Commentary: What the Rise of the Machines Will Mean for Your Business


AUGUST 28, 2015

This past April, at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Jakarta, key stakeholders like entrepreneurs, business leaders, NGOs and government representatives, explored one area that is key to growth in Indonesia; the digital economy.

Indonesia has one of the largest, most digitally savvy demographics and is one of the largest Internet, mobile, and social media markets in the world. With a consumer-driven market and a society connected so comprehensively, companies must be ready to cater to higher demands for real-time visibility and insights into their business. This aligns with President Joko Widodo’s aim to build more than 200 Smart Cities, where technology will be the cornerstone of development.

One way to meet such demand is by offering an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. The Internet of Things is created when interconnected devices provide more visibility into an organization’s operational events, allowing for better decision-making processes backed up by real-time, accurate information. The premise behind IoT technologies is that devices can connect and interact with each other to share information without human interaction so as to speed product to market, offer solutions to recurring issues or even create personalized customer experiences.

For example, keeping a real-time track record of inventory, courtesy of smart barcodes, will help managers see if they need a new delivery of products or should do a fire sale to get rid of old stock. For some, this might sound too good to be true – yet this enabling technology is here and now, and its adoption will help business leaders gain a clearer vision of how they can reap the benefits of this innovation.

How did we get here?

It’s been an evolution that started with barcodes, telling you what it is. Then, with technologies such as GPS and real-time locating solutions, we knew where it is. For example, on the floor of an aerospace manufacturing plant, such technologies can, in real time, pinpoint the precise location of an expensive and critical tool. And finally, with sensors, we can know how it is. Consider a truck full of produce that is about to spoil. With sensors monitoring the temperature of the fruits and vegetables, the food distributor can get real-time alerts about the condition and re-route the truck to a different location if needed.

To be able to successfully ride on these shifting dynamics, businesses need a deeper understanding of their day-to-day operations for higher efficiency, and also critical insights into things like customer usage patterns and needs. The IoT leads the way forward in this arena, bringing together data collected through interconnected devices and translating this data into meaningful insights for better-informed business decisions.

This is especially true in Asia where populations are growing; worker and trade mobility is increasing; and companies are looking beyond survival to grow their businesses to their full potential.

The discussion around the Internet of Things typically has been about the possibilities – the big “what ifs,” particularly as it relates to consumers. There are many interesting ideas that will offer new conveniences and life-changing applications as well as addressing important business challenges and critical global issues affecting businesses in Asia now.

“What if” we could connect the Internet to the things in a hospital – such as medication and expensive, critical equipment – to improve patient safety and ensure the right tools are available when doctors need them. Or, to the things we eat, ensuring we can track food from the farm to the shelf to the home or restaurant, dramatically changing the outcome of food recalls.

If we look at what is happening today, organizations across the globe are striving to do more with less and to be more nimble and efficient. To do so, organizations need more visibility into operations in order to make smarter business decisions and unlock potential within the value chain.

Consider the following business challenges the IoT could solve:

Streamline supply chain

According to Frost and Sullivan, Indonesia’s logistics industry will grow more than 15.2 percent this year. With Indonesia’s geography and uneven population distribution across the cities, traffic congestions are logistically challenging. With sensors pegged on logistic vehicles and in the hands of field employees, enterprises will be able understand the traffic condition and opt for a different route before setting off. At the same time, these delivery vehicles can be easily tracked and provide Enterprise Asset Intelligence. This insight and intelligence will help streamline the supply chain process and help field employees make informed decisions.

Improved food safety

The recent ‘plastic rice’ scare in Indonesia has raised concerns on food safety within the country. With real-time locating solutions, organizations can hone in on very specific items that may be an issue, and potentially send automatic mobile alerts to organizations, reducing inventory loss, saving money and helping quickly redeem consumer or business trust.

Improved access to healthcare 

Hospitals may see a surge in the intake of patients under President Joko's reform to make all hospitals, private and state-owned, available to every Indonesian. This means that hospitals need to be more organized in dispense of medication and the use of medical equipment. Every year an estimated 44 million vaccines worldwide are wasted each year due to not maintaining the right temperatures. With barcodes, RFID, and sensors, real-time temperature monitoring could be made automatic and save billions.

Internet of Things is actually changing the way governments, businesses and individuals work. In fact, we are at the tipping point for broader IoT adoption with 53 percent of organizations in the United States planning to implement an IoT solution in the next 24 months. Organizations in Asia Pacific and Latin America are more aggressive with 69 and 60 percent, respectively, planning to implement over the same time period, according to the 2012 Building Value from Visibility survey.

While momentum and interest is strong for IoT adoption, as with any new technology implementation, it’s not without its challenges. IT decision-makers note there are a number of technical challenges including system integration and data analytics. Additionally, they face internal challenges, such as facilitating stakeholder adoption of new solutions and implementation complexity.

It’s important for organizations to prioritize implementations within their organizations. They should identify areas of the business where they can see a quick return on their investment from IoT solutions. For example, some organizations are breaking the supply chain into sub-segments to illuminate operations in one part vs. the entire supply chain. There isn’t an offering today that provides end-to-end visibility. By providing complete visibility into a portion of the business, there is immediate ROI today that can eventually translate to an entire business as technology continues to evolve.

While we need to consider some of the more practical aspects of IoT, including technical and internal challenges, let’s try not to lose the possibilities the Internet of Things will bring to business. By talking about “what if,” we can keep our focus on the innovation, and I can’t even imagine what other business and societal problems we might solve. The sky is the limit.

Ryan Goh joined Zebra Technologies in 2006 as the director of sales for Asia Pacific, and currently serves as the vice president of sales and general manager for the APAC region.