IoT is a prudent enabler of progress and efficiency. Businesses must exercise farsightedness and invest in new-age technology to make up for the COVID-19 related losses

Leveraging IoT in the post COVID-19 world

By Niladri Dutta, Director, Deloitte India

There hasn’t been any global phenomenon over the past few decades which has taken a toll of this size and magnitude. The world beyond COVID-19 will really look different and it’s not a surprise to any one of us any longer.

From a broader perspective, businesses are starting to focus more on automation of processes and operations, instead of relying on cheap labour, so as to limit human dependence. Our reliance of technology is increasing, as is visible in certain cases already. It is only radical to look at every sector with the technology lens, because the meaning of “business as usual” has changed.

India could well become an alternate manufacturing hub for companies moving their base from China.

Hence, upskilling the labour is an absolute necessity. The labour laid off due to automation in the industries has a new opportunity now. This event is also a chance for companies to upgrade their operations, and upskill their people, to become more agile to new-age technologies.

As businesses slowly tap into Internet of Things (IoT) for automation, let’s look at some of the ideas which will sooner or later become a reality for the following sectors.  

Manufacturing

Automation in the manufacturing industry is the need of the hour. This segment is currently reeling under the stress of lockdown-induced operations shut down, crumbling supply chain, and labour exodus. Organisations have started re-looking at their supply chain strategies, with many ready to make significant investments already.

IoT is a huge enabler to help this sector take a giant leap towards automation.  It can ensure smart workforce management by streamlining human resources operations, especially in an industrial shop floor. It’s touch-free and full integrated technology with cameras and sensors in the value chain allows non-intrusive ways of working. Autonomous machineries such as robots can handle non-labor intensive operations with greater precision.

IoT can easily integrate the functions of these autonomous machineries by providing intelligent interfaces from the business center to the machines for recording and transparency. With the help of the predictive analysis, the health of these machineries can be monitored remotely by carrying virtual inspection and diagnostics. This connected interface is a great way to optimize costs, increase productivity, and evaluate performance.

Agriculture

Agriculture is the primary sector of the Indian economy. It is one of the largest employers, hence, any disturbances in this sector can be catastrophic to the economy. An IoT-led, more digitally controlled ecosystem can be instrumental in improving the supply chain, distribution, and reducing pilferage.

Drones, for instance, can prove to be the most promising technology. Through a connected network of drones, farmers can spray insecticides, pesticides, and monitor crop health, remotely, without human intervention. This makes the information more real-time. The farm produce can be stored in digitally-enabled godowns that can assure remote monitoring.

Healthcare

Healthcare has made the widest use of IoT, with a breakthrough in areas which seemed impossible until some years ago, by ensuring smooth accessibility in remote locations. Thanks to new-age technology like Telehealth, a doctor can now be made available to patients anywhere in the world. Real-time remote monitoring and digital diagnostics can enhance liveability. India’s per capita medial expense is still the lowest, given its population. COVID-19 has only made the need for technological intervention more important than ever. Countries in Africa are already making huge strides with technology like drone-led medicine delivery. Indian companies must take a leaf from other markets as well.

Energy and Power

Given our growing dependence on energy and power, there is a need to safeguard and maximise the value of power utility. Automation in meter reading has become essential in the backdrop of COVID-19. This requires distribution companies to invest in a technology that requires customers to attach a small device to their meter. This will reduce human intervention, and automatically send the meter reading to the data centers. The complex cost subsidy structure has already caused huge monetary loss to the power distribution companies. Hence, there is a need to provide accurate real-time data that can set off a smooth bill generation process.

Consumer products and retail

The fear of surface infection and community infection has forced most stores to shut down, causing a huge financial loss to the sector. In addition to this, consumers are cautious about spending money. The only viable solution in sight is making the shopping experience digitally enabled to reduce human interaction. This can be easily achieved through IoT, wherein the availability of goods can be assessed in the warehouse, depending on the buyer’s preference. Inventory management, supply chain, and other stages of the value chain can be made digital.  This will ensure a better calculation of demand and supply, and ensure better logistics and planning.

E-commerce

An efficient e-commerce framework can ensure minimum disruption. Currently, e-commerce setup involves human-based delivery and pickup, but few players in the market have launched contactless pickup and delivery models to ensure zero contact with consumers. IoT-enabled supply chain for product delivery and pickup, using drones, will minimize the risk of contagion. Such contact-less methods are apt, and could also lead to 100 percent guarantee of operations in the current scenario, considering the safety of consumers.

Automotive

The automotive industry has, by far, suffered maximum disruption in the last few years. The pandemic has further proved to be the double whammy. A part of the sector has widely catered to passenger vehicle or commercial vehicle segment. This trend is undergoing a change as people shift towards autonomous vehicles.

The automotive industry needs to innovate and focus towards providing a digital ecosystem for safety and fuel efficiency. Cost-conscious buyers are going to drive the need for innovation in the years to come.

In the commercial segment, organisations in need of heavy vehicles are going to look at ways of reducing manual tasks, spurring the need for IoT enabled technologies like Autonomous Drilling Vehicle that can help the mining sector by connecting the mining data to a digital ecosystem and facilitating further business needs.

Telecom and technology

 A huge prominent convergence of the telco value chain is almost here. One can see the rapid transformation of service provider into the service enablement space. Telcos, especially their B2B divisions, would soon be competing with the likes of IBM, Google, and Amazon in the cloud security, data centre, and overall Infrastructure space. They will be pitching to own the end to end story for themselves. They will be self-reliant and be the self-drivers of technology without being too dependent on their system integrator (SI) partners. Adopting a well thought out strategy will help telecom players in accelerating their investments. Telecom companies need to build IoT platforms which will allow easy integration of solutions while staying scalable (able to handle multiple device requirements at a time) based on usage requirements. At the same time, it is important to keep the platform secure so that industries are able to trust the platform through end to end security from IoT devices in the field to communication centers and business systems.

 Addressing cyber risk

Working from home is one of the major changes which COVID-19 has created in the modern functioning of businesses, and this change is expected to become the new normal in the coming times. Digital network resilience services around cyber are going to hog attention as people will not mind paying and investing a premium for secure connections. Data security is the key element for every business to drive customer sensitivity and brand equity, hence everyone wants to ensure this is done seamlessly.

Rolling out IoT/IoE kind of services will define the new-age technology. Telecom industries are the backbone to support this change. They are providing services to manage the interest of businesses. Information Technology (IT) stand-alone networks will be guided by telecom infrastructure. Telcos will soon start owning the access side of any enterprise network. This kind of convergence is imminent. Network security and the seamless experience will go hand in hand with 5G rollouts across the world.  IoT-led solutions providing security to home infrastructure are gaining momentum.

IoT is a prudent enabler of progress and efficiency. Businesses must exercise farsightedness and invest in new-age technology to make up for the COVID-19 related losses, as well as a safeguard from future risks, to define the new business as usual.

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