How enterprises are using connectivity to transform their operations?
Covid-19 has seen adoption of Internet of Things technologies accelerate, as businesses leveraged the flexibility offered by IoT devices to maintain business continuity throughout lockdowns.
A survey from UK telco Vodafone found 84% of those companies who adopted IoT felt the technology – which brings connectivity to devices, or “things” – played a key role in keeping their businesses operating during the crisis. This prompted 74% of IoT users to speed-up their adoption plans.
But what exactly is IoT? Formerly known as machine-to-machine technology, IoT brings connectivity to existing physical devices, be it cars or factories, allowing them to exchange data through sensors, processing ability, software and other tech.
This can range from connected appliances in the home, like a smart TV, to autonomous farming equipment that can be operated remotely, and spans most enterprise sectors.
The rapid increase in IoT adoption has meant businesses have seen a better return on investment, a decrease in operational cost, and greater flexibility when supporting their customers. The boost has also meant an upgrade in IoT applications themselves.
The adoption of IoT doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, as Brain & Company expects the combined markets for IoT, including hardware, software, systems integration, and data and telecom services to grow to $520 billion by 2021.
So, what exactly are IoT service providers and specialists doing to be transforming how industries operate?
Experts from Ericsson, Lightricity, and Ivanti Wavelink spoke to TechInformed about some recent IoT deployments and how these have aided enterprises in overhauling their operations.
Swedish telecoms specialist Ericsson has been offering IoT solutions for years. It partnered with Voi, a Scandinavian urban mobility company that provides electric scooter sharing in partnership with cities and local communities across the globe. Voi needed an IoT solution to track and monitor its e-scooters in case of maintenance issues, damage, loss and other safety concerns.
Mehwish Farhan, head of IoT enterprise sales at Ericsson speaks about the recent partnership with Voi:
What challenges was Voi trying to overcome?
Voi was the first shared e-scooter company to launch in Europe with its fleet in Stockholm, including products and services geared to the consumer market. What Voi quickly learned was the amount of wear and tear the scooters endured. Therefore, tracking and monitoring scooters were essential. Other challenges include careless parking and vandalism of scooters, as well as safety issues for riders and unsuspecting pedestrians because scooters are so quiet.
How has IoT deployment helped Voi?
Voi has taken an approach by building a cellular-enabled IoT platform into its ecosystem – not only to address the above-mentioned challenges while enhancing the e-scooter rider experience and realising further operational benefits, but also to enable digital value creation for a whole ecosystem around e-scooters. Such an ecosystem can include a broad range of actors such as suppliers of scooter components (e.g., battery and sensor vendors), value-added service providers (e.g., providers of urban mobility safety services) and local partnerships with both private and public sectors, including city councils. All these players can benefit from cellular IoT connectivity and the services that Voi’s digital platform enables.
A growing range of IoT sensors are enabling not only operational use cases, such as location tracking, and monitoring wear and tear of scooter parts, but also innovative applications such as preventing dangerous riding to reduce accidents and facilitating rewards for parking scooters in designated areas to reduce cluttering. Bringing further value to city administrations as ecosystem stakeholders, Voi is adding sensors to measure environmental parameters such as noise and air quality as the scooters travel along the streets.
What solution did Voi choose?
The solution Voi was looking for needed reliability, security, and real-time IoT connectivity. Voi cannot manage its connected scooters worldwide without having full visibility and control of the entire fleet. Ericsson, in conjunction with our communication service provider partner Arkessa, provides global cellular IoT connectivity and management for Voi’s connected scooters around the world. Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator platform provides managed connectivity services which span the entire lifecycle of the scooter fleet and enables Voi to deploy in multiple countries and regions globally in a seamless fashion.
What were the results?
Having reliable, real-time and secure connectivity was critical for Voi. Unless the scooter is connected, Voi cannot determine if the scooter requires service and is unavailable to riders. This directly impacts Voi’s bottom line and reputation in providing a world-class service.
Arkessa’s global connectivity offers Voi the flexibility to deploy its growing fleet of e-scooters in a broad range of countries while localizing data, minimizing costs and optimizing coverage. During the lifetime of an e-scooter, one single SIM can connect to different mobile networks without the need for physical replacements, offering significant cost savings in fleet management.
Voi can set up rules to monitor tampering of SIMs or unusual surges in connectivity or low/no connectivity indicating the scooter requires attention. Voi is alerted when there are possible misuses, such as if the SIM cards generate more than 10 MB of traffic in an hour. Theft can also be prevented with warning notices if SIM cards are removed from the original scooter.
Voi benefits from monitoring connectivity and powerful automation features, which ultimately affect Voi’s bottom line. For example, monitoring and tracking the wear and tear of scooters enables Voi to enable predictive maintenance and identify scooters due for refurbishment or resales.
