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IoT is critical to enterprise digital transformation

Without the internet of things, enterprise digital transformation may not be possible. And without digitization, companies will struggle to survive.

Enterprise digital transformation has been a hot topic with IT and business leaders over the past several years. The impact of digitization cannot be understated, as companies of all sizes can use this shift to leapfrog their competitors. Organizations that embrace being digital will thrive, grow revenues, cut costs and be more profitable. Those that do not will struggle to survive and risk going out of business.

I have interviewed many C-level executives from a wide range of companies to better understand how they went about enterprise digital transformation. While digital initiatives tend to vary in different verticals, they have a couple of points in common. The first one is that digital means moving fast. Cisco's former CEO, John Chambers, often said "market transitions wait for no one," and that has never been more true than it is today. Make no mistake, the new currency of business is speed, and the rewards come to those that act with urgency.

The second factor that was consistent across all my interviews about digital transformation? IoT is critical to digital success, although many companies don't specifically use the term IoT.

The intersection of enterprise digital transformation and IoT

IoT refers to the connecting of non-IT devices to a common network and can include everything from point-of-sale devices to water pumps to HVAC systems. Some verticals, like oil and gas, have been connecting "things" for years, but only recently has the term IoT been applied to it. Obviously, many technologies enable digitization, including cloud computing, mobility and software-defined networking, but IoT brings an entirely new element to businesses.

This will change how customers are serviced, students learn, passengers fly, patients are treated and how workers do their job.
Zeus Kerravalafounder and principal analyst, ZK Research

This may not seem obvious, but it's important to shed conventional thinking around business processes and consider what's possible when we live in a world where everything is connected. This will change how customers are serviced, students learn, passengers fly, patients are treated and how workers do their job. For example, consider a business where all of the facilities' networks -- such as lighting, HVAC, badge readers and other nontraditional IT devices -- are connected to the same data networks as the computer systems are.

For a successful enterprise digital transformation, IoT is key

Typically, when a group of people meets in a conference room, the entire process of starting and conducting a meeting is a set of disjointed functions, as content needs to be loaded, lights turned on, temperature adjusted based on the number of people in the room, conference bridges joined and video systems enabled. ZK Research found that 15 minutes of every meeting is wasted simply trying to start the meeting.

Now consider a company where everything is connected. The meeting organizer enters the room and the network knows who she is based on the employee badge. The computer in the room welcomes the user, uploads the content from the meeting invitation and automatically connects remote participants over an audio bridge or video system. Based on the number of people in the room, the temperature is set to a point where everyone will be comfortable as more people generate more heat and require more cooling. The lighting is adjusted based on time of day, and the blinds can automatically be drawn if the projector is being used. In this scenario, employees simply walk into a conference room and start working.

Providing medical assistance at an airport is another example to consider in terms of digital transformation and IoT. Today, if a passenger has a heart attack, a number of disconnected steps take place, each that includes significant amounts of human delay. For example, first airport operations would be notified and then would have to dispatch a medical person. Once that person arrived on location, she would then start treatment. If the person needed more support, another call would have to be placed with airport operations to dispatch more people. Delay is introduced each time an interactions is required between people or devices.

Consider how different the process might be with IoT-enabled endpoints:

  • Airport operations is notified and a medical professional is dispatched via text message. Connected defibrillator is removed from the emergency station and the following happens automatically:
    • The message is sent to airport operations about location of the device.
    • The message is sent to an IP camera that follows the defibrillator to track it and monitor activity.
    • An audio link is mounted and a two-way speaker is opened so medical personnel can communicate with operations.
    • Over a video feed, airport operations notices that people are forming a crowd around the event and dispatches a security team via SMS (text); location information is sent as part of that message.
    • The medical professional struggling with the patient articulates it vocally so she can be heard over a two-way speaker.
    • Operations sends a message with the location and problem over text message.
    • A team is dispatched quickly to the site and the patient is saved.

In this case, the connected defibrillator, or IoT endpoint device, was the key part of the solution. The process was streamlined because IoT gave the defibrillator a voice. It was able to communicate with airport operations via messaging service, and then operations could communicate with the camera, speakers and all of the connected devices.

While the future health of an organization requires an enterprise digital transformation, IoT is the only way to truly become fully digital; connecting everything in the organization and rethinking business processes are key to finding a better way of doing things.

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