The Internet of Things links objects and devices to the Internet. The data then available about these objects forms the basis for new applications. In this way, IoT offers new possibilities in a lot of sectors. “We work traditionally with security guards who are deployed on site,” says Bart Verhulst, Area Manager Remote Guarding at Securitas. “By using IoT, we can now also carry out tasks remotely. By using cameras we can, for instance, open and close doors without being physically present on the site.” The IoT also provides the opportunity to radically revise the traditional operating model in the insurance world. “Sensors in cars can gather a mass of information, including about the distances driven and driving behaviors,” says Laurent Vauchel, ICT Architect at Ethias. “That could form the input for new types of insurance policies, including one based on the principle of ‘pay as you drive’.”
Ten years ago, GeoDynamics fitted its company cars with an application for tracking and tracing. Today the company combines that with a mobile time clock, which automates the administration of workers in the construction sector. “The in-car solution provides things like recording of commuting travel,” says Stijn Stragier, Managing Director at GeoDynamics, “as well as the recording of the hours worked per site. That simplifies the calculation of actual costs for a construction project in the central office, among other things. Thanks to the use of the connected car, employees themselves no longer have to keep a paper record of the work done.” Remote supervision is, in the context of IoT, the biggest motivator for Beluma, distributor of mechanical components, such as electronic locks. “We see that the end-user is constantly seeking to manage more things with a tablet or smartphone,” says Pascal Thomas, General Manager at Beluma, “such as doors or locked cupboards.” But IoT is more than that. “We now need to find out – in a wider field of users – which problems we can tackle with IoT. Simple, useful and cheap solutions will result in the breakthrough of the technology,” claims Peter Joos, independent consultant in IoT applications.
The IoT has a lot of opportunities to offer in various sectors but, in the first place, it also remains a challenge. “As a solution tracking and tracing is not new”, notes Bart Verhulst, “but IoT makes it easier and cheaper.” Thus IoT also changes the business model of certain services at Securitas, for example, in the security of expensive cars. Verhulst comments, “We have more information, including about the movements of the car, that allows us to intervene in a more preventative manner.” Moreover, the company can also provide more and better feedback to the end customer on the basis of the processed data, for example with a report or, very specifically, with a warning by means of text messaging. This example is a good indication that we currently have all the elements needed to think up new IoT applications. There are good sensors, there is connectivity and the technology exists for analyzing data and transforming it into useful information. Joos says, “The major challenge now lies in bringing everything together and building useful concepts.”
At the same time, there are also factors that inhibit that development. As is often the case with new technology, the legal framework is not yet sufficiently attuned to IoT. “Technology could allow us to register the driving behavior of a customer,” says Vauchel. The question is, however, whether the customer regards the insurer getting that insight as desirable. It is just one of the examples where the possibilities of IoT clash with the boundaries of privacy. Vauchel notes, “You could also use the same technology in a positive manner, rewarding the good drivers, instead of punishing the bad. At that point in time, IoT will have a considerable impact, because the technology would completely reverse the current business model in the insurance world. Vauchel points out, “Today, an insurance premium reflects the joint risk, spread across all drivers. By measuring individually, you can segment your business better as an insurer and offer every driver a premium that is based on his/her own risk.”
Trial and error
No matter how you look at this issue, it is a positive business case that defines the ultimate success of an IoT application. “IoT allows a lot of very innovative ideas to be put into practice,” says Alex Lorette, Director Enterprise Telco Solutions at Proximus. “The real added value actually often only surfaces by combining different ideas.” That is also the challenge immediately facing Proximus. Lorette: “IoT also requires a cultural shift in our company. That’s why we have set up an ecosystem with various partners, in which we can achieve concrete results on the basis of close cooperation.” The short duration of projects is typical of IoT. Long, traditional innovation processes overshoot their goal in this sphere. “With IoT, trial and error is often the starting-point,” says Katia Deboel, Lead Manager M2M Product & Solutions Marketing at Proximus. “Of course, you have to take the time to prepare yourself first but, afterwards, short pilot projects are the quickest way of finding the right solution.”
Attention in this respect always goes to one thing, the added value for the enduser. “The customer, as it happens, is not actually asking for IoT,” says Thomas. “The customer asks for a certain need to be fulfilled.” Joos says, “Thanks to IoT we can, for example, offer electrical fitters an extra service during the installation. Thus the fitter can install a sensor, then link it via his smartphone to the right bit of software.” That way, IoT ensures the optimization of various processes – and thus reduces costs. “That’s right,” says Verhulst. “By offering remote support, this gives rise to extra services and we can organize our business internally to be more efficient.”
Dare to innovate
In the field of technology, all the elements are available to apply and use IoT. In practice, there are still some questions in relation to legislation, as well as in relation to liability. What if an application fails and, as a result, damage is caused? That also implies that the IoT drags companies out of their comfort zone. “It’s not easy to predict which IoT projects will be successful,” says Vauchel. “But doing nothing and waiting is not an option, just ask Nokia and Kodak about that.” In other words, the actual innovation is the largest obstacle. Stragier comments, “The more history a company carries, the more difficult it will be to redesign processes as a function of IoT. When we started with GeoDynamics, there was no history to take into account. Moreover, right from the start, we’ve focused on the customer’s needs and wishes. Our solution has evolved as a result of the demands made by the customer.” The advantage of IoT here is that the financial threshold is already limited. “If it were all about expensive technology, then that would slow down everything,” says Thomas. “But IoT is simple and cheap. With a modest investment you can already do amazing things.”
The Internet of Things is taking shape rapidly and offers a wide range of opportunities. The key question when setting up a new business model still remains: does the new model meet the needs of the end-users? The technology is available. It is the legislation that is lagging behind.
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