By Brian Albright, Field Technologies
Getting the right data and knowing what to do with it will be a key IoT challenge for field service organizations.
The Internet of Things (IoT) could potentially enable new types of business applications, provide connectivity among machines and products, and provide new insights into how assets and equipment operate and are used in the field. One other thing it will do: generate mounds of new data.
In the field service and transportation space, companies must find an effective way to manage that data and then use it to optimize business processes. “While virtually all see value in IoT at some level, leading companies are recognizing that IoT will transform their business processes, enable highly differentiated offerings in the market, and open the door to entirely new business models and revenue streams,” says Howard Heppelmann, general manager of connected product management at PTC. “Fundamental to realizing these opportunities are the new capabilities introduced by IoT that enable companies to remotely monitor, control, optimize, predict, and even automate the behavior of smart, connected products.”
The value of IoT isn’t the technology; it is in the data that the technology can provide. Analyzing and using that data creatively — and finding ways to manage what could be terabytes of information flooding in from thousands of connected devices — will be an ongoing challenge. Once every item or product is connected, companies will have to find a way to separate the signal from the noise.
Existing telematics and M2M scenarios can offer some guidance as to how companies will leverage IoT and make better use of the data they receive. Fleet management is a good example.
“There are solutions out there that can now interface directly with the OBD-II port to gather data and provide visibility into engine performance, provide remote diagnostics, and, in some cases, remote repairs,” says Felix Lluberes, vice president of advance applications at KORE. “Using this data as a trigger to schedule preventative maintenance can also lower recurring maintenance expenses and prolong the useful life span of vehicles. Easily readable reports and dashboards enable transportation managers to draw actionable insight from what would otherwise be mountains of data.”
According to Heppelmann, to capture the value associated with these opportunities, service and transportation businesses have an urgent need to rethink how their offerings are created, sold, operated, and serviced. “Those who don’t are placing their current competitive advantage at risk,” he says. “Those who are able to identify the right IoT use cases for their business and the right set of partners and technology, and can quickly deliver market ready solutions, will share in the enormous value expansion IoT offers and will likely emerge as leaders of the next decade.”
Avoid DRIP (Data Rich, Information Poor)
IoT will increase the volume, velocity, and variability of data that is delivered to service and transportation companies. In order to make sense of it all, companies need solutions that will prioritize data, aggregate information from disparate sources, and combine it all into a single view. Reporting should be exception-driven.
“Many companies are struggling to stay on top of the amount of data that IoT devices and solutions are creating,” says Ethan Ralston, CEO of Feeney Wireless. “Often referred to as DRIP (data rich, information poor), many companies realize after implementation that they do not have a good system for extracting or viewing information. This is caused by proprietary protocols and back-end systems that fragment the market.”
Companies should be deliberate about the data they collect, identify potential value opportunities that exist from collecting that data, and then instrument their products and assets accordingly to provide the data they need. IoT requires a real-time, proactive approach to data analysis, as opposed to the historical analysis currently conducted by most companies. Heppelmann says that a key piece of this analytical capability will be investing in new analytics tools that don’t require as much expertise to use and understand.
“We’re at the point now where the volume and velocity of data being generated has outpaced the capability and capacity of even the most experienced data scientists,” Heppelmann says. “Enabling collaboration between human intuition and the unbiased analysis of computer-driven algorithms creates a scenario where we can make sense of the data deluge and scale our findings rapidly. [When] it comes to running advanced analytics or predictions on data from IoT, traditional approaches and tools are already obsolete.”
With those analytical capabilities, companies can improve productivity and efficiency, develop new services for their customers, and even improve product performance.
IoT Data Fuels Efficiency And Productivity Gains
Connected devices can provide data that will help field service organizations manage and monitor equipment, ensuring that the system is healthy and operational. That can enable proactive maintenance, facilitate remote troubleshooting and repair, reduce truck rolls, and help ensure that technicians are armed with the right tools and parts when they do have to go on-site.
“Leading IoT solutions help organizations increase productivity and efficiency by providing enterprise visibility into real-time product performance and asset information,” Heppelmann says. “The data and intelligence from your connected products and assets can be integrated with your existing business systems to create improved business processes that can transform business models and drive improvements in efficiencies and effectiveness throughout all functions of the enterprise.”
