This is part six of a ten-part series leading up to the inaugural Australian release of the Digital IQ report.

The internet of things has now grown from a futurist concept to reality. Once the realm of science fiction, smartphones and other gadgets ranging from retail foot traffic counters to smoke detectors are becoming real, tangible products.

The growth of this trend is rooted in sensor technology. Industries from retail to manufacturing are including sensors as part of their infrastructure, in order to more accurately calculate the flow of their workplaces.

This has already begun on a widespread level. iBeacon, a technology pioneered by Apple which allows businesses to track customers in a bricks and mortar environment and interact with their smartphones, has already expanded across several other businesses.

In manufacturing, companies keen on tracking exactly how their inventory operates are digitally tracking as much as they can, feeding that information into the cloud and analysing it for specific and practical business decisions.

The $US3 billion acquisition of Nest by Google is only an early example of how sensors and the internet of things is becoming mainstream technology. Just getting started, this technology will become ubiquitous over the next decade and start influencing how consumers – and businesses – interact.

The beginning of sensor technology

Perhaps the most popular use of sensor technology so far has been in the home. Enterprises such as Nest have been building devices which are able to calculate and share information about home use and interaction, such as a thermostat and smoke detector.

Earlier this year a huge number of products at the Consumer Electronics Show were integrated with sensor technology, designed to make the home a more connected and efficient place. The goal of the connected home is not to simply extract data, but have devices interpret that information and make smart choices on behalf of the consumer.

This technology has now expanded into retail. iBeacon, pioneered by Apple, is built with the intention of tracking customers within a store and offering them notifications based on where they stand, through their smartphones.

But the biggest benefit is being able to gather extra information from a non-digital environment – a challenge that has typically eluded retailers. Sensor technology in a retail space provides the enterprise with valuable data on foot traffic and even the most popular locations within the store itself. This can influence any number of decisions from inventory to store layout.

As the retail industry transforms from a sales channel to more of an experiential touchpoint, these types of digital metrics will become more useful.

Moving outside of retail 

But sensor technology has expanded far beyond the retail and consumer home space. The benefit of including sensors in manufacturing and other industries has given rise to the ability to measure certain outputs that could not previously be measured.

Manufacturing has a particular need for this type of data. Not only are enterprises able to automatically detect and calculate the various inputs and outputs, but they would be able to make decisions on the fly. Sensor technology isn’t just about recording data but using it to make proactive decisions.

An automated manufacturing system which collects data, interprets it and then makes productive decisions on its own – while connecting with other elements of the business – is the future of sensor technology.

This extends into massive possibilities for logistics and transport. A system which analyses itself could automatically reroute inventory to where it’s most needed, and direct attention to an area of the system which is lagging behind or sapping productivity. Theoretically, this system could also order new parts and repairs as required.

The growth of sensor technology is set to revolutionise the home, and commercial mergers are already starting to see that occur. But the real power in the internet of things lies not only in letting blenders and refrigerators talk to each other, but by connecting entire industries to what’s actually happening in their business – not only what they think is happening.

Part 1: The new age of analytics
Part 2: Social enterprise and keeping everyone connected
Part 3: The future of ecommerce is the mobile revolution
Part 4: The new age of cyber security
Part 5: On-demand business technology 

 

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Contributor

Trent Lund

Trent is Head of Innovation and Ventures for PwC Australia. With 18 years’ experience spanning Australia, Asia, UK, Europe and the Middle East, Trent joined PwC to lead the customer centric transformation consulting team dedicated to improving the way Australia’s leading private and public sector organisations re-focus on the customer.

Before his commercial career, Trent worked with some of the earlier forms of computing, transforming traditional business through programmable logic controls to automate machinery. The learning he gathered from this early experience saw Trent ‘smash a lot of strawberries, but learned a lot about the power of technology’.

Trent began his commercial career in telecommunications in Australia and later independently as a business consultant in the UK. Trent helped high tech and communications clients develop product and market entry strategies for complex solutions such as data centres, mobile content platforms and 3G Mobile licenses.

Afterwards Trent joined Oracle to lead the mobile content and service delivery platform proposition in Europe and Asia. One of the key milestones he achieved was to architect a custom solution into 10 countries, gaining 45 million subscribers, operating in many different languages and different currencies. The key challenge was balancing the latest technology advancements with the pragmatism required to address economies in different stages of maturity, from emerging to very mature. Advising technology owners on what business models will be profitable in these environments is one of Trent’s great strengths.

Trent specialises in user experience design, customer-led innovation and disrupting business models through technology.

“Digital is challenging the status quo. We’re beginning to see how customers are interacting with technology and it’s exciting to see the escalating rate of change in all industries.”

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