Alok Bardiya is Head – Internet of Things (Business Unit) at Tata Communications.
As India rallies and we move past the initial response phase to Covid-19, we now face a different kind of challenge. While staging India’s back to business strategy, we need to not only save lives, but livelihoods too. Given the unscripted nature of this urgency, businesses have been forced to adapt and adopt new technologies in the pursuit of business preservation. Cloud usage and remote collaboration witnessed accelerated adoption equivalent of a few years in a matter of a few weeks, as they powered work from home seamlessly.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has emerged as a formidable and viable solution as we reimagine the future of work, to ensure business continuity and uphold employee safety. As we align to an industry wide change in philosophy as work from home becomes a mainstay, IoT can power us back.
Let’s take a look at the manufacturing units that have resumed crucial operations; they are now facing the challenge of keeping their employees safe and businesses solvent. To navigate this, manufacturers are establishing risk mitigation programs and redesigning their shop floors with fewer workers to reflect the staggered shifts and working around the principles of physical distancing. This process has accelerated the curiosity towards solutions that can be the guiding light on productivity, safety, energy management, automation and even predictive and remote maintenance.
While IoT will address all of the above, reimagining our return to business does not just stop there. More than the obvious analytics led efficiencies offered by the technology, businesses will be better suited to drive meaningful change if they fully absorb the philosophy that IoT will bring in. What does that mean? It means a cultural change at a pan organisational level, where old systems must give way to newer mindsets, driving new business values. It means realising the opportunity to build an industry 4.0 environment with a connected ecosystem where various processes, departments and machines can communicate with one another. Beyond businesses, as good governance makes headway, city wide adoption will see solutions like smart metering, smart lighting become mainstream to drive sustainability.
Business continuity with IoT
Many business leaders view IoT as a critical lever, one which if integrated correctly will not only ensure a safe and secure return to work, but also birth recurring dividends in the years to come. For instance, consider the supply-chain hindrances visible with essential supplies. The backstory reveals the global supply chain disruption, production slowdown and shortage of raw materials and sub-assemblies. In this scenario, IoT can facilitate a real-time view of production programmes, inventories and expected delivery times between all supply-chain participants while mitigating supply chain risks. Signals from connected machines supported by geo-location tags can offer insights on the status of raw materials in the factory and the location of the upcoming supply. These insights can also help organisations implement a holistic approach to optimise production, inventories and transport utilisation. Analytics, coupled with algorithms on asset conditioning, will optimise machines settings and adjust production schedules to integrate any change in demand or supply-chain disruption.
Securing employees and the workplace
Against this setup, IoT outshines at driving vigilance with connected sensors mapping the working environments. These sensors can monitor and analyse everything, from the well-being of employees to factory infrastructure, equipment and location.
In this context, it is important to make note of another philosophical change. The goal of automation today has shifted from ‘Doing more with less’ to ‘Sustainability and smooth operations'. Wearables such as smart watches can be combined with environmental sensors to monitor employees’ safety as well as the environment they are working in. By tracking physical fitness such as heartbeat and skin temperature, sensors help in early detection of potential problems and health conditions, basis which employers can take the necessary preventive action. In a hypothetical and undesirable scenario, if an employee tests positive for Covid-19, organisations can use positioning data from the wearable devices to notify other employees who might have come in proximity. Further, access cards and other wearable devices can also help in informing the management about under-manned areas in case of employee unavailability.
The road ahead
Even after the pandemic abates, manufacturers will only remain keener to re-invent and re-imagine insulating against any more uncertainty. Organisations will have to expedite their implementation of new strategies along the entire supply chain to avoid future disruptions and build resilience.
Here on, the private sector will need to coordinate closely with the public sector to forge plans that are essential to both public safety and the solvency of the workforce, while keeping the lights on operations. The utilitarian nature of solutions will be viewed from a broader lens for its capability to empower against a number of scenarios. IoT will own this all-encompassing duty and bring us closer to a connected ecosystem and its automation will bring us into closer working relationships with machines and AI. It is only natural that IoT will become a key pillar of the digitisation journey. It is this change in culture and philosophy at an industry level that will not only ensure a safe and successful return of our economic drive, but also safeguard against future setbacks.
The writer is Head – Internet of Things (Business Unit) at Tata Communications