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Guest Post

IoT and responsibility: Use digital for good

As organizations continue to transform after the COVID-19 pandemic, tech leaders have the responsibility to use IoT to improve sustainability and critical services.

When Athenian philosopher Plato said, "Necessity is the mother of invention" over 2,000 years ago, he could have been talking about today. As we look back over the past year and how the global pandemic has changed our world, we can say that the needs created by that crisis drove innovative new approaches to how we communicate, work and live.

During the worst of the pandemic, we were forced into a digital-first lifestyle, and we all turned to technology. In fact, as consumers turned to video calls and virtual chats, 84% of organizations considered technology such as IoT essential to their business amid the pandemic, according to Vodafone's "2020 IoT Spotlight" report.

While the struggles this crisis created cannot be understated, even as parts of the world are entering a vaccine-fueled new normal, technology has played a major role in how we've persevered.

For example, buildings implemented thermal cameras to automatically check the temperature of people entering and exiting. Technology has been in the middle of the vaccine supply chain, ensuring doses stay at the correct temperature levels from the time they leave a factory until they get into someone's arm.

As we enter this new normal, it's our responsibility to continue to find use cases where technology can be designed to do good.

Improving sustainability efforts via IoT

Eighty-four percent of organizations are using IoT to fundamentally improve their environmental sustainability, according to Vodafone's IoT Spotlight. That's not a surprise, but there is more that can be done.

With IoT-connected devices, we can reduce waste by optimizing the use of energy and other resources. While IoT has started to play a role in making buildings more sustainable, for instance, the pandemic-driven lockdowns have shown there are still many opportunities to improve efficiency.

Nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stem from the construction and operation of buildings, according to World Green Building Council. Critical building infrastructure -- such as water heaters, air conditioning, heating systems and lighting -- is frequently inefficient. During the lockdown, many buildings continued to have heating, air conditioning and lighting systems run even while completely empty.

By installing IoT sensors throughout buildings and within infrastructure, we can improve sustainability efforts by understanding where operations within a building are inefficient. We can know which rooms or floors in a building are occupied and need proper lighting. We can gauge the temperature and balance based on how many people are present, what the temperature is outside, and what is required to keep the pipes from freezing.

For example, Vital Command, a building monitoring systems manufacturer, is able to monitor 3,000 buildings across North America to keep buildings operating effectively even when no one is in them. Through IoT technology, they can monitor infrastructure across the buildings and quickly take care of issues as they arise -- or better yet, before they even occur. For example, during a tropical storm event in Florida, Vital Command was able to determine which buildings were affected by the storm in real time even after an evacuation.

This type of use case is especially critical as office spaces start to reopen in a hybrid model, where the number of occupants could change on a daily basis, or when weather events can cause serious damage.

But, using technology for good goes beyond sustainability efforts.

Ensuring availability of critical services

There is nothing more frustrating than going to use something you need only to discover it doesn't work. When this scenario is applied to a lifesaving device like an electrocardiogram or automated external defibrillator (AED), it's not just a frustration, but a matter of life and death. Sadly, 45% of AED failures that have resulted in a fatality are a result of poor maintenance.

As we begin to re-enter communities that have been locked down for extended periods of time, it's important to ensure these critical resources are properly maintained. By implementing IoT sensors and connectivity to critical devices within communities, we can ensure our devices are available and ready to function properly the moment they are needed.

Through connectivity, we can track the status of items -- such as defibrillators, smoke detectors or fire extinguishers -- that lay dormant for extended periods of time but must be able to work at a moment's notice. Instead of performing regular manual checks on these devices in order to hopefully catch a malfunction, we can digitally track the status with IoT. We can understand if a device needs maintenance and proactively address that need before an emergency.

As technology leaders, we have the responsibility to implement IoT and other advancements to do good. Sustainability efforts and critical resources are important, but this responsibility also extends to other areas, such as improving agricultural capabilities, creating access and opportunity for communities and even moving entire networks to renewable energy. The possibilities are endless.

We have the technology. If we are willing to learn from our experiences in a pandemic-driven digital-first world, we can create a much better, next normal. Let's make the driving force of invention not necessity, but a desire to do good.

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