Lightricity has developed a unique technology for IoT devices that enables them to be powered through indoor light sources, a sustainable solution to battery-powered IoT. It has been trialling this solution with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to help medical staff track and locate medical equipment across hospital sites.
How has IoT deployment helped overhaul operations?
Lightricity has been trialling its 4EverTrack IoT device within the NHS to help medical staff track and locate medical equipment across hospital sites. The technology is unique as it harnesses the energy from indoor light sources to power Internet of Things (IoT) devices using solar PV panels. With the support of a £1.3 million grant from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, IoT systems installations in two NHS hospitals were carried out at scale. The successful trial demonstrated that the location performance of Lightricity’s IoT device is as good as battery-powered devices and is more environmentally friendly with no need to dispose of batteries.
The technology has also been used in the construction sector for tool and equipment tracking, as well as in retail for display refrigerator monitoring and warehouse tracking – all demonstrating the technology’s suitability to replace battery-powered devices.
What problem were you trying to overcome?
IoT devices are often battery-powered and this can be hazardous for the environment. More than 100 million batteries are thrown away every single day, with improper disposal leading to water and air pollution. Powered by indoor light sources, our 4EverTrack IoT device has enabled customers to eliminate batteries from their IoT solutions. This brings the environmental benefit of avoiding the waste impact of batteries being disposed of at end of life. It also helps avoid the cases where customers dispose of whole tracking device or sensor nodes rather than changing batteries, for example with devices that need to be sealed. Further, it avoids the carbon footprint of travel to change batteries
What were the challenges that you faced?
Without financial support, the project would have taken significantly longer to get off the ground. The £1.3 million grant and support from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund reduced risk for all parties during the development stage and without the funding, it would have taken significantly longer to secure pilot trials and supply chain partnerships. The funding enabled us to work with key IoT industry systems integrators, solutions providers and end customers to demonstrate our battery-free tracker and sensor technologies in their systems installations at scale. It allowed us to address multiple use-cases from hospital, retail, construction and manufacturing industries and very rapidly improve performance – all in just 12 months.
What were the results?
The project demonstrated that our battery-free technology is able to power IoT devices by harnessing energy from indoor light sources, bringing significant environmental benefits. With support from Innovate UK, we accelerated our development from prototype device to at-scale IoT installations. We’re pleased that through this demonstration the value-add of our technology has been proven and we look forward to expanding our proposition further through commercial sales.
Ivanti Wavelink, a specialist in supply chain IoT, helped Australian BBQ manufacturer Weber upgrade its handheld warehouse devices to cope with increased demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What challenges was Weber trying to overcome?
Since the pandemic, Weber struggled to keep up with the increased demand for its BBQ’s within its warehouse.
Specific challenges faced by the warehouse workers derived from their mobile-computing technology (handheld devices and scanners that helped with warehouse tasks such as product put away and order picking), and it needed upgrading. Whilst the devices were a great tool for staff, they made warehouse processes inefficient as they spent extra time than needed handling the device and looking at the screen for instructions and key clicking. This affected managing stock movements as the products were usually large and needed two hands which was difficult when staff had to physically keep hold of the device, maintaining visibility of what is where, and keeping staff safe and on track with product picking.
These issues were emphasised further in 2020 when Weber offered free delivery during the Australian lockdown, which saw an increase in demand.
What solution did Weber turn to?
By using robots, AI, and voice solutions for application benefits. The immediate need was to replace existing mobile devices. Ivanti moved Weber to an Android-based mobile device, which unlocked functionality that could address the challenges being experienced in the warehouse. Ivanti moved Weber onto its Ivanti Velocity platform, which allowed Weber to add voice to their processes. The ability to add voice meant that warehouse staff no longer needed to physically interact with their mobile device and instead relied on voice commands and acknowledgment.
What were the results?
The move to add voice to the mobile device resulted in a 12-second reduction in the time taken to pick an item, saving two hours a day in total. Also, workers are less distracted, and the handsfree devices solved the safety concerns staff had when handheld were in use. Their growth in warehouse space has been effectively supported as well, enabling future process enhancement.
“Shifting to voice-based processes in the warehouse at Weber has created a significant impact,” said Terry Garner, the Weber logistics manager for Australia and New Zealand. “We have experienced a 12-second reduction in the time to pick an item. In product-picking numbers, that equates to time savings of 20 minutes for every 100 items picked, representing a boost in productivity.”
Despite the increase in stock demand, the new technology resulted in additional staff needed, but less staff recruited due to the productivity gains of the voice solutions. This allowed for a low operational cost and therefore a better return on investment.
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