How the ‘Internet of Things’ Can Benefit Your Business

Billions of Internet-connected devices are transforming entire industries through cost savings, greater efficiency and enhanced customer service.

It sounds like the title of a science fiction novel about some dystopian future in which computers take over. But the Internet of Things (IoT) is real, and it’s revolutionizing the way we do business.

Imagine vending machines that tell you which products need to be replenished. Trucks that communicate directly with fleet maintenance software. Buildings that automatically adjust lighting and temperature based upon environmental conditions and human activity.

According to Juniper Research, there were 13.4 billion IoT devices in 2015, and that number will reach 38.5 billion in 2020 — a rise of more than 285 percent. IoT “smart home” applications grab media headlines, but the industrial and public services sectors will form the majority of the device base. The IoT is transforming industries as diverse as retail and agriculture, and turning buildings, utilities and entire cities into highly automated systems.

“We believe that K-12 school districts have a lot to gain from IoT technology,” said Jeff Andrews, Executive Vice President, IPC. “Schools have numerous buildings spread over a large area that consume a lot of electricity. They have fleets of buses and other vehicles that must be maintained. And they need to ensure the safety of students and make sure that everyone is accounted for as they travel from home to school and back again. The IoT is ideal for all of those use cases.

“But, really, any industry sector can benefit from the IoT. Think of anything that needs to be monitored, tracked or managed remotely and there probably is an IoT application for it.”

IPC has launched an IoT practice to help organizations take advantage of the IoT. The IPC team offers a carefully vetted suite of IoT technologies backed by expert consulting, assessment and implementation services.

Many Use Cases

The IoT is the collective name for devices that connect to and transmit data over a network without human interaction. It includes a diverse array of sensors, mechanical equipment, computers and other objects, as well as animals and people.

“Any device that can be assigned an IP address and connect to the Internet is part of the IoT,” Andrews said. “These devices are far superior to humans when it comes to efficiently and accurately collecting data. However, armed with the data collected by these devices, humans can make better decisions, identify problems and reduce costs, loss and waste.”

IPC’s IoT solutions for K-12 include fleet management solutions from Propel GPS. Embedded sensors, coupled with GPS technology and specialized software, deliver data on school bus maintenance requirements, driver behavior and more to an easy-to-read dashboard. GPS capabilities provide the exact location of a school bus in the event of an accident or mechanical problems.

IPC is also offering Aware360’s PeopleIoT technology to enhance student safety. The student tracking solution leverages smartphone apps, wearables and biometric sensors to help ensure that students get from the bus to the classroom and back to the bus. It can even take attendance automatically, and alert administrators if any students are unaccounted for.

“It all happens in real time,” said Andrews. “These solutions are smart enough to identify threats and risky behavior and notify school staff and security personnel. They also make it possible to send out mass communications so that students, teachers and parents know what to do in an emergency situation.

“The IoT is especially powerful when devices and applications are integrated with the state-of-the-art MiCloud Connect unified communications platform. It enables school administrators to communicate via voice, text and video conferencing as opposed to walkie-talkies and radios.”

Benefits and Challenges

But while the IoT delivers proven benefits, it also comes with significant challenges. Many organizations underestimate the level of complexity involved in an IoT implementation, and the impact on the IT environment.

The IoT requires a robust network infrastructure capable of integrating a wide range of fixed, mobile, wired and wireless data sources. Devices with different media types, connection speeds and communication protocols must not only connect to the Internet but share information with diverse applications and management platforms.

The security challenges of the IoT are only beginning to be understood. According to a study by HP Security Research, 70 percent of IoT devices have significant vulnerabilities — an average of 25 per device. PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 70 percent of connected devices lack even basic security capabilities.

“The security and privacy of IoT data must be maintained while it’s in flight across the network, at rest in storage or in use by an application. We help customers understand the risks and take a proactive approach to IoT security,” Andrews said.

Organizations also need to recognize that the IoT is only as effective as the backend systems that perform data analytics. Connections create data, but data doesn’t become information until it is analyzed and understood.

“Our IoT practice is focused on business outcomes rather than a particular technology,” said Andrews. “We look at bottlenecks in our customers’ operations, and areas where we could potentially save them money. For example, schools have reported that bus tracking results in 24 percent greater efficiency, 20 percent savings in fuel and 10 percent payroll savings.

“The IoT can also increase productivity, enhance customer service and enable new business models. We invite customers to sit down with our experts and determine how the right IoT solution can impact the bottom line.”