5 Ways the Internet of Things Can Improve Efficiency

The Internet of Things, or IoT—the network of devices connected to the internet and to each other—is growing at an astounding rate. A report by communication tech company Ericsson estimates that by 2022 there will be around eighteen billion Internet of Things devices communicating with each other around the world. This represents an enormous opportunity for businesses looking to operate more effectively and efficiently.

And, those increased efficiencies will impact HR departments worldwide. “While humans are still in the center of all these machines, it’s time for HR to up the ante and prepare the workforce for these new waves of technology,” writes Patrick Willer in a post for ERE Media’s Talent Management and HR site.

“Companies are facing another wave of technology that will have a big impact on the way we work. The human resources department is in a unique position to prepare the workforce for this new way of working and to utilize the big data generated by IoT,” concludes Patrick Willer.

The following use cases will help you anticipate some of the many changes coming our way as IoT acceptance continues to build.

It’s All About the Data

Much of the advantage the Internet of Things brings to business is in the form of data. You’ve probably heard of Big Data, a term that refers to the massive amounts of information collected and stored by connected devices. And as big as Big Data was when it first entered the scene in the early 2010s, it’s only getting bigger by the day. That growth is due in large part to the sensors that make up much of the Internet of Things. Companies are using these sensors and devices to gather enormous amounts of information, which they can then leverage to increase efficiency in amazing ways. Here are five examples of how the IoT is growing efficiency across industries.

  1. The IoT Decreases Maintenance Times

Equipment maintenance is an unavoidable part of doing business; downtime due to maintenance doesn’t have to be, though. The transportation industry, for example, is using the IoT and Big Data in smart ways to anticipate maintenance needs and take care of issues in more efficient ways. The aim is to address problems before they spiral into costly emergencies.

One of the leading innovators in this space is Rolls Royce. The company builds its Engine Health Management system into its aircraft engines. The system, a combination of sensors and powerful analytics tools, generates and sifts through terabytes of data on every flight, allowing Rolls-Royce to identify issues and plan maintenance well in advance. This helps minimize delays for passengers and keep fuel and other operating costs down for airlines.

  1. The IoT Helps Source Public Safety Data

Another area where the Internet of Things can increase efficiency is in the collection and analysis of public safety data. In this field, time is especially critical. The more difficult and time-consuming it is to gather and assess info, the greater the chances of someone being injured in a disaster like a fire, storm, or avalanche.

The latter is the focus for Mountain Hub (formerly known as Avatech), a startup that was born at MIT and is developing smart solutions to help snow-safety professionals assess avalanche risks. One of the company’s flagship products is the Avatech SP2, a foldable probe that can be inserted into a snowpack to test the structural integrity in seconds. The probe measures the force needed to push it into the snow using pressure sensors, and it displays the info on a screen built into the handle. More importantly, it can sync with a mobile device and upload that data to build a global map of snowpack conditions and avalanche risks based on collected user data.

  1. The IoT Helps Streamline and Automate Manufacturing

Manufacturing has been heavily impacted by the Internet of Things, with spending on IoT technology expected to reach $70 billion per year by 2020. It’s likely that much of that investment will go toward the same objectives being focused on currently: asset tracking, maintenance, and control room function consolidation.

Many major global manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon, including Harley-Davidson, which has been retrofitting existing equipment in its plants with sensors and a software system to alert managers about potential issues and keep everything running smoothly and efficiently. The company considers the project a success—it has allowed them to stop keeping and maintaining redundant equipment at the plant to serve as backup in case of failure.

  1. The IoT Helps Streamline Retail Operations 

In the retail world, big names like Walmart and Macy’s are now using IoT technology to streamline operations and allow brick-and-mortar stores to compete with online channels. The tech helps with inventory management, loss prevention, and data gathering on which items are selling and which are taking up space. This allows stores to optimize layouts and make the best use of their limited space.

Macy’s uses a system of RFID tags—tiny connected chips with antennas to broadcast data—that significantly reduces the amount of time and manpower needed to replenish stock and manage inventory. The company places the RFID tags in the pricing labels of merchandise. The tags can then be scanned by employees with handheld units that can grab info from an entire rack of clothes in one pass and then pinpoint the location of items missing from the rack in the stockroom. The system, originally piloted in New York in 2009, is being rolled out to all its locations by the end of 2017.

