Putting a Business Focus on IoT

Dave McCarthy, Senior Director of Products, BSQUARE
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Dave McCarthy, Senior Director of Products, BSQUARE

It is hard to escape the hype surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is now firmly on the radar of most CIOs. For technologists, it is the perfect storm of smart devices, connectivity and cloud services. However, in there lies a trap. It is easy to get sidetracked on the allure of the technology and lose focus on the purpose for embarking on an IoT journey.

Identifying a use case

IoT has the potential to transform businesses by closing the gap between traditional enterprise systems and data that is generated from equipment in the field. The key to success is identifying a tangible business use case that can provide a meaningful improvement to the business. Some use cases benefit the bottom line by reducing operation costs, either through increased efficiencies or process automation. Others benefit the top line by creating new sources of revenue. Either way, any IoT initiative not grounded in a sound business objective is destined to remain a lab experiment.

  ​Either way, any IoT initiative not grounded in a sound business objective is destined to remain a lab experiment 

For industrial companies, the most attractive use cases involve capital intensive, mission-critical equipment. Since these are typically revenue generating assets, any associated downtime has significant impact to the business. That is why use cases such as predictive failure receive a lot of attention. The ability to understand when an asset may fail enables operations teams to plan for the outage, minimizing any negative impact. Combining that capability with automated diagnostics is an area known as prognostics. The goal is to not just predict when a problem may occur, but also shrink the time it takes to bring it back online.

For others, asset performance is critical. Businesses are often under pressure to reduce costs and extend the usable life of equipment. Condition-based maintenance enables companies to transition from a reactive to a proactive approach. Gone are the days when maintenance scheduled are based on standard usage intervals, which leads to over and under-serviced equipment. They are now replaced with dynamic data-driven ones based on actual need.  

Applying IoT to an Industry

It is important to recognize how these use cases are applied within different industries. While the base motivations are similar, each has its own unique characteristics. For example, transportation companies manage mobile assets, where connectivity is not always guaranteed.  This can wreak havoc on IoT solutions that rely solely on the cloud for data processing, not to mention the costs of transmitting large amounts of data over cellular modems. This is an environment where it makes sense to distribute intelligence down to the vehicles themselves.

In industries like clean energy, wind farms, and solar panel arrays are often spread out across large geographic areas, which makes it challenging when software updates and configuration changes are needed. It also increases concerns around security and the integrity of the power grids they serve. While a device management solution may seem like the answer, most traditional software is designed for an enterprise environment, consisting of laptops, desktops and servers. Instead, IoT-specific device management that is intended for this specialized equipment is needed.

There are also many opportunities in the supply chain, including shipping and logistics companies. Since the data powering these solutions often span multiple entities, there is an increased focus on integration. This is also an industry where speed and scalability is important. A typical approach is adding sensors or tags to provide real-time information for asset tracking and cargo integrity. Not only does this help synchronize supply chain operations, but also serves as a method for attributing liability in the event something does not go as planned.

Designing a successful solution

Once you have identified a business use case and understand how it applies to your industry, it is time to architect and deploy the appropriate IoT solution. Microsoft offers many core platform components that contribute to the overall solution. On the equipment side, Windows 10 IoT supports a wide range of devices, ranging from small gateways to large industrial automation systems. In the cloud, Microsoft Azure provides a secure and scalable infrastructure that meets the needs of large-scale deployments.

To complete the solution, Bsquare, a long standing Microsoft Partner, combines these core platform components with its DataV IoT software stack to deliver business-focused use cases to its customers. Bsquare also provides comprehensive integration services to integrate both Microsoft and DataV software into enterprise and industrial environments, helping companies improve business outcomes.

Don’t make the mistake of treating IoT as a technology initiative. The path to success is identifying a clear business objective and making sure that it provides measurable value.

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