How Real Time Visibility and Data Analysis are Driving Innovation


If you want to see what the Internet of Things (IoT) can do, just look at an NFL player today.

Two nickel-sized sensors embedded in each player’s shoulder pads communicate more than 15 times a second with 20 radio receivers placed throughout each NFL stadium.

Data on every player is reported live, in real time. The sensors track how fast players are running, the distance they travel and their acceleration and deceleration, among other things. Computers analyze and display the information live over game video. Football fans watching a game on CBS or on a Microsoft Xbox can see the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, giving fans new visibility into the game with details that have never before been tracked.

It’s a glimpse of what is possible right now, coined the “Intelligent Enterprise.”

NFL players have been “tagged,” just as billions of people, devices, machines, warehouses, factories, retailers, hospitals and even cities will be in the not-too-distant future. Information from sensors will be tracked automatically by computers or “smart machines,” and decisions will be made either by humans or by the machines themselves. All of this makes our businesses and organizations more intelligent.

This visibility into what is going on, right now, will be revolutionary as it allows people, businesses and organizations to act on information in real time and reach new levels of growth, productivity and service –thus achieving greater intelligence.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is closer than you think

The IoT has enabled everything from improved efficiency for global shipping networks to devices that receive environmental feedback from home appliances in order to minimize their energy use. Thousands of new use cases are in development right now such as smart toothbrushes and intelligent can openers. The good news is many organizations already have the building blocks in place to digitize their operations.

The economic impact can already be felt. The market for radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices, the underlying technology for sensors, is exploding. According to IDTechEx, a consulting firm in Cambridge, UK, 8.9 billion RFID devices were sold in 2015, representing $10.1 billion in revenue. IDTechEx forecasts revenue will hit $13.2 billion in 2020. This includes tags, readers and software/services for RFID cards, labels, fobs and all other form factors, for both passive and active RFID.

Three megatrends are driving this move toward a more-connected world:

  1. Data collection and analysis: Being able to gather data in real time and control or act on physical processes and information is being used successfully and is closer to becoming a large-scale reality.
  2. Cloud Technology: Decentralized data storage and access is now readily available at an affordable price point for both consumers and enterprises, ensuring that an ever-increasing amount of information is available on demand.
  3. Mobility: Adoption of mobile technology and the number of mobile-connected users have grown so rapidly that companies are constantly finding new opportunities to leverage the connected world for innovation.

The idea of connecting the physical and digital worlds to drive innovation, efficiencies and global economic growth is the Intelligent Enterprise. The rate of technological change is rapid – and our businesses must adapt quickly.  

For instance:

In the trucking industry, 30 percent of the average trucks on U.S. roads are filled – with air.

When humans load trucks, they can be inefficient. But if sensors are placed inside semi-tractor trailer trucks, workers monitoring the packing will learn how efficiently the truck has been loaded. If the amount of air transported was cut to zero and trucks were fully packed, the number of trucks on U.S. roads would drop by 10 percent, an incredible cost savings for shipping companies and a substantial reduction of carbon emissions.

In the retail industry, 4 percent of potential revenue is lost every year because stores can’t satisfy customer demand for specific products in their inventory. What’s popular sells out, and empty or low-stocked shelves are lost opportunities to make a sale. But if every item were tagged and tracked and restock orders were transferred in real time to retail employees and warehouses, retailers would be able to capture a significant amount of that lost revenue. With average profit margins of 2 percent for most retailers, even a marginal improvement can result in major growth.

In the healthcare industry, the complex network of individual players – doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurance companies – makes consolidating, sharing, and analyzing medical data extremely challenging. But projects across the globe are attempting to use sensors and data analysis to improve information gathering and processing and ensure better care for patients. Last year, we partnered with Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in Leiden, Netherlands, on the first commercial use of the Time Tracking Solution for Acute Myocardial Infarction Patients. Internet-enabled patient wristbands send heart rate data to doctors, who track the crucial time between when a patient with a heart blockage enters the hospital to when the blockage is removed by inflating a balloon during surgery. By analyzing that data, healthcare providers hope to better understand how quickly patients receive treatment, inform staff planning procedures and provide crucial information more accurately to physicians in real time.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death globally, leading to 17.3 million fatalities annually. That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030. New technologies can change those outcomes for patients.

These are just a few of the ways in which the Intelligent Enterprise is already making an impact on nearly every industry. A sensor may seem like a small device, but married with troves of data and the ability to understand and act on it brings a new wave of technological innovation and creativity to our world and improves the lives of people who live and work in it.

Zebra, in partnership with the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), assembled 40 leading executives, industry experts and policymakers for the 2016 Innovation Symposium: The Intelligent Enterprise in September. These thought leaders defined an “Intelligent Enterprise” and explored best practices and opportunities for organizations of varying sizes and industries.

About the Author

Anders Gustafsson is CEO of Zebra Technologies, a company that builds tracking technology and solutions that give businesses real time visibility into their operations and processes to gives organizations the competitive edge they need to simplify operations, know more about their businesses and customers, and empower their mobile workers to succeed in today’s data-centric world.

Edited by Alicia Young

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