by Bruce Harpham

How the Internet of Things is changing healthcare and transportation

Sep 08, 2015
Healthcare IndustryInternet of ThingsTechnology Industry

Far from being a gimmicky way to collect more data on customers – and sell them more things – IoT technology has the power to transform industries, manage costs and deliver quality outcomes to up and down the supply chain. Here’s how two industries are doing just that.

new jersey turnpike
Credit: Reuters

Sensors, mobile devices and related technologies are presenting new opportunities and risks for business. Collectively known as the Internet of Things (IoT), this broad terms covers all non-computer and non-phone Internet connected devices.

Many in the business community view IoT devices as interesting consumer gadgets, like the Fitbit or the Apple Watch. Increasingly, though, IoT devices are coming into their own for business and industrial use, and in the process reinventing such industries as healthcare and transportation.

These trends suggest that the first wave of IoT technology has arrived in the form of consumer adoption. The estimates presented in the sidebar, “Internet of Things: Key facts for CIOs,” suggest several million Americans are already carrying IoT devices in their daily life. It’s an exciting trend with much potential for firms that produce IoT products and services.

[Related: How developers can profit from the Internet of Things]

As technology leaders, CIOs have a responsibility to evaluate strategic technology for their organization. The consumer examples may lead you to think this technology may not be relevant to enterprise technology. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for using IoT in the enterprise. A closer look at two industries – healthcare and transportation, for instance – show how organizations are meeting their goals with this technology.

IoT in healthcare: improved patient care, but security concerns remain

Of all the personal data we accumulate in our personal and digital lives, health data is one of the most sensitive categories. Inappropriate sharing of health information has the potential to damage careers, harm reputations and worse. At the same time, digitizing and streamlining the sharing of health data has the potential for dramatic gains in efficiency significant cost savings – Goldman Sachs recently estimated that Internet of Things (IoT) technology can save billions of dollars for asthma care. It’s a challenging dichotomy, as CIOs continue to look for ways to manage the risks of IoT and capture the benefits. Consider the following examples:

  • Flexible patient monitoring. Keeping patients in a hospital setting is expensive. The average daily cost for a single inpatients was over $1,700 in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Remote monitoring products – such as the BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System – give healthcare pros the option to move patients to their home and retain monitoring of their status by doctors and nurses. The BodyGuardian system addresses security requirements in several ways. The system separates patient identification information and observation data. In addition, the system encrypts data on the device, during transmission and in storage.
  • Improved drug management. The expense of creating and managing drugs is one of the biggest issues facing the healthcare industry today. Forbes reported the average cost to develop an approved drug at $55 million (drug companies have stated higher costs). In addition, there is a multi-billion dollar industry in fraudulent drugs. IoT devices and processes may prove helpful in better managing these costs. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laid out guidelines for RFID (Radio-frequency identification) and drug supply chain management. The first step was to add RFID tags to medication containers. Adding these tags enable producers, consumers and regulators to have greater confidence in the drug supply chain. The next step is embedding technology into the medication itself. WuXi PharmaTech and TruTag Technologies are just two companies developing edible IoT, “smart” pills that can help monitor both medication regiments and health issues, which can in turn help drug companies and healthcare providers alike mitigate risks and losses.

[Related: IBM to invest $3 billion in Internet of Things]

IoT in transportation: tracking people, vehicles and infrastructure

The last major advance for transportation IT was the widespread adoption of GPS. The mobile nature of transportation systems has made traditional IT solutions and infrastructure difficult to use. Fortunately, small IoT devices with connectivity are an excellent fit for transportation. Consider these three examples for what this industry has achieved with IoT.

  • Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). With over 100 million annual passengers in the greater Dallas area, DART is one of the largest public transit providers in the U.S. DART used Cisco IoT programs to improve fleet management (i.e., to monitor vehicles). In addition, the Dallas police department now receives better information from 1,700-plus smart cameras that provide live and recorded video. As a result, the Dallas police are able to make better use of their resources.
  • The Port of Cartegena, Colombia. Ports remain one of the world’s most important pieces of infrastructure. With fuel, consumer goods, food and many other products flowing through ports, efficiency in port operations matters. The Port of Cartegena implemented IBM’s IoT products to improve monitoring and control over shipping containers. With more than 1,000 shipping companies using the port, maintaining security is a major challenge for the port administration. IBM’s IoT provides container tracing and supports the Container Security Initiative.
  • New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA). According to U.S. Department of Transportation, over 32,000 people died in car accidents in the U.S. in 2013. Reducing the number of fatalities on the roads is a powerful reason to seek out new solutions. Recently, the NJTA brought in IBM to improve their operations. The project installed over 3,000 sensors along the New Jersey Turnpike. The data generated by these sensors allows for improved emergency services and reduces delays for drivers. The NJTA also uses a sophisticated command and control approach to make the most of this data.

These examples apply to leaders in that serve large numbers of customers or have complex facilities to manage. IoT devices and services are an excellent approach to monitor a large number of assets and environments. The benefits include improving public safety, managing large numbers of partners and improved efficiency.