When’s the last time you faced something truly disruptive in your business? Could it be as far back as when Al Gore invented the Internet? Or maybe something more recent, like smartphones unleashing the omnichannel consumer on your industry? Well, there’s something peeking over the horizon that could blow all of them away. It’s the interconnected world of the future called the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s gaining momentum.
There’s a lot to get excited about with IoT. Who’s not impressed with home thermostats you can control remotely with a smartphone, or the refrigerator of the future that can send you an alert when the milk carton is almost empty? Home monitoring with sensors, alerts, webcams, and remote control? That’s really neat stuff, but that’s the consumer side of IoT and it’s only part of the story.
As an old operations guy (emphasis on ‘old’), what gets me pumped about IoT is what’s happening, and will happen, on the industrial side of the technology. I’m interested in things like efficiency, quality, throughput, and metrics, and I’m mesmerized when I consider the scope of the capabilities unleashed by IoT.
Don’t get me wrong- the connected world for the consumer will be a great boon to things like personal productivity, expense control, home security, and shopping efficiency. But anyone employed in, interested in, or affected by supply chains (in other words, pretty much everyone on this site) can’t help but look forward to the impact the industrial IoT will have on their world. Let’s look at how a true leader in ‘Industrial Internet’ technology is developing and utilizing IoT solutions.
General Electric has been the most visible leader in the development of IoT (they prefer the term ‘Industrial Internet’) applications in the real world. They manufacture some extremely expensive and complex industrial products which they are now enabling with sensors to transmit millions of data points for analytical purposes. GE is focused on incremental improvements rather than disruptive development, since small cost savings for huge expenditures and expense items add up to massive savings. In other words, they’re eschewing the ‘big bang’ for tweaks that’ll provide an even larger overall bang for the buck. Examples of what GE has developed include:
- Thousands of sensors on aircraft engines are being used to identify ways to improve flight patterns, predict maintenance needs, and reduce fuel costs.
- GE designed a software platform for Union Pacific, the largest railroad in the U.S., that gathers crucial information like weather data and track conditions from the sensors placed on the trains and on the tracks themselves. It helps UP improve scheduling, asset utilization, and maintenance requirements.
- Grid IQ Insight helps major utility customers to improve management of the electric grid. It consolidates data from many sources, including sensors, weather monitoring devices, smart meters other intelligent grid power equipment, and even social media content. This platform enables utilities to minimize customer disruption and respond more quickly to outages.
These are the types of things that float my boat. Controlling my air conditioner via smartphone is great, but companies like GE are leading the way to improvements using IoT that’ll take the ‘friction’ out of everyday life. It may not be splashy, but it’ll be the ‘stealthy’ type of disruption that’ll have a huge overall impact. There are still challenges out there, including big ones in security and language compatibility (more later on those), but once they’re resolved the future of the Internet of Things is bright!