If you hate the idea of living in a digitally connected, always-on world, look away now. Unplugging and getting away from technology is going to get incredibly difficult, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center and Elon University. With almost half of the world’s 7.5 billion people connected online, technology is an ever present in their lives. Increasingly, people are using smart phones to control home thermostats, remote camera technology to keep an eye on our pets while we’re at work, and FitBit devices to continuously monitor are health and activity.
By 2026, this human/machine connectivity will become ubiquitous according to the experts.
Making these types of interconnections possible is the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to describe the inter-networking of physical electronic devices, vehicles, buildings, or anything else that uses embedded sensors, software, actuators or network connectivity to collect and exchange data for a range of different uses.
If emissions sensors are connected to heavy machinery, we can solve air pollution issues. If soil-based sensors communicate with irrigation systems, we can regulate water use.
Rather than being an overnight success, like the iPhone, IoT devices have instead crept into our daily lives and are growing in popularity, with the number of internet-connected smart devices growing exponentially in the last few years.
But it is in the business world that IoT devices and technologies could have the greatest impact, particularly in supporting companies becoming more sustainable, resilient and efficient. According to McKinsey, IoT could streamline business operations and support economies to the tune of $11 trillion a year by 2025.
So, how can IoT support companies?
- Reducing product miles
IoT has been widely used in the manufacturing sector for the last few years, with the large majority of professionals in the industry believing it to be the most significant technology change of the last decade, according to a survey by Zebra Technologies.
Warehouse teams can use smart tablets to better track products from factory, to warehouse, to customer, cutting down on mileage that products have to travel and making delivery much more efficient so that customers receive goods at the right time.
- Extending the life of machinery and equipment
Popularised by Ellen MacArthur earlier this decade, the concept of circular economies has been adopted by many businesses. But the idea of developing products and business models that champion restorative and regenerative design to keep products ‘alive’ for as long as possible, over the traditional take-make-throw model that currently dominates is no mean feat.
But IoT could change that. By proactively tracking products and electronic devices, companies can better monitor the condition, use and exact location of any given ‘thing’ throughout its lifetime. By knowing when products or machinery is in need of maintenance, for example, their lifespan can be boosted and energy efficiency maximised.
According to Project Mainstream, circular thinking could generate $52bn worth of savings by making sure products stay out of landfill.
- Saving energy and water
The most obvious way companies can make the best use of IoT is in saving on their utility bills, in much the same way individuals are at home. Interconnected devices can give facilities managers much more data and control of heating, cooling and lighting – the things that contribute most to annual energy and water bills. IoT can also be used to control and monitor rubbish collection too.
- Make supply chains smarter
For companies with complex and wide ranging lists of suppliers, understanding where the environmental impact hotspots are is crucial. Asking for data and information from supplier companies that are using IoT devices should become a lot easier in the future. IoT technologies offer the opportunity to remotely monitor and automate the efficiency of devices in multiple locations, and to track the condition of assets, and personnel issues at suppliers everywhere, sending information back to a central database to be analysed for risk, operational efficiency and performance.