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Wednesday August 23, 2017
Futures: Why the IoT is serious business
by Nicole Kobie | Feb 16, 2017 | Comment Now
The Internet of Things is sometimes derided as hype, but Elvira Wallis argues it can change how you do business – and even keep staff from becoming bored by giving them more interesting work to do.
Futures: Why the IoT is serious business

Connected toasters, smart coffee machines, and remotely accessible kettles are the silly side of IT, making the Internet of Things (IoT) sound more like laughable hype than the future of technology. 

But Elvira Wallis disagrees, and as the senior vice president of IoT at business software giant SAP, she reveals serious examples of how the combination of sensors, connectivity and data analytics can change how a company does business. It’s one reason SAP has announced plans to invest $US4 billion in IoT.

SAP has covered Trenitalia’s super-fast Frecciarossa trains with hundreds of smart, connected sensors that pull in 5,000 data points a second on components and how they’re running into its cloud. By applying its analytics and Big Data-churning software to the task it can predict when maintenance is needed. That allows Trenitalia to leave its trains on the rails until they genuinely need attention, rather than pull them off after a certain number of kilometres. 

Trenitalia believes the change will save it as much as 10% on maintenance and help the 400km/h trains run more smoothly on its super-fast network, by monitoring everything from the engines to the Wi-Fi. PC & Tech Authority spoke to Wallis at the launch of the IoT trains in Pietrarsa, Italy, to find out more. 

IoT is seen by many as hype, thanks to products such as connected coffee machines. How do you get people to take it seriously?

I’ll tell you a case of coffee machines that isn’t ridiculous. I’m talking about industrial coffee machines that are used in offices.

An American coffee-machine maker wanted to know what kind of coffee people consume in the various states of the US, and what they drink in an urban area versus a rural area. Using data collected from their machines they found that in the Midwest people drink different coffee to what they drink in California. They discovered that decaffeinated coffee is prevalent in certain areas and not in others. 

As a result, their marketing strategy has totally changed; certain types of coffee are now only marketed in certain states. Let’s say in rural areas people primarily drink black coffee; here they stopped advertising café au lait and espresso. They advertise black coffee because they want more black-coffee sales in the diners. So something “silly” such as coffee machines is very different if you take it to an industrial level. 

How did maintenance engineers react to the Trenitalia IoT project? 

Most people go to work every day and want to do good things. I’ve seldom met a person who said, “I want to have a bad day at work today”. And, for the technicians and engineers, having a good day at work means less boredom. Barbara [Morgante, Trenitalia’s CEO] said it nicely: if you routinely inspect a train just because you have to and the two-month period is up... it’s boring. 

However, if you know concretely that you’ll work on things that really need maintenance, your job becomes more interesting. It doesn’t mean your job becomes irrelevant – quite the contrary. It becomes more relevant, because you’re working on things that matter, that have an issue; not just because the time is up. 

How should SMBs start making use of the IoT? 

We advise our customers to start small and go for an area with quick return of investment. We don’t advise attempting to devise a perfect strategy for the next three years on glossy PowerPoints. By the time you’ve finished the strategy paper, the world has moved on and your competitors have embraced IoT, have made experiences, have done the learning. They’re using it and you’re still devising the perfect strategy that will never come to fruition, because you’re out-innovated.

We’ve had companies come to us and say “show us you can take these 25 drills, connect it to your platform and show us the analytics”. It would be easy for us to say “are you joking?”, but we need to prove to them we can do it. They won’t believe we can do it for a million if we can’t do it for 25. 

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