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Recent research by Vodafone showed that 84 percent of businesses that had begun to adopt Internet of Things (IoT) technologies found they had a positive impact on their ability to function during the pandemic.

The research, based on a survey of more than 1,600 businesses, was carried out for the Vodafone IoT Spotlight in May 2020 and aimed to understand how businesses were adapting during the uncertainty created by the pandemic.

Companies reported that IoT helped them remain connected to customers, suppliers and employees. In fact, the research indicated that more businesses are turning to IoT to help them grow and adapt in the face of unforeseen events.

IoT Enables Remote Work

IoT continues to enable workers to move to home-based offices and continue to work as the pandemic goes on. But while many knowledge workers and IT admins have been able to transition to working at home and maintain physical separation by using online collaboration tools, this isn’t an option for those with jobs that require contact with people and systems in the physical world, said Jason Shepherd, vice president, ecosystem at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Zededa, a provider of IoT and edge computing services.

This includes businesses such as restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms, but also hospitals, factories, refineries, warehouses, water and waste systems and transportation systems. Exacerbating the health risk from COVID-19 are the economic waves it is making across the globe. “We’re seeing customers in numerous verticals maintain and even accelerate their IoT projects to both mitigate their losses and increase their resilience,” Shepherd said.

He pointed to the example of the hard-hit oil and gas industry. Companies are investing in IoT to remotely monitor wells and reduce costs by keeping oil in the ground until prices improve. Real-time processing at the edge with remote orchestration increases operational efficiency and eliminates costly truck rolls to sites, which in turn limits the exposure of workers to hazardous conditions. "While these benefits are important daily, they are especially valuable at times like this," he said.

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Productivity Benefits From IoT

IoT technology helped facilities quickly adapt to pandemic-related disruption by improving efficiency, quality and safety for businesses across multiple industries, said Ray Almgren, CEO of Swift Sensors, a provider of wireless monitoring systems for restaurants and industrial plants. He pointed to further examples where IoT is enabling enterprises to be more productive in way that keeps workers safe:

  1. Restaurants: Restaurants were forced to lay off staff and temporarily close during the first few weeks in March. To make up for the loss of dine-in revenue, they began selling groceries and focusing on take-out orders. To prevent food waste and maintain safe storage conditions with fewer employees per shift, many restaurants rely on remote temperature sensors that report on malfunctioning equipment, reduce the possibility of foodborne illness, prevent food waste, and free up employees to focus on other tasks.
  2. Transportation: The transportation industry faced increased demand for medical equipment and groceries due to stay-at-home orders. To ensure products arrive in the best shape, freight carriers, distributors and retailers use IoT systems for trucks that provide real-time temperature, vibration and location data. This data helps managers address issues with cold-chain integrity, discover the level of shocks that cause product damage and determine how to protect products in transit.
  3. Manufacturing: IoT technology helped manufacturers produce essential supplies and equipment with a reduced labor force. Wireless temperature and vibration sensors enable plant managers a real-time view of how facility equipment is functioning. “Managers can catch potential equipment problems before they lead to unplanned downtime or product quality issues,” Almgren said. “The data collected by the wireless sensors on the IoT network also allows managers to measure productivity levels among shifts to help identify areas for improvement.”

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The Business Benefits of IoT

The Vodafone report also showed that while some companies are stepping back from some IoT projects due to lockdowns and downturns in their sectors, a substantial number of companies are looking at expanding IoT reach. While 73% of adopters reported having to delay projects, 81% said they are prioritizing IoT higher than they did before, and 77% have accelerated the pace of some of their IoT projects as a result of the pandemic.

A majority (84%) of IoT adopters – surveyed at the first peak of the COVID-19 crisis – felt IoT has ensured business continuity and maintained operations throughout major disruption. The figures also showed that:

  • Financial (85%) and insurance (84%) businesses were most likely to accelerate IoT projects.
  • The insurance sector (80%) was the most likely to pause some projects, along with automotive (76%), financial services (75%) and retail, leisure and hospitality (75%).

“The fact that most of the adopters have re-prioritized and even accelerated IoT plans indicates that most businesses are running multiple projects to make the most of the technology benefits," the report reads. “In this case, it’s most likely that adopters have prioritized the projects that are most likely to overcome challenges brought by COVID-19.”

The business benefits of IoT are undeniable, said Romil Bahl, president and CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based KORE, a company that advises organizations on IoT implementation and deployment points. "That said, the number of successful first-time deployments remains a work in process for our industry. Most companies who have dipped their toe into IoT have learned first-hand about the myriad issues and complexities that cause almost two-thirds of all IoT projects to stall," he said.

Start with a clear-eyed view of everything that needs to come together, from strategy and business case to security, technology and network selection, logistics and managed services, and the analytics required for the business outcome. “The key to avoiding a piecemeal approach is to work with an experienced IoT solution provider who is able to provide an end-to-end solution," he said.