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IoT 101: What it means to your business

Pedro Pereira Freelance writer and editor

NOVEMBER 16, 2022
People standing in group holding tables and mobile devices close together

The first thing to know about the Internet of Things (IoT) is this: It doesn’t just connect machines and devices; it connects them with people. 

Currently, IoT networks offer varying levels of automation. But in most cases, people are at the receiving end of the data collected by IoT devices. And it is people who make decisions based on what the data tells them about the efficacy of their company operations as well as opportunities for improvement and development of new products and services.

What is IoT?

If you look up IoT definitions, you’ll come across a lot of technical speak. Simply put, the IoT uses devices to capture data—often, the data is granular and comes in at a far greater rate than decision makers can handle. This data, then, must be processed and analyzed to impart relevant information to decision makers. Once the information is digested and understood, it can be used for various purposes to:

  • Reduce operational costs through process improvement.

  • Lay the data ingestion and processing groundwork for future automation layers.

  • Refine manufacturing and logistics processes to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

  • Drive efficiencies in the supply chain through better management of the movement of materials, from sourcing to transportation to delivery.

  • Promote safety through the use of cameras and real-time alerts in perilous work environments, such as construction sites, mines, and distribution centers.

  • Meet sustainability goals through more efficient use of HVAC, refrigeration, and electricity used in industrial, commercial, and residential buildings.

Use cases keep multiplying, which explains the IoT’s current growth spurt. By the end of 2018, an estimated 7 billion IoT devices had been deployed. That number jumped to 35 billion in 2021, and is expected to reach 75 billion by 2025.

What’s driving it? The need to transform operational processes to be more responsive to changes in conditions. This requires an ability to understand and act on data, triggering specific flows to optimize outcomes. If abandoned in some dusty old database, that data will never make an impact. If properly sorted and analyzed by leveraging intelligent data management platforms, it can be the catalyst to transform a company into a digital powerhouse. And make a difference in our lives.

Woman looking closely at a data display and touching it with her fingers

Data capture lays the foundation for IoT

Data flowing into an organization originates in a variety of sources. The IoT adds to those sources, typically by collecting data through sensors, cameras, and other monitoring devices. Data-capture devices can be anywhere; you likely passed a few on your way to work today.

Some examples: Cameras at traffic lights and building entrances. Sensors in corridors that turn on lights when people approach. Sensors in manufacturing motors and drive systems that monitor equipment performance and health. Cameras and sensors in retail stores that track inventory on shelves and hasten checkout. Sensors in your car that transmit acceleration or real-time location that can be used to deduce patterns in driving behaviors or even detect crashes. And the list goes on.

It’s been said that the IoT will connect anything and everything that can be connected. The realization of this prophecy is likelier by the day. But before you drive your organization into an IoT journey, here are some essential considerations:

1) Develop a roadmap

An initiative without clear goals is a potential disaster in the making. Many a technology project has gone off the rails and way over budget with little or no return. So be sure to understand the business need or opportunity first, then map your IoT investment to that need or opportunity. 

Start with an overarching vision of IoT transformation, then brainstorm potential projects that will force you to develop strategic capabilities in support of that vision.  Projects can be tied together by theme or data source, giving you a sense of the compounding rewards that can be reaped on an IoT transformation journey as projects are stacked.  Good projects to choose have a deep understanding of the people and processes we seek to support with data-driven insights. 

Too often, planners focus on the data-collection aspect of IoT. But data capture is only the first step, followed by efforts to sort, organize, and interpret the data. Only then can you gain the insights that enable meaningful outcomes for your organization.

2) Define the outcome

The business outcome should be clear from the get-go. If you’re looking to improve production or warehouse processes through preventive maintenance, know that upfront. If you’re seeking knowledge on customer preferences and need to launch new targeted products and services, know that.

The IoT has the potential for profound change. It has already started. Consider this relatively mundane example: It is now possible to remotely preheat and park a car in the garage. Now consider this one: A wearable device on a heart attack or stroke patient can save their life by dispatching an ambulance in time to avoid major damage.

Which brings us to the original point: The IoT isn’t just about connecting devices. It is really about people.

"Effective predictive maintenance is more than just IoT sensors and algorithms driving improved uptime. It is the foundational realization that enterprise data is at the heart of any predictive maintenance initiative."

Read more from Rick Taylor, Senior Solutions Architect for Cloudera Government Solutions

Would you like to get more value from IoT at your organization? It starts with the right architecture and analytics capabilities. Read this analyst checklist report from TDWI to make sure you're ready.

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Pedro Pereira

Pedro Pereira is a New Hampshire-based freelance writer and editor. He has covered the IT industry for more than two decades, focusing on cybersecurity, AI and IoT. 

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