CIOs should steal these Internet of Things ideas from IDC

Nigel Wallis probably didn’t mean to turn the tech startup Uber’s name into a verb. It just sort of happened.

Speaking at a breakfast event last week that was co-hosted with ITAC, the IDC Canada research director was trying to explain to a crowd of vendors how CIOs, their teams and their partners could identify the business opportunities presented by the Internet of Things (IoT). As he described a future of increasing IP-connected end points that communicate without human interaction, Wallis pointed organizations in retail, distribution and government to firms like Uber, which lets users order car services via a ridesharing app that connects to limo, towncar or everyday passenger vehicle drivers.

“Think about fleet management — how many drivers do you need?” Wallis asked the crowd, suggesting that the IoT will provide much more information about usage that will allow dynamic allocation of such resources. “You could ‘Uberize’ your own car. Let it do deliveries for other people when you’re in the office for eight hours.”

IDC defines the IoT as “a network of networks of uniquely identifiable end points that communicate without human interaction using IP connectivity be it locally or globally.” That differs from organizations like Cisco, which include human beings in the mix and describe the approach as an “Internet of Everything.” What most agree on, however, is that as everything from home thermostats to the walls of office buildings become available to corporate networks via Internet protocol, there should be major benefits available to the organizations that develop a strategy around it.

Beyond the scheduling of vehicles, for example, Wallis said there were major ways that the IoT could help Canada improve its rate of productivity compared with other countries, or improve the quality of what gets done by leveraging IoT data to catch errors and reduce them in the future. In utilities, for example, Wallis said water companies don’t necessarily know much about what happens to the resource they provide — water goes in a pipe and comes out the other end. The spread of connectivity from the IoT, however, means they would learn more about how much water is consumed in given locations, which would avoid overproducing what gets sent through pipes, or preventing leakages before an entire system gets shut down.

“It’s the best panel or focus group you’ll ever have, because you’re getting feedback in real time,” he said. “It will let you change your business model to something driven by better service, or offer new lines of business, or new moats around what you would think about as your business models.”

Wallis said companies should look for “adjacencies and inspiration” wherever possible, and offered the following ideas to get them started:

  • In health care, Wallis discussed a company that supplied bacterial cultures that were stored in a refrigerator. In the past, a clipboard was used to sign out cultures, but IP connectivity inside the refrigerator can allow the firm to determine more efficiently how often they need to be replaced. The refrigerators can now be rented out with its contents as a subscription model.
  • Companies like General Electric that deploy turbines can use IoT to collect terabytes of data a day. Armed with that information, they have an opportunity to displace third-party maintenance firms by conducting preventing repairs before things break down.
  • In the oil sands, tracking vehicles may have tired that are worth $55,000. That’s means they’re worth connecting to the network, Wallis said, in order to gather details on where they are and how they’re being used.

In a panel discussion at the event, furniture firm Teknion’s CIO, John Comacchio, said his company was intrigued by how the IoT could be used around its office campus or even in the field.

“We’re a build-to-order business. As you’re building, or renovating, you change your mind,” he said. “It would be great to say, ‘That floor’s not ready yet, can we divert the load (of materials) and ship to this other floor instead? That kind of connection to our manufacturing floor . . . would be very helpful for us.”

Comacchio added that while Teknion is not a technology company, finding the right vendor partners could open up some interesting possibilities. “It’d be great to have Intel inside our furniture and technology that could provide a platform and conduit to information that companies need,” he said.

Of course, the IoT will come with some security concerns, but Wallis said most of them were “annoying but not fatal.” Perhaps a bigger concern will be around governance, risk and compliance (GRC). As more end points get connected to IP, it could require a rewrite of some firm’s terms of service agreements, or spark uncomfortable conversations about how data is collected and used and then “hard-coding” that philosophy into their products, Wallis said. It could also force former rivals in certain sectors to become “frenemies,” he added, in order to serve the needs of mutual customers. Despite those challenges, the outcome could be worth it.

“When you look at business and IT priorities in Canada, (CIOs) want to improve productivity. They want to do things and automate tasks and reduce complexity,” he said. “The Internet of Things, properly implemented, has the capabilities to do all of this.”

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