  1. The IoT Helps Streamline City Management

Businesses aren’t the only organizations that can benefit from the Internet of Things. Cities are also using the technology to more efficiently handle common issues, from traffic jams to building maintenance. Europe is leading the pack here, with several major cities working on IoT initiatives.

London is testing a smart parking system designed to speed up the process of finding an available parking space. The city believes this will help alleviate traffic congestion. Another example is Copenhagen, where over 40 percent of the population uses bikes for transportation. The city is using sensors to monitor bike traffic and improve routes.

These are just a few examples—the possibilities the IoT opens for organizations and businesses is tremendous. It won’t be long before any company that wants to compete will have to jump on board. How will that impact your HR department? Are you prepared?

Photo Credit: JCT600 Flickr via Compfight cc

What to Do Now About the Widening Gap in Data Skills

With the rise of our technology driven, increasingly mobile society, as well as the steady march forward of the Internet of Things, big data is everywhere. And when I say big — I mean big. And many people are wondering just what to do about the widening data skills gap.

Here are some eye-opening stats:

  • Big Data is big news:There has been more data created in two short years than in the entire history of the human race, and 73 percent of companies have already invested or plan to invest in big data this year.
  • Big Data means big money:For a typical Fortune 1000 company, a 10 percent increase in data accessibility could equal more than $65 million additional net income.
  • Big Data means big operating margins:Retailers who capitalize on big data could increase their operating margins by as much as 60 percent.
  • Big Data means big potential:Here’s the kicker, though — less than 0.5 percent of all the data created and tracked is being used.

The rise of the data scientist.

As more businesses complete their digital transformations, we can pity the poor Chief Data Officer, who are finding it increasingly difficult to fill the roles needed. First, there’s a definite dearth of qualified data scientists and data analysts out there: A study by McKinsey reported that “…by 2018, the U.S. alone may face a 50 to 60 percent gap between supply and requisite demand of deep analytic talent.” And that means one thing. When the demand far outweighs the supply, those in demand aren’t going to come cheap. According to a recent Bloomberg piece, the starting salaries for data scientists have already topped the $200,000 per year mark and summer internships pay anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 a month.

Recruiting and hiring for big data.

So how do you recruit and hire for data analyst roles? To start with, you need to look for people who are equal parts number-crunchers and visionaries. Your talent has to be able to decipher what the data means and to describe the “big picture” the data is forming.

  • Next, partner with higher education.The great news is that colleges and universities are starting to wake up to this data skills gap. Deloitte’s Analytics Trends 2016 reports that university analytics and data science programs are gathering steam, both in America and abroad. And this is where companies can benefit. As John Lucker, principal at Deloitte Consulting said recently,” Companies…need to really develop close relationships with these degree programs. Creating a true courtship between companies and universities is becoming more and more important.”
  • Invest in current employees.While you don’t want to try and fit a square peg into a round hole, there’s a possibility you have people on your team already who have that perfect mix I spoke about above. Perhaps the person in business operations who happens to have an affinity for crunching numbers and analyzing data results. Maybe one of your programmers works closely with the digital marketing teams and therefore has a deep understanding of the goals and strategies when it comes to customer acquisition and retention. Keeping your eyes peeled for these types, and developing training programs for existing employees who are interested in big data (or who know big data and are interested in learning more about the company as a whole) can save money in the long run.
  • Keep systems and technology up to date.This might cost at the beginning, but ensuring you have the best technology available will help you whether you’re looking to hire or train from within.A recent Bain study found that of the 400 companies they spoke to (with revenue in the billion dollar range), at least a third didn’t have the state-of-the-art tools, quality data, processes, and incentives in-house that are needed to attract and retain high-level data analysts.

If investing in tech is out of range right now, you could also consider outsourcing your data-analytics to a respected managed services provider (MSP). But be sure and treat that relationship as a partnership, and be involved every step of the way. Your MSP should be privy to how your business runs. Don’t just outsource your data analytics and hope for the best.

The goal of every organization today should be ensuring they have a fully functioning and well-staffed data analytics program in place. This requires a bit of investment, but also requires collaboration and communication between those dealing with the data, and those dealing with the results. Start thinking outside the box now, and take proactive steps to make sure your businesses growth isn’t stifled by the widening “big data” skills gap.

A version of this was first posted on Entrepreneur.