The COVID-19 pandemic put enterprise IoT adoption on the fast track to find ways to keep businesses running as staff and partners adjusted to continuous change. Acceleration of digital transformation across industries resulted in foundational technological changes that typically would unfold gradually over a decade or more.
Even industries that have historically been slow to embrace new technologies are actively exploring and evaluating their options. Businesses appear to be on the verge of a seismic shift, thanks to augmented reality (AR), AI and the dawn of spatial computing. Organizations slow to adapt may find themselves struggling to operate at optimal levels.
Consider the dozens of industries reliant on highly skilled manual labor. Organizations may collect data on when a task is started and completed through existing work management software. Traditionally, however, they have been unable to measure and track overall efficiency and effectiveness in hands-on, industrial workforce processes and procedures. By harnessing the power of IoT data, organizations can feed valuable information to their workers that can improve accuracy and productivity. The immediate feedback loop created gives management the ability to measure results and fine-tune their processes.
The value of IoT data
IoT data, like any data, must be contextualized to maximize its value for and effect on the organization. The more it is refined and then connected with the right applications under the right timing and circumstances, the more valuable and powerful it becomes. Traditionally, IoT data has been used for back-office functions and driving business outcomes, such as producing tangible value for IT and systems administrators, operations folks and the CFO. While that value is important, it is one-dimensional compared to where industries are clearly heading.
The proliferation of 5G and edge computing is creating an inflection point where real-time data can provide immediate value by empowering frontline workers to do their jobs better. New devices also add immediate value, such as heads-up displays, transparent displays that show information in the user's typical viewpoint. Whether devices are situated on the shop floor or in remote locations, it is already possible for these workers to access critical stores of knowledge, such as operations and maintenance instructions, from almost any location.
Spatial computing also illuminates manual processes, creating an ongoing record of detailed task completion. The combination of this human-based IoT data with traditional machine data can drive interesting new insights into how frontline workers operate in and navigate through a job site. Considering the world has 2.7 billion deskless workers, the potential is massive.
IoT in practice: Putting a UI on the physical world
Let's say you manage a public water utility and oversee wastewater treatment operations. Your team, with industrial IoT (IIoT) data, can closely monitor the amount of water flowing in and out or the levels of treatment chemicals used and automate some of these processes.
As frontline workers gauge conditions, spatial computing makes real-time data from critical systems actionable, allowing them to freely move around the facility to address any emerging challenges early, avoid a crisis and ensure maximum operational uptime. For example, during periods of heavy rain, wastewater management systems must handle a surge of water coming in from storm drains. If an alert is set off from a critical system function passing a specific threshold, the operator can respond.
If a worker equipped with an AR device looks at a piece of machinery enabled to communicate IIoT data, that worker would be able to see critical data about the system in real time and access guidance on how to respond. Regardless of expertise or the procedure's complexity, the worker could perform the appropriate procedure by accessing step-by-step instructions and even connect with a remote expert when additional guidance is needed from a single interface. Frontline workers can also feed IoT data from that interaction back into the system to enhance future processes and procedures.
IoT powers previously unimaginable benefits
IoT data has the potential to be actionable and immediately valuable for real-time frontline decisions. Instead of using IoT data to drive back-office value by remaking the business into an automated assembly line, spatial computing brings it to the frontlines. The combination of AR and IoT data drives more intuitive, interactive processes and arms frontline deskless workers with the right data in the right place, at the right time, empowering them to execute even the most complex tasks more accurately, more efficiently and more safely.
Through AR applications, organizations can put a UI on the physical world and empower their workers to do more and at a higher level of quality. Combined with valuable IoT data, such advances have the potential to revolutionize how frontline workers do their jobs, unlocking real-world benefits that were unimaginable until now.
About the author
John Tomizuka is CTO and co-founder of Taqtile, maker of the Manifest AR work-instruction platform.