The internet of things, one of the buzziest buzzwords of our time, envisions a vast network of interconnected devices — from those in our homes to the ones in our pockets. But if we think about it, companies aren’t using the internet of things (IoT) just for fun gadgets. It’s actually serving many businesses and changing the way they work. IoT analytics have enabled a whole new world of business intelligence tools that speak to each other and to you in order to make your life smarter, faster and easier.
This article will explore the possibilities that can be pursued when business intelligence and the IoT collide. We’ll break down this buzzword, highlight a couple examples of businesses that have made the leap to combining advanced analytics and the IoT. We will also lay out the benefits and some highlights of the wide world of IoT analytics.
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What Is the IoT?
The internet of things is a term for a larger concept of interconnected networks and devices that operate together in everyday objects. Some of these devices include smartphones, smart thermostats, sensors, vehicles, machinery, etc. By embedding internet connectivity and electronic systems such as sensors, these devices can interact and communicate with each other through the internet, as well as be remotely controlled or monitored by users.
The typical characteristics of technology that makes up the IoT are control systems, embedded systems, automation, wireless sensor networks and other connectivity features. They tend to operate within a closed ecosystem — for example, an Amazon Alexa is connected to the user’s smartphone, Amazon account, and the Amazon databases. But it isn’t intended to integrate with Apple products, which operate on their own IoT ecosystem.
This graphic breaks down the different categories of devices that make up the IoT:
Home automation and smart devices are likely the most familiar categories of IoT tech, with well-known devices like Alexa, Nest, Ring and Google Home. These devices are connected to the internet and controlled by an app on our smartphones to perform tasks like play music, record video, adjust temperatures and more.
But the internet of things doesn’t stop there. Augmented reality is an up-and-coming technology that has big potential when combined with the IoT. AR enhances the world around us, usually for the purpose of entertainment, but not exclusively. When combined with the IoT, it can create interactive experiences. GPS with live location tracking or traffic conditions, video chat that projects a hologram to interact with the caller and interactive social media games are some areas where these two already or may someday meet.
Energy management is another burgeoning niche of the IoT. Smart thermostats like Nest help users monitor and reduce their energy consumption by automating HVAC processes and identifying ways to save on energy usage. This can potentially make a big difference in larger-scale operations such as factories, school campuses, healthcare compounds and other multi-building facilities that can all be connected, monitored and optimized through the IoT.
Security is both a perk and a concern with the IoT. Some people worry that more smart devices mean more opportunities to be hacked, which is a valid concern. Many of these devices are connected easily via Bluetooth without a PIN or security password of any kind, so they are easily hackable. At the same time, they offer us new levels of security with remote viewing and control of our homes and workplaces. It’s a continuing field that definitely deserves the attention of anyone considering purchasing a smart device for personal use.
The definition of the internet of things is constantly evolving as technology changes and advances. Some additional characteristics of the IoT are technologies that use machine learning, embedded systems, commodity sensors and real-time analytics. It is revolutionizing inventory management through supply chain optimization and a range of sensors that improve safety. It is changing field service management by proactively identifying problems and failures before they become serious. Smart warehouses will soon become the norm as little robots whiz back and forth collecting packages and sorting inventory. The reach of the IoT is far-reaching and ever-changing.
This article will focus on how these real-time analytics tie into the IoT, how the analytics of the IoT work as well as what they mean for businesses seeking to implement IoT devices and strategies.
What is IoT Analytics?
Odds are, you’ve heard the terms business analytics, real-time analytics or big data analytics before, but what does analytics mean in the specific context of the IoT?
TechTarget defines IoT analytics as “the application of data analysis tools and procedures to realize value from the huge volumes of data generated by connected internet of things devices.” Data analysis tools like business intelligence and business analytics take unstructured data — for example, the stream of data made up of your energy usage statistics — and converts it into analyzable data. The IoT collects data from the environment of connected devices and delivers it to users in order to help them gain insights and make decisions.
For instance, if you were curious about how much energy you use running the A/C during a hot summer day, IoT analytics capabilities allow the application that connects your smartphone to your thermostat to run an analysis. Then it will visualize that analysis into an easily digestible graphic — usually a bar graph showing your usage by month, year, week, etc.
This is an example of a pre-built or canned report. Most analytics capabilities on consumer-grade IoT devices like smart home devices offer this kind of report, where users can select from a range of predefined report types to gain insights into different sets of data.
