TECHnalysis’ chief analyst Bob O’Donnell sits down with IoT industry professionals from Atos, Pelion (an Arm company) and Vodafone to get their take on key trends.

As the world continues to adapt to its new realities, one thing that’s become clear is that businesses are having to adjust as well. From casting a fresh eye on established procedures to creating entirely new processes, businesses are adapting how they need to operate in the post-COVID world.

As part of their journey, many are recognizing the importance that Internet of things (IoT)-related technologies, products, platforms and services can play as part of their ongoing transformation.

In the second and final portion of a Pelion-sponsored webinar series on IoT’s role in the future of business, I sat down with a number of IoT industry professionals to get their take on some key trends. Brian Russell, the IoT Solution Architect from system integrator Atos, lays out the groundwork clearly.

“We always talk about the potential for disruptions in business. Well COVID-19 has been the biggest disruption in a generation. When you talk about digital transformation or using technology to transform the way a business operates, generates revenues or creates value for customers, for a lot of companies the pandemic has been an existential threat. As result, IoT-based transformation projects aren’t going to be nice to have, they’re going to be key for surviving.”

Indeed, as discussed in the first blog in this series, the worldwide pandemic has proven to be the spark that finally forced many organizations to take their IoT-related efforts seriously and make some tough decisions on de-emphasizing or ending projects that weren’t necessary and moving critical projects into hyperdrive.

Realizing the potential of digital transformation

As Pete Swabey, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Editorial Director and author of the Economist IoT Business Index 2020 report, notes, “One of the biggest jumps we saw between the 2017 and 2020 editions of the study is that in 2017, just 45% of respondents said IoT was a critical part of their digital transformation strategy and that jumped up to 65% most recently.”

Many companies are beginning to really appreciate the role that IoT can play across many different industries or even within different parts of their organization. Some organizations, however, are still just trying to figure it out. As Phil Skipper, Vodafone’s Head of IoT Strategy says, “For many businesses, when they look at IoT, they see it as just a technology, so they miss a lot of value in terms of how it can improve processes which are running horizontally through the organization.”

For companies that have figured it out, however, there’s also the recognition that it can provide a range of benefits and values to different types of companies.

Phil continues, “At Vodafone, we’re seeing large multinational corporations going after big things in areas such as aerospace and automotive, but interestingly, we’re seeing smaller organizations start to decide how they can use IoT to transform their businesses as well. They’re looking at things like fleet management, tracking of goods, etc., because they’re seeing the supply chain get shorter. As it gets shorter it gets faster, so the ability to respond has to be faster as well. So, IoT-based efforts are becoming a way not only to restructure a process, but to give you more control and help you to execute it faster and more consistently.”

One perceived downside of the increased use of IoT is concerns around security. Avishay Shraga, semiconductor maker Altair’s Head of Security Technology puts it bluntly:

“IoT security challenges are different than what we’ve faced in the physical world because they bridge the gap between the digital and physical world. As a result, attack surfaces in the digital world can now impact the physical world. That makes security for IoT essential.”

Despite the critical importance of security, Avishay also acknowledges that many companies don’t have the necessary expertise to address those security issues themselves. That’s where the value of standardized platforms and security-based industry standards become critical.

 “There is a need for ecosystem players to figure out the security issues so that users of the technology don’t necessarily have to,” Avishay says.

Holistic approach

Efforts like the Pelion IoT platform can go a long way towards addressing some of these concerns.

As Hima Mukkamala, Pelion’s Strategy & Culture Leader relates, “Platform capabilities that are flexible enough to serve the needs of the larger and smaller businesses are critical. For small businesses, for example, the IoT industry can appear to be very fragmented, so platforms like Pelion can help solve this fragmentation. As a result, smaller companies are not roadblocked in bringing their solutions to market faster. For larger enterprises, it’s focusing on security and scale so that they can get access to and manage the larger volumes of devices they use. In addition, the platform lets them get access to the data generated by their IoT devices and combines that with digital data to generate real business outcomes.”

One of the more compelling examples of IoT solutions that click off all these checkbox requirements and manage to deliver compelling value across many different company sizes and industries are smart labels. As it happens, several companies who participated in the webinar worked together on a project to leverage smart labels. The smart labels allow any package or device to be continuously tracked throughout the supply chain or delivery process.

Phil Skinner of Vodaphone explains, “smart label is a fantastic example. It has an iSIM device which has a battery in it that’s laid down as a thin film and you basically just tear the corner off the label and the system automatically bootstraps onto Vodafone’s network, finds the carrier of choice, transforms the SIM embedded into the label and connects to the IoT platform and you’re done.”

Altair’s Avishay continues “We see the smart label as the first real example of hyperscale for IoT. If there are hundreds of millions of packages, then we can expect hundreds of millions of smart labels over the coming years. What’s interesting about them is they are very short life, but very low-cost connected devices that you can easily manage. Thanks to a really low cost, low power, highly integrated chip with integrated connectivity, you can attach them to an enormous number of packages in the supply chain and logistic arena.”

Customers need an out-of-box solution

On top of that, they’re easy to use. Vodaphone’s Phil Skinner notes, “This is really about the customers being able to take a solution that comes out of the box. They pull out the battery tag and it works. By making it so simple, where the company doesn’t have to be an expert in connectivity, you can really enable the next level of scale to happen within IoT.”

Merely having connectivity isn’t enough, however. As Atos’ Brian Russell comments, “For these types of projects to be truly successful and provide real business value, you also need to help companies integrate all this technology into their standard business process. It can’t just be a standalone system; it has to tie into things like their CRM, MIS and other types of management systems.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some enormous challenges to the business world, it is now possible to see that it’s also opened up new opportunities and hastened the adoption of technologies that may have otherwise been several years out. Clearly, IoT-related products, platforms and service can benefit from the new type of thinking it has brought about and can help companies make the adjustments they need to adapt to shifting market demands.

Applications like smart labels are just one of many possibilities that highlight how companies who can move past the concept of IoT for the sake of IoT or technology for technology’s sake can enable smart, connected, secure, managed IoT solutions that can provide easily demonstrably value to their organizations.