The Internet of Things (IoT), the network of internet-connected appliances and devices collecting and sharing data, is set to transform much of society as we know it. Estimates predict that 20.4 billion connected things will be in use by 2020 and as more and more ‘things’, from phones to watches, cities to sewers, come online, the potential to use that data in new and positive ways grows.1
Implemented intelligently, IoT promises benefits to both consumers and business.
Getting the balance right between using data for customer and corporate benefit will be important as customer experience plays an increasingly important part in gaining and sustaining business and that experience shouldn’t be compromised. But harnessing the rich data that is on offer, however, will result in a win-win scenario for all.
Smart cities are the most obvious example of connected technology benefiting civic causes. Knowing what services citizens use (or require), as well as being able to streamline them – such as traffic, health, transport and utilities – is really just the tip of the iceberg when understanding the benefits IoT will bring to city planning and quality of life.
The real-time data provided by IoT devices will also help not only in managing disaster response, knowing where people are and how to get to them, but also in mitigating the effects of catastrophes as they happen. In California, for example, IoT seismic sensors are being used for pre-quake warning systems on phones and in classrooms to give people crucial cover-seeking seconds.2
Government services, constricted by bureaucracy, could be transformed with IoT. Imagine turning up to get a driver’s licence or receive a benefit payment and having your identity pre-confirmed via biometric sensors or your phone itself, eliminating the need for paperwork, identification documentation or waiting in endless queues.
Likewise, being able to talk to home assistants to make routine enquiries, check permits or even make complaints, avoids frustrating wait time on the phone for the customer, and reduces the need for extensive customer service agents doing lower value work. And even the service itself can occur digitally via an assistant, such as Utah’s use of Amazon Alexa to test driving license candidates on road rules.3
As an added benefit, the cost to the taxpayer of utilising innovative services can be substantial. Take for example Los Angeles’ program of using Google Street View with embedded sensors in city trees to digitally check on their health (and that of the surrounding environment) – eliminating US$3 million worth of physical, visual inspections.4
By capitalising on platforms and devices already in existence, government can provide faster and more personalised service as well as alleviate the stress on understaffed or budget-poor departments.
Imagine the scenario. You enter your favourite shop and get a notification from your bank on your smartwatch: “you’ve spent $35.06 of your weekly shopping budget and have $60 left. Have fun!” You feel good knowing you can afford that gift, as you head to the cash register.
This is just one way a bank could add value to its consumers through internet-connected technology. The bank receives information on customer spending habits, alongside other IoT data which can then feed into informing loan underwriting or setting of credit limits, and the customer gets useful financial information at the time they most need it.
In New York, Citibank is using bluetooth beacon technology with customer wearables and phones to grant 24 hour access to its ATM vestibules.5 When a customer passes by after hours, a message on their devices asks if they wish to unlock the door. This provides a safe and convenient way for the customer to access cash, as well as an additional customer touch point for the bank to capitalise on as well as additional data on customer demand.
The use of virtual assistants and chatbots provides another way banks can interact non-traditionally with customers, such as the UK’s Starling Bank which allows balance enquiries and bill payments via Google Home and Alexa.6
As internet banking rises and people go cashless, banks are losing physical touch with their customers. IoT provides a potential salve for this, thus increasing loyalty through convenience and in turn gaining valuable data to help manage risk, build products and maintain a competitive advantage.
Employees stand to gain from connected devices alongside their employers.
Fitness trackers can be used to gauge stress levels and promote healthy behaviour, analysis of speech and movement can alert business leaders to problems with interpersonal situations and sensors can give feedback on environmental conditions that aren’t conducive to productivity. Much of this can then be modified to make substantial behavioural and economic impact.7
Making work easy for employees will also promote productivity. While microchipping employees for access to buildings and computers might be too far for some,8 similar identity management results can be achieved with wearables, behavioural identification and biometrics.
And of course, IoT offers multiple ways to keep employees safe. In physically dangerous settings, such as mining, IoT sensors can provide invaluable assistance as digital canaries, sensing dangerous levels of harmful gases or alerting to a sudden shift in an employee’s position from a fall. In trucking, IoT devices are being used to detect when driver fatigue leads to microsleeps, potentially saving driver and pedestrian lives.9 And in all industries, augmented reality devices can be used to promote safe work practices and identify risk before accidents occurs.
The data gleaned from IoT devices – from worker’s personal ‘things’ to the sensors and monitors on company equipment – can also be used to gain business insights that would not otherwise be apparent, and subsequently make significant savings.
The Internet of Things offers not just new technological advances, but an entire new way of interacting with our environments, employees and customers.
While fully embracing the technology is not without its hurdles, and it would be remiss of us not to mention the security concerns that must be addressed when it comes to connecting everything to the internet, the benefits of increased data will be immense.
Business and government will need to get the balance right between consuming citizen data and providing benefit in return, but doing so will result in a win-win for all concerned.
Stay tuned for more ways that IoT is disrupting the world’s industries in upcoming Digital Pulse articles.
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