Developing meaningful Internet of Things use-cases can be tricky. But the doors to more customer benefits and new business models are open to those who get things done.
Have you ever stood in a public toilet with wet hands and an empty towel dispenser? Annoying, isn’t it? A clear need but no satisfactory solution – so far. Such unpleasant experience starts to belong to the past.
Intelligent soap and hand towel dispensers report their filling levels and warn early enough before nothing remains left. Digitization and the Internet of Things (IoT) make it possible: dispensers in public lavatories as well as companies will become smart. They ensure refilling is aligned with the current filling level. Service personnel now has an alternative to pure guesswork and only comes around when it is necessary.
The Austrian hygiene specialist Hagleitner has developed such “chatty” dispensers and offers the related software. This allows accessing the relevant information on any device (smartphone, tablet, desktop, etc.) and even align soap and hand towel consumption with an ERP-system. The dispensers are never empty, the consumers of sanitation are satisfied and optimized refill logistics save costs. A nice example of a successful IoT “use-case”.
Up to 212 Billion Smart “Things” in 2020
Unfortunately, IoT use-cases are not always that obvious. Management, IT, Product Development, Customer Service Department and many others hear of Digitization. An explosion-like increase of devices is predicted. Forecasts range from 30 over 50 to even 212 billion “things” worldwide by 2020 or by 2025. A “thing” means an intelligent device or sensor. Besides the dispenser there are lots of colourful examples. Netflix, for instance, helps when you fall asleep in front of your TV: Smart socks notice your nodding and stop the video. In New York and Dubai smart rubbish bins report when they are full or their content stinks. And smart dog collars warn when your beloved pet leaves the garden without permission.
IoT is not a dream of the future. IoT is here. Market researcher Gartner assumes that in 2020 more than 50% of the main business processes will be linked to IoT in any way. Executives who doubt this may harm their company. It’s not a question of whether to appreciate IoT or not. There is no way around it in order to remain competitive.
Viable Use-Cases Are Key
How to make the most out of Digitization? Creating an economically viable IoT use-case is a challenge to companies and their executives. Finally, a simple “I will go digital too” is not enough. IoT cannot be an end in itself. Technology has to provide benefit to someone and as usual, the customer is a good start. Where are customer requirements not met? What bothers customers? How can their resources (time, cost, etc.) be saved?
Hagleitner Hygiene shows an elegant solution to this challenge. Firstly, the needs of consumers of public rest rooms are satisfied (soap and towels never run out). This is a clear benefit for Hagleitner´s clients such as hotels, stadiums, shopping centres, etc. Hagleitner´s clients not only gain more satisfied consumers, but can save money by means of efficient refill logistics and optimised stockkeeping. All this together provides Hagleitner with a competitive advantage, that clients are willing to pay for.
Knowing Something Is Broken Before It Gets Broken
Imagine you know that something is broken before it gets broken: Towel dispensers make use of paper, a material that emits fine dust. If the drive roll of a towel dispenser becomes dusty, its power consumption increases. If a certain threshold is exceeded, a service employee is ordered to the site. The right drive roll can be cleaned at the right time. A breakdown of the dispenser as well as an expensive repair become obsolete thanks to predictive maintenance. Collecting data on previous consumption enables accurate predictions for future material consumption and wear. Re-orders become more precise and potential disappearance becomes much more obvious.
Even Door Knobs Become Smart
For the future, a smart door knob is under development. There will be no way out of a toilette before the hands are disinfected. This can be beneficial in hospitals as well as in food processing operations. With the data obtained and the proof that hands were definitively disinfected, compliance to hygienic standards can be significantly simplified and documented.
In the use-cases mentioned above, the focus was on selling intelligent “things” (dispensers or door knobs including sensors). However, IoT goes much further and changes business models common in the IT sector. Many SaaS (Software as a Service) vendors prefer recurring revenue and ongoing customer loyalty over a one-time sale of a software package. Microsoft´s Office 356 for instance is offered in such a subscription. Printers can be paid per page printed out without actually purchasing them. As a result, more and more companies are in transition from producers to service providers; Pay-per-use instead of capital lockup, initial cost and maintenance cost. IoT makes it possible.
Hagleitner Hygiene is once again taken as an example: the consumer stream can be measured by means of additional sensors in the washroom. This allows a pay-per-use model. The operator of a shopping centre, for example, thus has well-run lavatories and pays according to the degree of utilisation and the number of consumers. Services therefore become more and more important, even in the automotive industry. One day it will no longer be about the car as a possession and status symbol, which is owned, but about providing mobility as simple, safe, stress-free and comfortable as possible.
Just having an idea for a viable IoT use case is not enough. It needs effective execution. Helpful for implementing at Hagleitner was that IT and R&D were connected strongly and were part of the same division. 130 scenarios were jointly discussed, prototypes were developed and installations were tested at the company’s own headquarters. Finally, long-standing customers were involved, the products were further adapted and a roll-out started step by step.
Digitisation and IoT provide lots of opportunities to all kinds of companies. But implementing use cases can be tricky. Often
- the necessary skills are missing within the company,
- IoT is virgin soil, even for many tech companies,
- common industry standards are missing, and
- the first IoT initiatives are often simply copying competitors instead of finding innovative solutions.
In a nutshell: It is time for companies to think and act digital – whether they like it or not.
This article was originally published in „Compuertwelt“ 06/2016 in German language.
Prof. Dr Oliver Loisel is Co-founder & Managing Partner at ATLAS Tech, the premiere partner in the creation, implementation, and operation of Internet of Things projects & Professor at MODUL University Dubai, conducting research on digitisation and the Internet of Things.
Autor: Prof. Dr Oliver Loisel