Data is everything. Every company relies on data. From the smallest family businesses to the largest international corporations, data is absolutely vital to the decision making process. If you don’t have the right information, you can’t make the right decisions.
This isn’t some new concept unique to IoT technology - it’s common sense. Data is, and always has been, incredibly valuable to business leaders. The more information leaders have, the better equipped they are to make smart decisions. That has never changed, and never will.
What has changed are the tools we have to collect and work with that data. In the past, technology has made massive leaps in this arena. From the typewriter to the spreadsheet and on to the mainframe server, each advancement has fundamentally changed the way we do business and enabled companies to accomplish greater things. The newest technology in this line of advancement is real-time data gathering.
The concept is simple: all the data, right here, right now. Instead of going through the slow and costly process of collecting data by hand, all the data you need is automatically recorded by sensors and sent to a server as soon as it’s collected - giving you access to everything you need to know in real-time, as it’s happening.
Never Send a Human to do a Computer’s Job
Real-time data collection like this has a number of advantages over traditional methods of gathering data. The first advantage is it’s a passive, automated process. Once real-time data gathering technology is implemented, no further action is required. Contrast this with more traditional methods of logging data manually - whether you do it internally or externally, paying someone to make and record observations is a costly process. The results are often prone to human error or miscommunication, usually require an added step of data entry to be useful and, by the time you get the results, they may not even be relevant.
With automated real-time data gathering, all of the information you might need is monitored and recorded by default, without any added effort. Instead of having to search for the data, the data comes to you. Every company eventually needs to collect data about their operations in order to improve efficiency, so it makes sense to have a good collection strategy in place. Collecting operational data manually is like paying someone to calculate spreadsheets with a pencil and paper - it’s an incredibly inefficient and obsolete process, and an ideal target for automation.
Rapid Data, Rapid Action
In addition to the practical cost aspects of automated data collection, there’s another major advantage: speed. Real-time data collection means you don’t have to wait for the information you need to make critical business decisions. In the fast-paced business environment of today, having to wait days, weeks, or sometimes even months for critical strategic information is a huge disadvantage. Having important operational data on hand in real-time means you can act in real time.
This isn’t just a useful advantage for CEOs and Operations Managers, either, it’s an advantage at every part of the production chain. A great example of this in how Shimane Fujitsu applied IoT technology to their product rework process. Using a combination of Fujitsu’s cloud platform and Intel IoT products, they applied real-time data collection to their manufacturing process including product location tracking, progress monitoring, and visual data collection of the product inspection and rework processes.
On the floor level, this data allowed workers to immediately respond to product errors, and automatically prioritize rework by shipping date, reducing lead times by an impressive 15-20% and leading to a 30% reduction in shipping costs. And that’s just the start, the second phase of the project, integrating visual data collection of the inspection and manufacturing process, allowed engineers to track those individual product errors back to their origin and improve problematic parts of the manufacturing process at a previously unheard of pace.
Closing the Loop
Real-time data collection, when paired with other systems, allows for feedback loops to be built into operations. The data you collect isn’t just good for forming business strategy, it’s good for coordinating daily operations. The data you collect can allow you to schedule predictive maintenance, divert additional resources to where they’re currently needed, and alert employees to areas that require their immediate attention. The immediate nature of real-time data collection means you can observe the effects of any changes you make to operations immediately, instead of manually collecting data once again - allowing for rapid iteration of management practices and seamless feedback.
Dundee Precious Metals, a Canadian-based mining firm, provides a great example of this feedback effect. Before implementing IoT data collection, important operations information was often restricted to end-of-shift reports or lost altogether. By deploying a robust IoT network to monitor vehicle status, mining equipment, and employee locations, they were able to make rapid adjustments to their operations and see the effects in real-time. Their initial goal with the project was to leverage IoT technology to increase their output by 30% without any additional manpower or vehicles. Instead, they saw a massive 400% increase in production, quadrupling their output from 0.5 million tons annually to 2 million tons, in addition to cutting in excess of $2.5 million in communication costs.
Digging the Data Mine
The passive nature of real-time data collection means you end up with a whole lot of data quickly, and this can be a gold mine of useful information. With traditional manual data collection, you’re limited to the handful of metrics you’ve decided to measure ahead of time. But with automated data collection, you can mine your data for insights you might have never even considered. This is rapidly becoming a important tool for businesses and has even created an entirely new industry for mining, referred to as "Big Data."
Siemens recently applied Big Data mining techniques to the railways they service with spectacular results. By using machine-learning techniques, they’ve been able to comb through data produced by tens of thousands of sensors on the trains and railways they service - more than could ever be accomplished by humans. The models that resulted allowed them to improve their predictive maintenance systems, reducing false positives and reliably incorporating weather data into prediction models. As a result, they’ve managed to drastically reduce delays. The high speed rail from Spain to Barcelona has become so reliable that only 1 out of 2000 trips is delayed by over 5 minutes - and that’s directly impacted their hold on the transportation market. The previous reliability issues meant that 80% of travelers would choose air transportation over the high-speed rail - now that the reliability issues are resolved, only 30% of travelers are flying.
Paving Roads for Innovation
The great thing about real-time data - and the IoT in general - is that it opens up possibilities for innovation we haven’t even considered yet. It may sound like a cliche, but it’s true; the IoT is going to open up possibilities in ways we’re not even ready to predict. 20 years ago, in the earlier days of the internet, no one could have predicted online pizza delivery, streaming movies, or smartphone taxi services. Those are now multi-billion dollar industries. The IoT is at the same point right now, it’s rapidly developing and it’s going to forever change the way we do business.
Real-time data collection is an invaluable tool for companies in nearly every industry worldwide. Just like the personal computer ended the age of the typewriter, real-time data collection is bringing an end to the inefficient and slow data gathering methods of the past. There’s no question about it, real-time data is swiftly becoming a vital part of business in every arena and, in the coming years, it will become more and more of an absolute necessity for businesses wanting to stay competitive in the global market.