The Internet of Things (IoT) has formed an important part of industrial tech conversations for some time now. Still, enthusiasm for the technology and the applications it enables has not subsided.
Looking at the coming months, there are five areas that may prove key to the development of IoT applications within businesses:
1. Moving from PoCs to ‘PoV’s.
In a proof of concept (PoC), companies test whether a technology, device or process works and performs in certain situations as hoped. Thanks to the PoCs undertaken by businesses over the past several years, IoT concepts and related technologies are now proven and well understood.
However, many are still lacking a business case that demonstrates measurable value. So now, the focus needs to shift from proof of concept to establishing proof of value (PoV) -- through projects that allow businesses to see whether an IoT use case can, in fact, either save costs or increase revenue. PoVs, not PoCs, are essential in bringing IoT from the R&D department to operational deployment.
With the economic slowdown, scrutiny of IoT projects will only intensify. In 2020, more than ever, business and technology leaders need to view IoT as one of many tools in a toolbox and learn how to use it in conjunction with other equally important tools, such as analytics, to drive value from it. A saw can cut planks, but it takes a lot more work to build a bridge from them.
2. An internet of sustainable things?
The second area of concern is much more difficult for businesses to combat alone. As the number of IoT devices increases, so does the energy required to power the devices and the data centers they serve. Figures from 2017 suggest that connected devices could account for as much as 3.5% of global emissions by 2027. Given the imperative of combatting climate change, businesses will be hard-pressed to justify such a large energy footprint to increasingly green-minded investors and consumers.
The story is not clear cut, however. IoT can also help make companies more energy-efficient. One example is Schneider Electric, which incorporated sensors into its Lexington manufacturing lines and reduced energy consumption by 12% as a result.
There will need to be some sort of accounting around the energy demands of IoT, the energy efficiencies it brings about and our ability to power business by renewable sources. IoT device manufacturers can and should help balance the books here by focusing on energy efficiency in the design of their devices. Businesses will need to do this on a case-by-case basis to ensure they can deliver innovation while meeting their environmental, social and corporate governance requirements.
3. 5G is arriving -- but will it have real impact on IoT in 2020?
5G connectivity is the latest super-fast, low-latency way of sending and receiving large amounts of data wirelessly. Already, it’s clear the technology will drive a new range of bandwidth-hungry IoT applications in the future, including connected vehicles and a host of new video scenarios.
However, it’s less certain that the technology will be mature enough for industrial IoT applications in 2020. For many industrial IoT early adopters, the current generation of wireless communications technologies, such as Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G and 4G, are more than sufficient. Industrial companies will choose the connectivity solution that delivers as required and at the lowest cost. In most cases, this will not be 5G for some time yet.
4. There will be much-needed market consolidation.
There are currently hundreds of companies that offer IoT devices, applications, platforms and connectivity. Of these, most IT people will have heard of only perhaps 20. This is a clear sign of a market that has not yet reached maturity, and one that I expect will start to change next year.
Expect to see natural selection in action in 2020 and beyond as the best of the market runners sprint ahead and companies with less compelling propositions fall by the wayside. No doubt, a lucky few will also be acquired by rivals looking to beef up their IoT capabilities.
5. New use cases will emerge at the network edge.
Typically, IoT devices send data to a cloud server where an algorithm analyzes it and triggers an action. ‘Edge’ technology, however, lets devices or nearby gateways compute and analyze data locally, with limited and sometimes no connection to the cloud.
The industry started talking about IoT at the edge a couple of years ago, but adoption has been slow. We are now finally at a point where the edge hardware and capabilities are matching the significant interest from businesses. We’re seeing a growing number of implementations and over 2020, we can expect to see fast growth in deployments of IoT edge tools.
A typical use case will be where companies require a full IoT solution in facilities that cannot be reliably connected to the cloud because there’s only slow or even no internet connection. Think plants in remote locations or construction projects on greenfield sites. For instance, we recently built a solution for one of our clients that works seamlessly on sites without internet connectivity. Thanks to IoT edge technology, project supervisors can still track workers, materials and machines and receive answers to questions like, “Are my welders well distributed on available work-fronts today?” and “Has my concrete mixer arrived?”
Brendan Mislin is a managing director at Accenture's Industry X.0 practice where he leads Internet of Things. In this role, he focuses on growing the global capability of IoT engineers, assets, and accelerators built on a variety of IoT platforms with a focus on Accenture’s industrial and manufacturing clients.