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The Internet of Things Part 3

Following on from his first and second articles Steve Brady is continuing his topic of the internet of things. In this third part he explains how the data can be shared and used and how it might empower small businesses.

In the first article in the series we established the baseline, discussing the new affordable sensors that can enable small businesses to join in the Internet of Things (IoT) and play with the big dogs.  In the second article, we used a florist as an example of how the IoT can be implemented in critical ways to ensure the freshness of their product and meet customers expectations.

It’s not a big step to realize then that, once data is being collected on systems and used to drive decisions at a local, or retail, level, the data may actually prove beneficial to others as well.

In the example of the florist, the cooler has sensors in place and software designed to report any deviation from performance (temperature, humidity) that might shorten the life of their flowers.  Additionally, the sensors can be placed to help diagnose the cause of the deviation (door, compressor failure).  The sensors, internetworked and providing analysis, allows the owner to correct the problem.  The owner can now also determine the projected life of the flowers and adjust pricing and sales to ensure the product moves.  This is not much different than they do now (as do bakeries, or any other business with a perishable commodity.)  The additional data simply adds a level of intelligence to their decision to reduce spoilage.

The next step is to share that data.  First, it makes sense to share performance data with the manufacturer of the cooler.  As a manufacturer that data can prove quite useful for diagnosing problems long distance before sending a technician out.  Based on the sensors discussed in the last article, it is possible to know whether the problem is a compressor, or perhaps a seal, or simply that the door was left open.  Remote diagnostics, and the ability to plan a maintenance event before arriving on site, can bring significant benefits to operations and the bottom line.

Perhaps even more beneficial is the idea of “prognostics” or, predicting the future. 

Imagine the manufacturer having sensors on not one, but perhaps 50, or 100 compressors and coolers in a region.   If the sensors are reporting back the performance of the coolers the manufacturer can, over time, start to track the performance characteristics of their products.  As failures are reported, they can pore over the data prior to the events and, as more data is aggregated, discover trends.

This aggregated data supports what is known as “Prognostics” or using data to identify key indicators that precede a failure. Many firms in the transportation industry, from trucking to rail to aviation, already makes extensive use of sensors to monitor the health of their fleet. Prognostics (the ability to forecast future failures and avert them) plays a key role in “Preventative maintenance.”  Of course, the transportation systems all require significant upfront investments either by designing in the sensors from the start or retrofitting existing fleets at substantial costs.

The manufacturer can now identify potential failures, reach out, and schedule maintenance before a catastrophic failure can potentially wipe out the whole inventory of a small business.

We are discussing something different.  In this “brave new world” of empowered small businesses, the local retailer or small business can implement sensors that can make a direct improvement on their operations.  They can, through sharing their data, improve not only their system’s operations but can contribute to a stream of data that lets their manufacturer improve service and improve their product.

But wait--there’s more!  What happens when these affordable sensors, that are sharing data, are embedded throughout the value chain?  That is the next issue...