Could there ever be a time when beer, manufacturing floors and healthcare mix? Believe me when I say that it’s possible, just maybe not the way you think. The connection between these three actually has the most to do with business strategy, and it involves customer service, operations and the thread that links these concepts to real-world data: the Internet of Things.
After reading this article by Steve Banker and checking out a few healthcare- and manufacturing-related tradeshows (HIMSS15 and Automate, to be exact), I recognized the similarities right away. After a bit more postulating, it became quite clear: the Internet of Things transcends industries. I’ve talked about the IoT a bit before, but now the future opportunities I touched on before have become an undeniable reality.
Link Between Industries
The conceptual link between all of these industries is the improvement of business processes through the Internet of Things. The actual link between the devices in each of these scenarios is whatever standard is being used for communication within each industry’s version of the Internet of Things. What used to just be unified networks for voice, data and video have been fleshed out with new tech and new communication standards, for example, MTConnect in manufacturing.
What you may not realize is that the requirements for a fully integrated networking solution are now readily attainable, and many parts are probably already implemented at most enterprise-level companies. These requirements include high bandwidth Internet and an integrated wired and WiFi network to go along with it. There are also the device and software needs; sensors to monitor and collect data and the software needed to make sense of this data. Companies that see success with an integrated Internet of Things solution all recognize one main fact: progress cannot be made without an investment, but the progress is worth it.
Progress and Benefits
The benefits of implementing an IoT system are centered on the improvement of business processes, data analytics and financial benefits, but also span other areas such as customer experience. Automated data analytics within an IoT system provide you a better idea of what’s going on throughout your organization, meaning your relationships with your suppliers, providers and customers have the potential to improve greatly. You can monitor the health of your machines and predict machine failure, as well as improve material planning and lifecycle management, and accelerate product to market for your customers. With an IoT solution, you can easily upscale or downscale your operation to mirror your plant's workload, keeping costs down as you go. You also gain the ability to monitor your floor remotely, boosting your efficiency. With the automation benefits of the IoT, you can perform preventative maintenance to increase uptime. More operation time equals increased profits, at least for industries such as manufacturing.
In healthcare, the automation and always-on aspect of the systems mean continuous information gathering and constant monitoring. Constantly monitoring patient vitals with IoT sensors means Electronic Health Records (EHRs) will be more accurate, and opens the door to automated medication dispensing services. In effect, the benefits of the IoT in healthcare are keeping patients safer and healthier while eliminating overhead and making the providers' jobs easier. In this example, customer experience is actually the patient's healthcare experience, and it can be greatly improved by removing human error and providing transparency. Sharing data on a patient's health in an efficient and easy-to-understand matter is in the best interest of the patient.
Then there's the benefit of energy efficiency. Increased energy efficiency means lower overhead costs and higher profit margins. This is where beer comes in; beer distributor Del Papa saw a 27 percent decrease in energy usage over three years after implementing their IoT system. It's no real surprise when you consider that HVAC systems, lighting and other systems are all monitored, analyzed and controlled from a remote location. Del Papa's IoT system enabled a flexibility in operations and a great control over expenses that Del Papa did not expect, and has boosted their return on investment in ways they hadn't foreseen.
Del Papa's new site is 26 acres, featuring a 126,000 square foot warehouse, corporate offices and parking for their fleet of trucks, so it wasn't a particularly small undertaking. Not only is Del Papa improving their energy efficiency and thereby lowering costs, but they've also increased their productivity in the warehouse by 18 percent. They've accomplished this in part due to an elimination of dead spots for RF guns and their Voice Recognition system; their new IoT solution has improved connectivity throughout the warehouse. They've also provided a single sign on that gives employees access to all of the capabilities offered within their system. These capabilities have improved shipping capacity, which means improved customer service, and unlocked a better process for filling rush orders with no delays.
From monitoring the health of machines on the manufacturing floor and optimizing a beer distributor's operations to monitoring the health of patients in a hospital, the benefits of IoT are applicable across industries. The only concern is one of security.
IoT Data Security
Data security should be a high priority, whether it is cloud-based or hosted locally, of any organization that is taking on a new technology platform. For example, malware that resembles Stuxnet, which attacked Siemens industrial control systems in 2010, is out there and could end up infecting any organization with a large amount of interconnected devices. To combat such threats, there are different security methodologies and standards handed down to different industries that must be utilized. In the financial industry, you have OWASP and Dodd-Frank, ensuring that sensitive financial information is secure. If you’re processing credit and debit cards, you have PCI compliance. In healthcare, HIPAA-compliance ensures that sensitive information is kept between doctor and patient. In addition, there are some baseline measures to take to ensure security regardless of the application, such as the following.
Secure booting ensures the authenticity and integrity of the software on each of your devices when power is first introduced. Typically, this is done through cryptographically generated digital signatures, which are verified by the device.
Access controls are role-based and built into the operating system to limit the privileges of device components and applications. Essentially, this means that components can only access the resources they need to do their jobs. If any component is compromised, the intruder has a minimal access point to other parts of the system.
Device authentication ensures that the device is authorized to access the network before any information is transmitted. Like user authentication, device authentication relies on credentials stored in secure area to grant devices access.
Firewalling ensures that only information that is destined to terminate at the device is allowed access to that device. Deeply embedded devices rely on unique protocols to keep common traffic, which could be potentially malicious, out and only allow in unique traffic that is destined for the device in question.
Constant updates and patches ensure that the devices are constantly functioning optimally and secure from the latest threats. Constant updates and patches need to be applied in a way that limits bandwidth and keeps everything connected to eliminate the possibility of compromising safety and efficiency.
The benefits that the IoT holds for businesses in any industry are becoming more and more accessible. So much so, that it may be surprising that more companies aren’t beginning to work the IoT into their overall business strategy. With advancements in technology and security, as well as analytics software and Software-as-a-Service offerings, integrating the IoT into your business is simply a smart, future-first and efficient strategy. Across industries, a IoT-centric strategy ensures that your operation is always on and always healthy. It helps you leverage business intelligence and harness large amounts of important data in ways that were previously impossible. Interconnected devices allow you to sit back and relax, maybe even have a beer (not while on the job, and definitely not if you're a doctor), and know that your operation is humming along smoothly.
Brad Wechter is a Tech Correspondent for Devbridge Group.