Could there ever be a time when beer, manufacturing floors and healthcare mix?
Believe me when I say that it’s possible, just perhaps not the way you think. In fact, what connects these three is an intuitive business strategy, one involving 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, and it became quite clear that the Internet of Things truly transcends industries. Although I’ve talked about the IoT a bit before, I’m now seeing that many of the future opportunities initially defined as possibilities are quickly becoming 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 simply be unified networks for voice, data and video have instead been replaced with new tech and new communication standards, much like what we’re seeing with the integration of MTConnect in manufacturing, for example.
What many businesses across all industries may not realize is that the requirements for a fully integrated networking solution are now readily attainable, in fact, it is probable that many parts are already implemented at most enterprise-level companies. In order to make this possible, there needs to be high bandwidth Internet present 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: In order for significant progress to be achieved, investment must be made.
Progress and Benefits
The benefits of implementing an IoT system are primarily 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 with 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 effectively predict when failure will occur, 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. Users also gain the ability to monitor their floor remotely, boosting overall efficiency. With the automation benefits of the IoT, preventative maintenance can be easily performed to increase uptime, something particularly important in manufacturing, where more operation time equals increased profits.
In the healthcare industry, the automation and “always-on” aspect of its systems mean continuous information gathering and constant monitoring. By constantly monitoring patient vitals with IoT sensors, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) will be more accurate, and also opens the door to automated medication dispensing services. In effect, the benefits of the IoT in healthcare are substantial, as its presence would keep patients safer and healthier, eliminate overhead costs, and ultimately make the providers’ jobs easier. In this case, customer experience is actually the patient’s healthcare experience, something greatly improved by removing human error and providing transparency. After all, 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, where increased energy efficiency means lower overhead costs and higher profit margins, and this is where our beer aspect comes in.
Look at beer distributor Del Papa, who saw a 27 percent decrease in energy usage over three years after implementing their IoT system. This isn’t surprising when you consider that HVAC systems, lighting and other systems are all monitored, analyzed and controlled from a remote location. Del Papa’s integration of an IoT system enabled a flexibility in operations and a greater control over expenses that they initially did not expect, and has even boosted their return on investment in a number of ways as well.
And when you take into account that Del Papa’s new site is 26 acres, featuring a 126,000-square-foot warehouse, corporate offices and parking for their fleet of trucks, it’s clear it wasn’t a particularly small undertaking either. 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. But beyond productivity, their new IoT solution has greatly enhanced connectivity throughout their facility, as they eliminated dead spots for RF guns and integrated a Voice Recognition system as well. They’ve also provided a single sign on that gives employees access to all of the capabilities offered within their system. All in all, these capabilities have improved shipping capacity, which means improved customer service, and a much more efficient process for filling rush orders without 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, it’s clear the benefits of IoT are applicable across many different industries. The only concern? Security.
IoT Data Security
Data security should be a high priority—whether it is cloud-based or hosted locally—for 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, which ensure 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. Outside of these solutions, 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 verifies that the device is authorized to access the network before any information is transmitted. Like user authentication, device authentication relies on credentials stored in a 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 offers 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. No matter the industry, an IoT-centric strategy ensures that your operation is always on and always healthy, and 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 and, maybe even have a beer (not while on the job, and definitely not if you’re a doctor), knowing full well that your operation is humming along smoothly.
Brad Wechter, Tech Correspondent for Devbridge Group
About the Author:
Brad’s career spans technical writing and B2B marketing for some of the largest manufacturers in Illinois. He is a writer and technical correspondent for Chicago-based software design and development company Devbridge Group.