IoT can be a business game changer, but it requires a business focus
The number of IoT devices around the world surpassed the human population in 2017 and continues to grow every year. IoT is transforming all types of industries, and it was selected by global technology leaders as one of the key factors driving the greatest business transformation in a recent KPMG survey.
The effects — and business transformation — from this digitalization is already starting to show tangible returns. From gathering data from sensors to monitor crop fields and automate irrigation to tracking heart rates on Apple Watches for better health or sleep, IoT tech has already been delivering positive results in these and other ways.
Despite these advances, the world is still in the early stages of figuring out how to fully use IoT and the groundswell of data it collects. This is particularly true in low-tech industries, including construction, which is just beginning to use IoT to automatically capture valuable field data from sensors worn by workers and placed on equipment, materials or locations around the jobsite.
The key to effectively using IoT for innovation is to understand the specific measurable business problem that an organization is trying to solve. That will determine the metrics that need to be monitored, how the data will collected, analyzed and used, and how an organization can support this process and act on the insights gained to drive business transformation.
Understanding the business problem
The first step in this strategic process is to clearly identify a business problem or need. What does the organization need to fix or want to accomplish? This will be different for every business — whether it’s helping to increase efficiency, reduce costs or improve safety and security. By bringing key stakeholders together from different departments and functions, organizations can gain valuable input as well as establish consensus and focus.
As an example, safety remains a top priority — and challenge — for the construction industry, in addition to employers in all types of workplaces. This is a timely example since the first week in May is Construction Safety Week and June is designated National Safety Month. While comprising roughly 4% of the U.S. workforce, construction is responsible for approximately 21% of private industry fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with nearly 40% resulting from falls. Non-fatal injuries have been a concern as well; the rate of severe cases requiring days away from work is 20% greater in U.S. construction than in other industries.
Construction has relied on outdated, manual processes for decades to track which workers are on site, ensure they are properly trained and certified, identify safety incidents, and collect and report on hazards or safety incidents. With the advent of IoT technology, the industry is beginning to automatically capture the data it needs to measure and understand what’s happening on site — as it’s unfolding — to identify issues, modify behaviors and improve safety.
Using data insight for change
After identifying the core problem — in this case, safety — the next step is to break it into smaller, attainable problems. In order to improve worker and site safety, contractors need to quantify the key contributors — whether it’s near-misses, a robust record of reportable injuries and illnesses on site, or lapsed worker certifications.
To help address these problems, IoT tools can collect relevant information, such as the time, location and distance of a fall, or the weather conditions on site, among other metrics. Emerging wearable technology, for example, can automatically capture activity data from workers on site that had been previously unavailable, as well as provide tools for reporting unsafe conditions or injuries to supervisors as they happen. By replacing historical look-backs and lagging indicators — e.g., looking at reportable injuries after a project close out — with real-time, data-driven monitoring and reporting, safety leaders can identify trends and intervene in a timely manner. By investigating the situation in near real time, safety supervisors can reinforce best practices and proactively boost the site safety culture.
Priming a company for transformation
Using IoT technology to solve a business problem like safety requires planning, preparation and organizational support, including dedicated staffing, resources and budget. This starts at the top, and executives need to be bold in their commitment to empowering employees to challenge the status quo, push the boundaries of traditional thinking and enable the kind of digital transformation that has begun to impact industries worldwide.
This type of transformation is an ongoing learning process. Organizations need to create the infrastructure and processes to continually analyze data, evaluate IoT efforts and direct the results back to key project stakeholders for continuous improvement. Using IoT to drive business change requires commitment and focus, but the insights gained will help management solve critical business issues and make smarter, more informed decisions to move their organizations forward.
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