These benefits can be manifest in a number of different usage scenarios. Medical devices can now track and report a patient’s health status to their physician without the patient having to go through the inconvenience of an office visit, and the devices themselves can be updated and repaired remotely. Security programs can monitor premises and assets “in the field” through IoT and have the capability to quickly report any abnormalities so that companies can stay up to date on any vulnerabilities. Farms can leverage location data, weather data, and data about physical conditions to optimize field planning and water use through the growing season.
Real-time performance monitoring and prediction enables improvements in the service processes related to scheduling maintenance and enhancing customer support. Likewise, sales and marketing is empowered with greater insight around customer usage and behavior patterns.
IoT Enables New Service Offerings
IoT also helps service companies create new types of offerings and revenue opportunities, as well as new types of internal performance and incentive programs. Remote monitoring and repair can be offered at a premium, for example, or via service contracts that provide more appeal than traditional break-fix scenarios.
“In the fleet or transportation space, this may be as simple as selling advertising space on digital signage or asking the ridership to pay for access to a faster Wi-Fi service,” Ralston says. “Others find savings in promoting good driving behavior from their employees. Reducing the average speed employees drive or ensuring that employees are staying on route greatly reduces an organization’s fuel expense.”
Internally, that data can help companies tweak their own product or service offerings based on real-time performance information. Utilities, for example, could utilize smart meters to reduce the cost of reading those meters, obviously, but also use that data for prescriptive analytics around consumer demand for power during peak periods.
“By getting a better handle on this information, utilities can more precisely scope out future power needs, understand what they need to do and when they need to do it, and avoid the possibility of overbuilding for demand before it’s actually needed,” Lluberes says. “In this equation, the total cost-avoidance for the utilities could come to several orders of magnitude beyond that of the savings for consumers.”
Companies can remotely push out updates or bug fixes to assets, more quickly identify abnormal product behavior, work proactively with customers to ensure they are using equipment in an optimal way, and trigger automated event responses and escalations that improve customer service.
“Transforming service models to enable Product-as-a- Service or outcome-based service models is the direction many leading service executives are heading toward,” Heppelmann says. “The only practical way to get there is to have a strong direct relationship with the product. The ability to identify and resolve issues, to predict outcomes, and to control and optimize the performance of the product at anytime from anywhere is a critical contribution that IoT brings to make this a reality.”
Continuous Product Improvement
The availability of real-time product performance information from the field also adds a new dimension to product quality and the design process. Insight into how products are performing and how customers are actually using them can go beyond just helping field technicians service those products. The data can be fed to the engineering and design teams to help improve future iterations of those same products or to help guide them in creating new products.
“IoT solutions offer the ability to continually interact with the product from the time it leaves the factory, throughout its entire lifetime of operation,” Heppelmann says. “This continuous feedback loop guides the functional specification of future products and transforms design inputs from theoretical models into an endless source of real-time models complete with real-time environmental parameters. Quality engineers can now test product designs against actual operating piped back from physical products in the field.”
Businesses should assess how the new capabilities and data from smart, connected products can deliver value to their customers and within their own organization. Those efforts should focus on finding partners and technology that can reduce the cost, risk, and time-to-market to deliver innovative IoT applications. For service and transportation companies, that will enable a shift from reactive to proactive services.
“We can expect to see a perceptible shift of IoT data from descriptive analytical fuel to prescriptive,” Lluberes says. “Up until now, analytics-based IoT data has been primarily descriptive (answering questions about what has happened), somewhat predictive (describing what’s going to happen), and just a touch prescriptive (recommending what to do about it). Predictive and prescriptive components will come to play a more prominent role.”
What is unique about IoT is not the type of data collected, but how companies can aggregate multiple data sets and glean insight into their operations in ways that were previously difficult or impossible. “As more and more data is generated, it gets increasingly complex, making it difficult to extract pieces of information, understand it, and make good decisions,” Ralston says. “Pulling the data into a unified view eliminates that problem by presenting a user with a single view, consolidating data sources through API-level integration, and pulling real-time data from IoT. These systems will help to accelerate IoT platform development, find new trends, and make Big Data analysis more efficient.”