How the IoT will change your world

Government agencies can use real-time event- and data-driven solutions to boost efficiency, safety and productivity.

Even as many organisations take the initial steps towards transforming their business and operational processes using mobility, the next generation of event- and data-driven solutions is already emerging. These new, agile solutions are being made possible through the availability of efficient, low-cost IoT technologies driven by cloud-based software platforms… producing real-life, bespoke solutions without having to rely on specific products from specialist vendors.

Let’s first look at the recent advances that have made this possible, and then at a couple of examples of how government departments and agencies can take advantage of them.

Sensing and reading

Let’s start with IoT and proximity. Devices such as beacons, NFC and RFID tags — and the various sensors and readers for detecting these devices — have been around for some time and continue to evolve. They’ve been used extensively in retail, building automation and logistics all over the world, but mainly with specialist equipment and associated software.

The ‘game changing’ nature of IoT and proximity is driven by the reduced cost of sensing devices and readers as well as the fact that readers are now built into many mobile phones and tablets. RFID tags sell for only a few cents each while Bluetooth beacons are now available for just a few dollars. Environmental sensors equipped with new forms of communication such as ZigBee, ZWave and BLE are also plummeting in price as demand soars.

Edge intelligence and hubs

But having cheap hardware isn’t enough. You need to be able to install it, manage it and ensure security isn’t compromised. You’ll probably want to be able to understand patterns in the data and pick up exceptions. And you may wish to ‘composite’ readings from multiple sensors and send alerts when certain combinations of readings occur.

You’ll certainly want to parse the ‘events’ that occur when tags are read on an asset or inventory item. You’ll want to sense beacons carried by staff or send notice of an exception in a sensor reading through to other systems that will do something with that event.

Bringing together and performing this initial processing of the signals from sensors and readers is called ‘edge processing’ or ‘edge intelligence’ — referring to the processing being done at the network edge. Mostly this is done in intelligent ‘hubs’ or ‘gateways’ that manage multiple devices and can be programmed to optimise the data stream that is sent on for further processing.

These hub devices (which are effectively ‘for purpose’ computers) are an exciting and huge growth area in the IoT marketplace, and their capabilities are developing by the month. Such hubs provide onboard and remote sensors, edge intelligence, network connectivity and remote cloud management. Hubs also allow the remote management of devices, pushing commands and performing automated firmware updates.

Insight and management

Insight into the data flowing from your network of devices and hubs can’t be built up from the inputs from hubs alone. Edge intelligence does some of the work, but there are now cloud-based proximity and IoT services that enable you to build wider insight (as well as helping you to manage your hubs and devices) within an easy-to-configure environment.

These cloud-based services can add value by looking for short-term patterns, sending alerts (by app notification, SMS, email or even via Twitter) and managing the sending of processed data and events to the APIs on the business side, where something can be done with them.

Supercharging apps with context

These technologies all enable the capture of environmental data, proximity events or tag readings. But what do you actually do with that data in a practical business sense, when these events happen?

Enterprise mobile apps can be significantly enhanced by ensuring the information delivered to the employee is contextual. Context is developed by including: the employee’s location; time; role in the organisation; previous activity at that location; rights and privileges; work practices and flow; and WHS policies and compliance.

Once context is included within the app, the information provided to the employee is not only highly relevant, it becomes intuitive, thereby increasing engagement and productivity.

Let’s now look at how these technologies can be put to good use via a couple of scenarios that use enterprise mobile apps for the workforce — or as we call them, soldier apps.

Asset maintenance

One of the main components of a contextual solution for asset maintenance and management comes from the ability to automatically identify that asset.

When approaching an asset that is equipped with a Bluetooth Beacon, or by tapping an NFC or RFID tag, the employee’s device immediately opens the asset management application and populates it with relevant information for the employee’s role: a supervisor, an electrician and a gas fitter may all have a different experience, as their context is different.

The app may also provide information such as previous history, work orders, diagrams, photos and so on.

Vehicle inspection

A local government council operates a fleet of vehicles ranging from passenger cars to commercial construction vehicles. Each has its own requirements for driver licensing, WHS compliance and maintenance.

Council may already have an app that allows for the inspection and reporting of the vehicles and completion of maintenance reports which are fed by mobile devices in real time to fleet managers and management systems.

But the addition of beacon technology will enhance the mobile app by enabling it to understand a range of related elements that allow it to automatically adjust the information presented to the end user. Workflows can be automated, ensuring increased engagement for the employee and richer data for the fleet manager.

In conclusion, event- and data-driven solutions made possible through efficient, low-cost IoT technologies are giving organisations the option to develop agile real-life solutions that aren’t tied to specific vendors. Government departments and agencies can take advantage of these technologies to automate and expedite routine activities, with a consequent vast improvement in efficiencies, safety and productivity.

By Fadi Geha, CEO, Acresta