IoT success stories: Reaping value from sensor data

The internet of things is helping CIOs collect more data than ever. Here IT leaders share how IoT is helping to transform manufacturing, agriculture, and museums.

IoT success stories: Reaping value from sensor data
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Enterprises replatforming for the digital era are thirsty for data. That thirst is spurring a proliferation of internet of things (IoT) implementations across several sectors, including industrial manufacturing, agriculture and retail.

Unlimited connectivity, ubiquitous data supplies and massive processing power have been a boon for IoT, which includes sensors that gather data about anything from room temperature and lighting levels to the performance of industrial machines, said Jeanne W. Ross, principal research scientist of MIT SCISR, at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in May.

"IoT, mobility and analytics are raising the bar on operational excellence and customer experience," said Ross, who researches how companies are using digital tools to accelerate and sustain success.

A bull market for IoT

If data is the new oil, IoT technologies comprise the pumps extracting and transporting data to analytics engines for refinement. And IT leaders are investing big bucks on data-drilling infrastructure.

Worldwide spending on IoT tools will reach $745 billion in 2019, according to IDC, which says worldwide IoT spending will maintain a double-digit annual growth rate en route to topping the $1 trillion mark in 2022. The IoT use cases expected to deliver the fastest spending growth through 2022 include airport facility automation (transportation), electric vehicle charging (utilities), agriculture field monitoring (resource), bedside telemetry (healthcare), and in-store contextualized marketing (retail).

"We are increasingly observing how data generated by connected devices is helping businesses run more efficiently, gain insight into business processes, and make real-time decisions," says IDC analyst Carrie MacGillivray. Here technology leaders share with CIO.com how IoT use has transformed their offerings and operations.

Lindsay taps IoT to bolster water efficiency

Lindsay Corp. bet early on IoT with its 2014 purchase of Elecsys. Lindsay has since integrated Elecsys’s remote monitoring and wireless communication sensors with various applications to keep tabs on industrial equipment operating in harsh and remote environments. These machines include Lindsay's Zimmatic pivot irrigation systems, which hydrate crops around the country, says Brian Magnusson, Lindsay's vice president of technology and innovation.

Sensors on Zimmatic systems and other farming machines relay data points on anything from how much water is required, nutrient levels, soil conditions and other characteristics in hypertargeted field dimensions to Lindsay’s FieldNet Advisor, a remote management app whose underlying algorithms personalize recommendations about how farmers should irrigate their crops. FieldNet Advisor also factors in weather forecasts and other third-party data.

Brian Magnusson, vice president of technology and innovation, Lindsay Lindsay

Brian Magnusson, vice president of technology and innovation, Lindsay

Previously, farmers manually checked field conditions, and cobbled data from other sources, often over- or under-hydrating their crops. IoT systems and FieldNet Advisor allow farmers to get more value out of the data they collect and make more accurate decisions, Magnusson says.

"IoT devices are critical," Magnusson says. "Without the ground-truth data from sensors in the field, the [analytics] models are meaningfully less accurate.” On the back end, Lindsay uses Docker Enterprise software, including containers, to better shuttle applications between its internal systems and Microsoft’s Azure cloud, part of an API- and microservices-based platform that helps Lindsay rapidly roll out application updates and scale up and scale down computing capacity based on seasonal needs, Magnusson says.

Pentair tackles water filtration challenge with IoT

IoT helped Pentair solve a long-standing business challenge: Gauging the performance of its water filtration systems for each customer, from industrial brewing companies to fish farms. Requirements vary for these distinct types of customers, some of whom operate in far-flung locales.

"We didn't have visibility into how customers were using our products," says Pentair's Rama Budampati, senior director, smart products and IoT, who helped migrate the company’s compute and analytics capabilities to Amazon Web Services for this initiative.

While Pentair has traditionally relied on scheduled maintenance appointments to see its systems in action, it can now learn how its systems are operating without getting boots on the ground. Sensors outfitted on filtration systems funnel information back to AWS IoT Core application. When connectivity is limited, AWS IoT Greengrass provides Pentair with a local connection.

Pentair can make decisions in near real-time that impact the health of its devices but also, in the case of fish farms, the health of the fish, which results in better yields, prevents the spread of disease and reduces operational costs. In the case of brewers such as Heineken, Pentair supplies beer membrane filtration systems equipped with sensors that gauge how much beer is being produced, temperature, flow and other KPIs, Budampati says. Brewing company employees check the metrics from mobile apps.

"[Brewers] want predictable production," Budampati says. "They want to know how much beer they are producing and how their systems are operating."

IoT and AWS have helped Pentair boost customer satisfaction while reducing the need for manual equipment checks, as well as operating servers and analytics systems, Budampati adds.

Adler Planetarium’s IoT recipe for preserving instruments

IoT is such a lucrative opportunity that it drove Sam Cece to found Swift Sensors in 2015.

Hundreds of customers, most of which hail from the manufacturing, restaurant and health-care sectors, use Swift's wireless sensors, which are supported by cloud software and analytics, to help drive insights into business performance. Kraft Heinz, Dole Food and Mars, for instance, use the company's sensors to track temperature and other elements in warehouses where they store food, says Cece, who is also Swift's president and CEO.

Museums also see value in IoT to preserve historical artifacts, such as refractors and telescopes, which are fragile. The Adler Planetarium in Chicago uses more than 80 key-fob-size sensors to track more than 240 measurements, including temperature, humidity and light conditions, to protect instruments from damage. When temperature or humidity readings fall outside the "safe zone," the sensors fire off text message alerts to iPhones or iPads carried by Adler's staff, who can take steps to modify conditions.

The Swift system also saves Adler's staff from having to walk the exhibit floor to manually log conditions, a cumbersome process that can take an hour a day. "It basically solves the problem of, 'I want it to alert me if something is going to go bad,'" Cece says, adding that IoT provides organizations another way to solve business challenges through automation.

What’s next for enterprise IoT?

Analysts anticipate significant value for IoT systems.

"The next chapter of IoT is just beginning as we see a shift from digitally enabling the physical to automating and augmenting the human experience with a connected world,” says IDC’s MacGillivray.

But IoT is effectively neutered without sophisticated analytics systems.

“Analytics is the key to smarter, more autonomous IoT systems,” says Gartner analyst Carlton Sapp, in a March 2019 research report. “Analytics drives business value and operational efficiencies by enabling new ways to leverage large amounts of IoT data, and by reducing the overhead of moving large amounts of data over a network.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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