It is likely that the first time you heard the terms Internet of Things, or IoT, was when utility companies were talking about installing “smart” meters to track how much electricity and gas you were using and when. Then you might have heard about “smart” thermostats that could also track your energy usage and learn to adapt to your lifestyle.
You might not have known it then but these IoT use cases were examples of the consumerization of enterprise technology but in reverse.
I say in reverse because IoT is finally entering its rightful place as a fully fledged enterprise technology that is revolutionizing many different industries and business functions. Just Google the terms “IoT” and “revolutionizing” and you’ll pull up myriad examples of just how widespread this impact is.
According to IDC, a technology-research firm that tracks all kinds of enterprise technologies, global spending on IoT will reach almost $750 billion this year, an uptick of 15 percent from 2018 levels. Another IDC report predicts that by 2025 businesses and consumers will have deployed more than 41 billion IoT-connected devices, at a growth rate of nearly 30 percent between now and then.
IoT is more than a collection of devices
It is important to note, however, that data gathered by IoT can accumulate quickly, which can be a double-edged sword. The point of IoT is to be able to analyze all this accumulated data and generate meaningful insights from them. That’s what puts the “smart” in smart technologies. But at unfathomable levels of data that IoT devices are expected to generate, this is easier said than done.
This is both the challenge and opportunity for facilities managers who are dealing more and more with IoT-enabled smart buildings and equipment within their operations. When used to collect facilities-related data — such as equipment outputs, electrical consumption, or asset function, for instance — large volumes and varieties of information are sent rapidly to central, Internet-based hubs. Without the proper infrastructure in place, it’s easy for these datasets to become siloed and rendered difficult to utilize.
Therefore, rethinking how both how your data is stored and how it’s analyzed is a central requirement if you plan to implement IoT as part of your facilities-management analytics strategy. When that’s done correctly, the results will be measurable, and your existing processes will lead to enhanced customer experiences, better employee performance, and greater cost-efficiency of your facilities as you begin to build for the future.
In this post, I’ll explore the necessary steps to take before implementing an IoT-driven facilities management strategy — as well as exactly how you can leverage the wealth of relevant data to cut costs and increase efficiency across your business.
Prepare your data infrastructure
The amount of internal data you’re juggling at any given moment depends on two primary factors: The size of your facility and the number of IoT data sources installed throughout. With an extensive set of IoT sensors at your disposal, you can expect a wealth of valuable information to drive internal decision-making processes — such as when to repair or replace underperforming assets, or when you might need to carry more staff to meet the demands of customers.
However, there are several challenges to consider before setting up every room in every building with a “smart” sensor or other data-collecting device. First, simply identifying the most relevant and valuable data from such a vast network requires a good deal of planning and goal-setting prior to IoT implementation. Second, setting up a system for data storage is critical in order to get the most (or anything, for that matter) out of your connected devices.
It’s important to devise a focused, comprehensive plan around organizational goals, whether you aim to reduce multi-location energy spend or improve the retail customer experience via optimized lighting and temperature control. Many connected devices will collect more information than what’s relevant to your goal: For instance, collecting altitude and air-pressure data when all you need to know are the temperature fluctuation trends over the course of a single day. If you were to hang onto all of that information, data storage costs would quickly spiral beyond budgetary limits.
With a strategic, clearly defined goal or initiative in place, you can implement a system that sifts through data automatically so that only the relevant and important information is stored and prepared for analysis. This makes it easier to determine whether a long-term or short-term data storage warehouse is necessary. Then, advanced analytics and predictive modeling can be applied to datasets in order to optimize FM decision-making processes, whether it’s installing energy-efficient windows or replacing an outdated HVAC system.
Prioritize data security
With a greater degree of interconnectivity comes a greater risk for data breaches. IoT data that is collected for analytics purposes may contain sensitive or business-confidential information, and by design IoT devices are deployed at the very edges of the enterprise, which may not have the benefit of a security infrastructure that has been available for so long within the corporate premises.
So when preparing a network of connected devices, it is important also to prepare a system with which to carefully secure your collected data. In other words: Privacy and security must come first. It would be naive to assume that third-party suppliers have entirely foolproof, bulletproof devices and systems. Unfortunately, several large enterprise businesses have already discovered this the hard way, rushing to implement connected devices (in this case, believe it or not, a casino’s fish tank) without first vetting them for cybersecurity.
If a single connected device is set up on the same network as, for instance, your business’s computers or PoS system, hackers can easily make their way in through the unsecured device and move laterally through the network to access other critical information. Pausing to make sure that governance, compliance, and privacy are upheld before implementing IoT technology can prevent these costly mistakes — and it can be as simple as setting up a separate, secure network in which your IoT data can reside.
IoT demands a new data strategy
The majority of value brought about by IoT has to do with interconnectivity. Connected devices bring processors, storage systems, and data together at the physical level, providing a range of applications from which your business can derive insights. For facilities managers and directors, these devices can go even further when integrated with AI and predictive analytics — in some cases taking over entire processes that would have formerly required human involvement.
A vastly interconnected system sounds like a dream come true, but it’s important that those eager to implement IoT networks consider the challenges that come with filtering, storing, and securing such immense quantities of data.
In order to set up an effective and efficient IoT-based facilities management strategy, start with these six steps:
- Identify existing problems or gaps that can be solved with data gained through a network of IoT sensors and devices.
- Establish goals for each level of your business’s FM program, and get key stakeholders on board.
- Secure the network through which your IoT devices will function.
- Invest in a scalable data-storage solution that fits your budget and aligns with goals.
- Determine which sources provide the data you are looking for — and then filter through the noise.
- Begin integrating IoT data insights and analytics into your long-term business and FM decisions.
Ultimately, integrating IoT devices into your operations will revitalize your data-collection and management strategy. When done well, it can breathe new life into your FM program — and even take over some of the tedious data-collection tasks you dread, making your entire business more efficient and cost-effective. That’s just “smart” business.