Analytics in Industrial IoT
A more advanced example of this can be seen in industrial IoT. This niche collects data from sensors connected to industrial equipment such as machines, pipelines, smart meters, weather stations and more. In this area of the IoT, analytics can play a much broader role and influence business practices, predictions, ROI, decision-making and more.
Imagine a wind turbine. These towering machines generate energy when the wind blows — but if the winds reach more than 55 mph or so, the turbines can be damaged. Seeing as the average wind turbine costs between $1.3 and $2.2 million, it’s in our best interest to keep this from happening.
Industrial IoT analytics can help prevent damage by monitoring a variety of factors surrounding the wind turbines. First, they can monitor the weather; is the wind speed picking up to dangerous levels? The sensors can either send an alert to a technician who can then shut down the turbines or automatically shut down the turbine itself. Another option is that the sensors can monitor the turbine motor speed. If the motor begins to spin too quickly as the wind picks up, the smart system can send out alerts or initiate automatic shutdowns.
This is only a single, fairly simple example, but the uses of analytics in the internet of things are vast and varied. Let’s take a look at some case studies to see how they are being used in the real world.
IoT Case Studies
There are two purposes the IoT was created to fulfill. One is for devices to interact with the world to create value, and the second is to measure elements that we couldn’t measure before. Although most of us immediately think of cool gadgets like Fitbits or smart home devices when we think of the IoT, there are many developments happening within companies that are invisible to the outside world.
The IoT has allowed companies to move towards a new way of doing business by applying it to various processes in order to enhance productivity and efficiency. The huge amount of data produced in day-to-day business operations can be collected and used as a base to make new innovative decisions.
Combining the IoT with advanced analytics takes businesses to the next level by offering transparency into business operations, insight into market trends and highlighting opportunities for improving the business. Our friends at icCube were kind enough to share some case studies from their partnerships with us, so let’s take a look at some companies that have made this leap:
Case Study: The IoT and Soccer
To put this in context, let’s look at a Swiss sports company that develops wearables for athletes to track and analyze performance. The way they use analytics behind their IoT product consists of the following: every game, each soccer player wears a tracking device that measures speed, sprints, acceleration and goal distance, to name just a few metrics.
These measurements are displayed to users via several dashboards developed with icCube. Users can then compare performance metrics between players or against previous game stats to encourage improvement and track goals. Coaches can analyze player movement patterns through heatmaps as an overlay on the actual soccer fields, offering opportunities for data-driven play decisions.
The BI tool makes advanced calculations in order to depict the data in various graphical ways, highlighting potential areas for improvement. The trainer and club can use these charts to help their players improve their skills, as well as to enhance tactics and strategies.
Case Study: The IoT and Trains
To better illustrate various scenarios, let’s take a look at a completely different example: a railroad company in the UK. The company combines IoT and operational business intelligence by using icCube to monitor train issues such as engine malfunctions, brake failures and more in order to quickly and effectively act in case of a breakdown.
Armed with information collected from sensors inside the engines, employees can take immediate action in the event of a heating, cooling, engine or electrical issue. They can be sure they’re addressing the right issue thanks to reports that are automatically refreshed and directly connected to live databases. These reports identify the exact area where the issue occurred and presents likely causes based on historical data.
The top management department can also compare these values to historical data and use that knowledge to conduct advanced statistical analysis to evaluate if the issues could have been expected and avoided. The security of passengers is highly reinforced by this real-time monitoring system.
Benefits of Analytics in the IoT
In the digital era we find ourselves in, we have a constant craving for technology and innovation. Companies are always exploring how to use the latest innovations to enhance their business, and both advanced analytics capabilities and the IoT are sharply on the rise.
Some of the benefits of applying analytics and IoT technology in a business setting include preventing damage, as in the wind turbine or train engine examples. Another is performance improvement, as shown by the soccer team. It can improve safety for technicians, teammates and traveler alike. These are just a few of the benefits offered by combining the IoT and analytics, and those examples will expand as more industries implement this cutting-edge technology.
The beauty of mixing analytics and the IoT is that it can be applied to a majority of industries — and for those where it hasn’t yet been applied, it will likely reveal unexpected uses and benefits in the near future. It’s simply a matter of time and imagination.
Inspired yet? Tell us how the IoT has changed your business for the better by leaving a comment!