The use of monitoring technology to track objects, appliances, animals, and, yes, even sometimes people is a fact of business for many companies. Using tags, sensors, and chips paired with wireless technology, they’re gathering loads of data about the location, status, and other features of objects, ranging from tools needed at a construction site to a patient’s whereabouts in a hospital to cars backed up on a highway. Once connected, though, there’s the even bigger job of analyzing the information and getting it to the right recipients who can put it to use.
This is the nascent Internet of Things, where wireless networks of objects are being created using RFID, Bluetooth, GPS, and other technologies, working in tandem with cloud computing environments, Web portals, and back-end systems that seek out patterns of activity among the connected objects that promise to help enhance a range of business and other processes.
In theory, there are few things that can’t be given a tag or sensor and connected to networks in order to share information. Businesses could then track and monitor just about every product in the supply chain, so inventory stock-outs will be a thing of the past, lost shipments a rarity, and shoplifting nearly impossible. Counterfeit pills would be easier to spot, traffic congestion easier to avoid, and equipment easier to track and keep operating. Getting to this interconnected world, though, takes some effort.
By creating a network of things that have sensors of some kind, “then we have the intelligence to examine patterns and trends that tell us a lot about our business’s strengths and flaws -- indeed, about the systems and networks and patterns that exist in all aspects of our world,” says Bill Hardgrave, director of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas’s Sam M. Walton College of Business.
Putting tags, sensors, or chips on objects requires businesses to decide which things can be monitored in a way that delivers business benefit. To make those decisions, companies must have a clear perspective on what data needs to be generated, who controls that data, and what they hope to deduce from it.
“Connecting the objects calls for companies to figure out a network, not only to collect the data from sensors, but to deliver it where it’s needed. That includes deciding which systems, processes, or operations will leverage the data,” says Michael Liard, practice director for RFID at market research firm ABI Research .
Producing useful intelligence requires analytics to suss out what’s really important from the mass of data collected. This often requires cooperation and planning among different people and organizations that have an interest in the data and the intelligence coming from it -- such as retailers and their suppliers, or doctors and their patients. That way, everyone in the data chain gets what they need in a manner most likely to yield tangible improvements to business.
— Amy Rogers Nazarov
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