German companies are lagging behind in digitization. And even with the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) they are rather hesitant. Being an advisor it irritates me, and I wonder where this already dangerous holding of CEOs and CIOs on these survival issues come from.
When we look more closely at the topic of “Internet of Things”, it is noticeable that we are talking about everything and everything under this slogan, the topic is very difficult to grasp, everyone understands something different, such as industry 4.0 and logistics 4.0 But simply the really unnecessary digitization of everyday objects that would work very well without electronics. I would like to classify the topic at this point.
IoT is divided into three main areas of application:
- The industrial use in production, logistics and process flows;
- Use in the public sector, ie in urban areas, in public infrastructure, as well as in governmental use;
- The use in the consumer in shops, products and services.
Collect data and make interactions possible
Basically, IoT is only about collecting data and making elements interactive: the shipping container sending data about its location and state to a control center; The variable production unit, which independently controls its individual production steps; The aircraft engine that measures air quality, thus requesting certain cleanings themselve to avoid repairs; The shop device, which leads the customer to the desired product using his smartphone, and displays individual offers; The street lights measuring temperatures and smog values and giving a more focused light when another specific IoT unit (a car, a pedestrian with smartphone) is within range. Ultimately, however, products are not simply digitized, but processes are redesigned. In fact, these systems always and solely work in interaction with others and depending on the quality of the data and the consistency of the implementation. This allows existing processes to be optimized.
The process is digitized, not the things
Unfortunately, the discussion is often misguided, similar to other areas of digitalization. Everyone knows examples of gadgets which do not seem to need digital elements. The intelligent refrigerator can not be imagined, because everybody knows application scenarios that would not work when digitized. The refrigerator is supposed to order milk although I go to vacation tomorrow. The data required for the process “automat refrigerator re-fill” can not be guaranteed in the consumer area – the overall process, which would have to be digitized, is too complex and involves too many different variables and influencing factors. In itself, not the digitized process, resulting in a false image that is difficult to digest.
The goal is efficiency
In the industrial sector, digitization is generally simpler since control over the data and processes is more clearly regulated. The digitized processes, e.g. the cleaning process of the aircraft engine are faster, more effective, substantially more variable and also more cost-effective. They create clear competitive advantages. However, implementation usually requires new system interfaces and additional data to be determined, analyzed and made available within the process.
This leads us to two other aspects of the Internet of Things:
- The amount and analysis of the data – how can I determine the correct amount of data and evaluate it accordingly in order to gain qualified knowledge?
- The source and security of the data – who has the authority over the data sources, will I receive the data I need at any time, can I trust this data at any time, and are the data sources safe against attacks?
In fact, both the amount and the security of the data is critical to a functioning IoT application. On the one hand, I must be able to collect, process and analyze relevant data quantitatively. On the other hand, I have to rely on the data stream as well as on the correctness of the data and can not provide my system with unsecured gateways, which might be used as hacker attack portals. This results in a multitude of requirements, which can make these systems extremely complex and difficult to implement.
“Internet of Things” is process optimization based on new technology
Basically, the Internet of Things is not a technology that is introduced at a given time – and with which one can wait a few more years. It is – like all other topics of digitization – a new way of thinking based on the question of how and where I can identify and combine which data to optimize processes – or to entirely redesign them. The variability and continuous optimization of internal processes is a key factor in competitiveness and therefore vital to any company. The sooner I introduce this way of thinking in my company – understanding IoT as a process optimizer – the better I will be able to maintain my competitive leadership.