How businesses are succeeding with their IoT strategies
Photography: Enno Kapitza
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How businesses are succeeding with their IoT strategies

Maxine-Laurie Marshall & Kenny MacIver – March 2016

Exclusive video interview
In the face of network, security and privacy challenges, organizations are seeing real successes with Internet of Things initiatives. Dr Alex Bazin, VP and head of IoT at Fujitsu, explains how. 

In recent years, high-profile Internet of Things (IoT) applications in consumer markets have turned the likes of toothbrushes, fridges and light bulbs into online devices. But businesses across all industries are now recognizing the wider implications of adding intelligence and connectivity to the physical world — their products, their operational tools, their supply chains — and are beginning to see real, bottom-line benefits as a result.

Dr Alex Bazin, VP and head of IoT at Fujitsu, is close to more than 300 such initiatives and sees businesses across varying industries and geographies at different stages of their IoT journey. Manufacturing companies are probably the most enthusiastic, many of which are evolving from SCADA and RFID systems to establish predictive maintenance capabilities. Indeed, Bazin estimates that more than half of manufacturing businesses in Europe already have IoT projects under way. At the other end of the spectrum are public sector organizations — and even some logistics companies — where the application of IoT is still in its infancy, he suggests.


Business in the driver’s seat

It would be a mistake to think that businesses are looking for IoT solutions per se, he says. Rather, they are looking to address existing business challenges and grasp new opportunities. That could involve finding better ways of connecting with customers or improving operational efficiency, but the enabler is the application of connected sensors and devices.

While that focus means most IoT projects are being driven by senior business management, the appreciation of the potential — and complexity — of IoT technology has had the effect of bringing the IT organization closer to the business. “The people who really get it are the business leaders, but IT needs to be brought into that business conversation,” he says.



The Internet of cows

Fujitsu is already working with businesses that are experiencing significant gains in efficiency and productivity as a result of their IoT implementations. Bazin highlights a favourite example — from an unexpected quarter.

“The agricultural industry is not known for being at the cutting edge of technology,” he says, but this hasn’t stopped some in this traditional sector from becoming leading lights in the take-up of the IoT. By attaching a monitoring device to dairy cows’ legs, Fujitsu’s GYUHO cattle breeding support service is able to accurately predict the optimal time to fertilize the animal, sending alerts to the farmer’s smartphone. This has led to improvements in pregnancy rates of up to 70%, an average reduction in the birth-cycle from 400 days to 350 and a 30% rise in the all-important ratio of female calves to male calves.


The upshot is a $500 per cow, per year improvement in productivity. As Bazin says: “The ‘connected cow’ example clearly demonstrates how IoT is about business change — even in quite traditional businesses.”

Fujitsu has also provided an advanced IoT solution to a number of international airlines, Bazin explains, that speeds the turnaround of commercial aircraft on the ground. The company has added sensors to life-jackets and other safety equipment so that the required checks between flights, such as whether an item is in-date or has been tampered with, can be completed simply by a technician walking the length of the aisles of the aircraft scanning for tags as they go. The task, which has traditionally taken up to 90 minutes on larger aircraft, can now be completed in 90 seconds, says Bazin.



Network limitations

The addition of billions of intelligent devices to all kinds of analog objects has the potential to revolutionize business. But technical advancements as complex and wide-reaching as this come with a catalog of challenges.

The explosion in the number of online devices will demand some prudent management of network resources, highlights Bazin. “When 50 billion-plus devices are connected to the network we will have to be much smarter about how we manage bandwidth and the access to that network. At the moment we see IoT solutions being written as if the network is all-pervasive and ever-plentiful. But actually that is not the case. When you have billions of devices sending tiny bits of information, often quite regularly, you need to build processing into the edge of the network. That kind of ‘edgeware’ allows decisions to be made locally, with information extracted and sent back for central processing when necessary, he explains.

Privacy is another obvious concern that businesses are going to have to address, says Bazin. “We are working on how you manage security and do authentication with semi-connected devices, long-term, at IoT scale.” He believes that if customer data is being gathered then organizations need to be upfront about the trade-off. “If you’re providing sufficient benefit to the consumer and you’re explicit about what data you’re taking and how you’re using that data, most of those privacy concerns melt away. It’s when businesses either aren’t transparent about what they’re doing or where actually it seems like a one-sided deal that people start getting upset.”



Security and standardization

Bazin likens security issues to the early days of BYOD. “By their very nature, the sensors are running embedded operating systems and the idea is to get unit price points down to almost throwaway levels. A big security question is: are you really going to be doing the level of bug fixing, updating, patching and end-point protection you do with a $1,000 laptop?  Probably not.”

He continues: “I think CIOs and CTOs have to think really carefully about how to understand what the threat profile is. And I think it’s a bi-directional threat profile. You have a danger of stuff coming into the network via those sensors but you also have an authentication problem when you’re going back out to those sensors, if you’re also using them as communication devices.”

Finally, the last challenge he sees is standardization. There are currently around 30 different communications ‘standards’ in place, he says, and while there is no expectation of a single standard emerging, Bazin suggests that different industry sectors will come up with agreed ways of devices communicating and interoperating.


• Dr Alex Bazin was speaking at Fujitsu Forum 2015 in Munich.

First published March 2016
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