What is IoT and where to start?

The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is all around us, quite literally. It is used to not just enhance our private lives via smart meters, smart lights, or smart central heating, but also by business to help them deliver their services more efficiently and effectively.

But what is IoT? In essence it’s a network of ‘things’ which usually have some software and sensors integrated that connect and exchange data with other devices over a wireless network without human intervention. Typically these sensors detect things like motion, temperature, humidity, light etc., which then allows organisations to react to the changes in these inputs, as well as combining these with other sources to help spot patterns and trends. Ultimately, this will help them deliver better services and outcomes for their customers.

There are many great examples of this across all sectors, and the use cases are wide ranging. For instance, they can help support housing organisations by allowing proactive maintenance of boilers, by measuring the wear and tear of the component parts and therefore allowing these smaller components to be replaced before they lead to wider problems. Whilst helping reduce the cost of repairing the boilers (which is typically a large amount), it also helps deliver a better experience as losing your boiler in the middle of winter is a huge inconvenience (and potentially even a health threatening one if you’re an older resident).

Other examples include leveraging sensors to support research, for example by helping measure water temperature or humidity in certain regions. This not only ensures that the researcher has access to much more data more cost effectively, but can also lead to much more informed decisions around environmental impact of certain processes, and hopefully support organisations move towards a greener future.

Even something as simple as measuring the air flow or number of occupants of a room helps support organisations work in a much more Covid-secure manner, thereby improving the wellbeing of staff by reducing the likelihood of illness, and also an ensuring higher levels of productivity by avoiding absences due to illness. .

But how do you go about do about exploring these services and starting to unlock the benefits of IoT? I’d say, as always, don’t start with the technology – start with the outcomes or the pain points. Work out the most expensive costs associated with the organisation, or some of the key things driving customer satisfaction. From there, look to work out how technology can help to either reduce those costs or improve that experience. Taking this outcome-based approach ensures that the technology implemented delivers real, tangible value and hopefully delivers the greater ROI.

Once you’ve picked the target area, then start small – either via a pilot or, more accurately, a proof of value. This helps to make sure that the use case is going to benefit from the technology (allowing you to change quickly if it doesn’t without large sunk costs) and also helps to develop the skills and learnings for a wider deployment. The reason I’ve used the term proof of value is I do feel that when doing this it’s essential to define some key success criteria early. For example, F proving the platform is scalable, or proving that the sensors can gather the right information and ultimately proving that it will deliver savings.

Post proof of value it’s important to ensure that the rollout is also done in an agile, scalable manner therefore allowing value to be unlocked at each sprint, rather than waiting x months or years before the benefits are seen. It also allows you to potentially start to widen the scope organically if the rollout is effective i.e. leveraging other sensors or combining it with other initiatives.

Above all, however, if you’re looking at IoT it’s important to remember that these sensors are just data sources or inputs. As such, if you’re going to maximise the effectiveness of the technology it’s equally important to start to develop a more data driven culture. This in turn will help generate wider benefits, such as improved decision making, or the development of more effective processes.

A blog by Ben Gannon – Data and AI Specialist, Phoenix Software

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