensuring businesses have 24/7 insight across their operations, so that pinch points and potential problems can be identified and remedied almost in real-time. A good example of this is in the freight and cargo industry, where real-time monitoring of consignments using sensors can be analysed and used by operations executives to identify problems in the flow of goods, so that service level agreement can be met, and ‘just in time’ economic models can be reinforced.
IoT, smart sensors and connected technologies are starting to play a key role in providing valuable data for effective decision making across all industries. Improving products and processes through data collection and analysis is now necessary for companies to future-proof their businesses in a highly volatile global market and identify additional revenue streams or alternative routes to market to soften the blow from any economic fallout.
The more data we gather, the more centralised and secure organisations can become to limit the potentially devastating impact of future pandemics.
Data in healthcare
As part of the fight against the pandemic, the healthcare industry had to quickly adapt and digitally transform in order to continue the provision of healthcare services to patients across the world. Moreover, to understand the nature of the virus and curb its spread, the NHS was required to streamline the way it used data in order to make informed decisions.
One element of this approach was the development of the NHS’ data platform to provide national organisations with secure, reliable and timely data. By storing masses of information about those infected with COVID-19, this data can be effectively used for spotting trends, case identification, allocating resources and implementing national lockdowns in areas with rising cases.
Elements that have had a significant impact on the economy are the need for social distancing measures, restrictions in gatherings and other safety elements that have had to be implemented. Particularly for industries such as manufacturing, retail and logistics, with less staff able to be present within the same environment, organisations faced significant challenges to meet demand. But this is where IoT technology is playing a vital role, especially once businesses start preparing for employees to return to their original work environments.
The use of IoT technology can support additional sanitisation measures and automation of shared touchpoints needed to limit cross-contamination. For example, detecting sanitiser bottle fill levels, monitoring the distance between people via infrared beams, alerting when social distancing thresholds are crossed, and analysing movement around working spaces with thermal imaging camera systems. By deploying innovative technologies such as these, businesses can still operate safely and more productively while generating revenue to remain operational and ultimately, boost the economy.
Sustainable supply chains can help to future-proof businesses and provide long-term resilience for organisations during challenging times. By taking a circular economy approach, which is an economic system which keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracts the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recovers and regenerates products and materials at the end of each service life (Wrap), organisations can reduce waste, extract the most value and obtain cost savings by optimising their use of resources.
Advanced digital technologies can help to unlock the benefits from the circularity of resources. Through the collection and analysis of data, digital technology such as intelligent, interconnected devices, have the potential to identify challenges, outline the key areas of waste of resources and inform more effective decision-making on how to address these issues as they occur. By capitalising on innovation which will underpin sustained growth, businesses can benefit from a rise of new economic opportunities, such as substantial savings, mitigation of supply risks and long-term resilience of the economy, while ensuring that assets are used to their maximum potential and value.
Moreover, particularly in a manufacturing environment, by having visual insight into the location and the condition and availability of each asset, this overview is of value to businesses to enhance their productivity through factors such as predictive maintenance. Overall, this helps to make products and services more effective and efficient, while reducing costs and waste in the supply chain. Initiatives supporting a circular economy offers businesses a more resilient and sustainable future, potentially creating over 500,000 more jobs and saving EU businesses eight percent of their annual turnover.
5G and connectivity
Parts of our global critical infrastructure remain siloed, unconnected or with varying connectivity quality. In a pandemic, when social distancing measures are in place, and workforces are remote, it’s vital for businesses to have a robust, high quality internet connection and IoT connected devices on-site in factories, warehouses, construction sites, power plants, transport grids, hospitals, schools, government buildings and utility distribution networks. This will provide visibility on-site and remote access as required, resulting in reducing the need for engineers and IT teams to make unnecessary and potentially risky site visits.
The deployment of 5G will help to increase network capacity and data flow, supporting connections of one million devices per square kilometre. By supercharging the potential of IoT with new 5G networks, connected buildings, vehicles, transport infrastructure and healthcare devices could all benefit from the value this enhanced connectivity will bring.
For example, 5G could help to revolutionise traffic and congestion management, in turn, reducing delays and allowing quicker access for emergency services. Smart buildings are the future, and post-COVID-19, can help to boost the economy by reducing the costs of running the public sector estate, such as the introduction of smart lighting and optimising the use of air conditioning.
Optimisation of facilities management will be especially important now that the population is set to be a nation of remote workers for the foreseeable future – heating and cooling entire buildings is now unnecessary. Building managers should be able to rely on intuitive technology to heat and light only those areas that are in use to save money and help support environmental initiatives in the process. Ventilation is now acknowledged to be a critical factor in preventing the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 in buildings. The monitoring of indoor environmental conditions and ventilation systems will be another tool in the new facilities management service portfolio.
If businesses were to embrace innovative technology and use the data they collect and store in the right way, the ‘new normal’ post-COVID-19 may be a smoother transition for many, while preparing them for any future unprecedented crisis. The opportunity to deploy innovative sensor-based technologies and data analytics services has given a growing number of startups and small businesses entry to enterprise and government supply chains, and lucrative contracts to aid the collection and optimal use of data.
By leveraging the most value from their data and resources, as well as the management and more efficient use of resources to meet green agenda objectives, organisations can help to keep their running costs low, which is particularly important during uncertain times with reduced services and furloughed staff. This preparation, in turn, will help businesses to ride the waves of uncertainty and keep them trading to ultimately boost the economy in both the short- and long-term.