COVID-19 has put a rocket under global IoT adoption and all its previously unrealized quality-of-life benefits. Before COVID-19, there was no real sense of urgency in the adoption of IoT. During the pandemic, IoT is now far more a must have.
According to a recent Vodafone poll of 1,639 businesses worldwide, three in four respondents said if they failed to embrace IoT, they expected to be lagging behind their competitors within five years. I think that’s a nice way of saying: If a business doesn’t embrace IoT in a COVID-19 world, that business may not exist five years from now.
Changes that were previously years — if not decades — away are becoming mainstream at lightning pace. Video conferencing, remote working and online grocery shopping have been among the earliest high-profile shifts.
But deeper, less obvious changes are now occurring. These will be just as impactful on the quality of our lives. And not only have they already begun, they won’t stop or even slow regardless of how long we have to live with COVID-19. Below are just a few examples of where IoT adoption is making the greatest impact.
Wireless medical devices become an urgent need
In the notoriously conservative and slow-to-change medical industry, one of the most commonly used devices is the pulse oximeter. Pulse oximeters are used to monitor a patient’s heart rate and blood oxygen levels using a wired medical device that clips to a patient’s finger.
Pulse oximeters haven’t changed in decades. As such, they require readings to be made and recorded manually. In addition, pulse oximeters are prone to human error and time consuming to use.
A pulse oximeter’s trailing wires also pose a health and safety tripping hazard, and patients find them uncomfortable. The device also has to be manually removed and reattached each time a patient leaves their bed by a medical professional. It also doesn’t support continuous remote patient monitoring.
If I was now to tell you that a low-cost solution to all of these problems exists in the form of a compact, battery-powered wireless pulse oximeter, you would probably expect hospitals to switch. Pre-COVID-19, this was simply not the case.
There was no real sense of urgency beyond intending to phase out the wired devices with wireless ones when the wired units reached end of life. To be fair, concerns over IoT privacy and security probably didn’t help.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, demands for wireless pulse oximeters have skyrocketed. Why? Because wired pulse oximeters require unacceptable levels of patient-to-staff contact in a COVID-19 world. Wireless alternatives have become a must have.
Medical equipment asset tracking is also becoming a must. Even the most diligent U.S. hospitals are losing around $12,000 per bed per year due to inefficiencies in the way they track and utilize medical equipment assets, according to a Becker hospital CFO report. Yet pre-COVID-19, there was no real drive to address this issue using modern IoT technology.
But COVID-19 quickly revealed that even if a hospital has enough ventilators during a surge in infections, they are of no use if the hospitals don’t know exactly where they are when you need them. Lives will be lost while personnel search. Once again, low-cost wireless IoT solutions that completely solve this problem have suddenly become a must have.
The food industry turns to app-based ordering
Another area COVID-19 is forcing a major shakeup of outdated working practices is the food industry. As restaurants face the prospect of fewer in-house dining guests due to social distancing and thus spacing requirements between tables, takeaway and home delivery will become a vital part of their business.
This means app-based and online ordering capabilities will provide access to a much wider pool of customers. Customers no longer have to wait for a server to place an order. It also means the possibility for errors when taking orders are minimized. And because orders go straight through to the kitchen, customers are getting their orders faster.
Another area of the food industry that was ripe for transformation pre-COVID-19 is the airline industry. The seated service dates back all the way to the birth of the modern consumer airline business where plane tickets cost so much money, the airlines felt it was a necessity to wait on customers as if they were in an upmarket restaurant. And the tradition has continued to this day.
But today, airline tickets are dramatically lower in cost and economy class has left airlines struggling to provide what some would consider even half-edible food. Airlines can’t make money on this food and most customers don’t like it.
The solution? Allow customers to order their in-flight food from their favorite restaurant of choice operating at or near the airport and have these restaurants prepare and deliver the food to the plane. The airline doesn’t have to worry about supplying food on a non-existent budget, gets paid a healthy sales commission by the restaurant and the customer gets a meal they genuinely enjoy.
A Transavia flight from Amsterdam has already begun to adopt this new solution. Passengers can even wait up to one hour before their flight to order their food.
COVID-19 will change everything
Some changes brought about by COVID-19 will no doubt be temporary. No one will want to wear face masks for any longer than they have to.
But most changes will be permanent and far reaching. There will simply be no going back to the pre-COVID-19 world as we knew it. We have gone from a world where it was only far sighted businesses that were embracing IoT or those that had no choice due to cost.
IoT is no longer a choice. If COVID-19 is the new normal, for many companies IoT is now commercially mandatory. As a result, COVID-19 will propel IoT adoption forwards with a sense of urgency that simply did not exist before. And if that makes the world a slightly better place, then at least something positive will have emerged from this terrible pandemic.
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