Enterprises active in a broad range of sectors are hurriedly preparing for a future where Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, informed by millions of connected sensor devices, offer robust real-time insights into key operational aspects within their organizations.
In sectors as varied as retail, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, hospitality, and government, companies are discovering applications of IoT technology that not only capably serve distinct business needs, but can also transform the very methods by which organizations do business.
A comprehensive recent study, conducted by IT analyst firm Forrester and commissioned by Zebra Technologies, finds more than 80% of the nearly 600 global enterprises surveyed agreeing that IoT solutions will be their organization’s most strategic technology initiative in the coming years.
The Zebra-Forrester study points to a very near future where IoT solutions are a staple of enterprise technology across industries, as organizations require both strategic overviews and deep insights into complex business processes.
Online and mobile app-based solutions look to provide these valuable viewpoints, aided by machine-to-machine technologies like sensors, GPS, RFID tags, etc. The study shows that IoT solutions are soon to be considered essentials of enterprise decision-making and execution, owing largely to the data-based insights and control of physical assets they provide.
IoT Opportunities and Challenges
So how important – and how challenging – do enterprises find it to implement new IoT solutions? While 81% of businesses considered IoT sensor devices as important to their needs, 58% also recognized it as a technical hurdle. Similarly, IoT solutions involving smartphones, tablets, or handheld devices are important to 75% of surveyed enterprises and are seen as a challenge by 54%.
Digging deeper into the details of execution, enterprises are implementing systems where Wi-Fi, real-time location tracking, and security sensors are key elements. For example, technologies such as Wi-Fi and ZigBee (a mesh network for wireless LANs able to serve large areas) best serve supply chain applications, the parameters of which stretch over wider physical spaces. Cellular technologies are the better fit for real-time monitoring of assets, such as shipping containers.
The survey showed enterprise decision makers envisioning a world where individual managers and workers can use simple app software interfaces on mobile equipment to leverage information from hundreds of thousands of IoT sensors and command the flow of vast supply chains with ease. When it comes to making sense of an IoT operation’s myriad of data points and rallying controls to a single command center, there will be an app for that.
IoT Sees Global Momentum
The IoT is demonstrating global momentum, as 64% of organizations indicated they either already have an IoT solution in place or are in the process of implementing one (and an additional 34% plan to implement an IoT solution within five years). All totaled, by 2020 nearly 98% of organizations surveyed should have active IoT solutions in place, making them near ubiquitous.
And this is true across geographic regions: Asia Pacific organizations lead the pack with 70% reporting they have or are currently testing an IoT solution, driven by development of new cities, buildings, and infrastructure in many Asia Pacific countries. At the same time, 60% of North American and half of European organizations surveyed have or are implementing their IoT solutions.
IoT Platforms Are in the Driver’s Seat
IoT platforms are the drivers of IoT development, enabling enterprises to deploy and manage their connected devices and applications. IoT solutions often need to straddle multiple networks and interface seamlessly with a wide variety of devices and applications.
When asked about the importance of certain capabilities an IoT platform solution could provide, 84% of businesses said it was important or very important to be able to easily share device and sensor data, and four in five saw a strong need to capture and store connected device and sensor data.
Which partners would be helpful to organizations in realizing IoT solutions? 57% of global enterprise IoT decision makers look to device manufacturers, companies that make sensors, active and passive RFID tags, GPS and mobile devices.
The IoT Advantage
Improved customer experience (which half of enterprises list as a top-five benefit), as well as supply chain optimization, visibility, and loss prevention (each identified by 45-46% of those surveyed) are viewed as the most advantageous IoT benefits for businesses.
Introducing IoT technologies to these business processes and others improves efficiencies, multiplies worker effectiveness, and ensures all assets are locatable and can be positioned and optimized to achieve the best value.
In a future very soon to arrive, vast galaxies of enterprise assets will not only have all their information available and in the hands (and mobile apps) of workers and decision makers – those supply chains all the way up to (and including) the customer product interaction experience will be understood, shaped, and continuously improved upon, all thanks to a multitude of unobtrusive and interconnected sensors.
Mark Kirstein is the Senior Director of Enterprise Software for Zebra Technologies, where he works closely with Zebra’s RhoMobile Suite.