The coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the world since early 2020, making it challenging for businesses to survive, while governments scramble to curtail the spread with lockdowns and other measures. It’s been over a year, and in the first few months of 2021, the world is experiencing two key developments - the availability of vaccines as well as the spread of an allegedly mutant variant of the virus, which has again sent many countries into total or partial lockdowns. This has left many wondering when this will end and what recovery would look like.
The pandemic caused a paradigm shift in the way we lived, worked and socialized. Concepts such as ‘social distancing’, ‘work-from-home’, and ‘lockdowns’ became commonplace. The need for business continuity has compelled many businesses to adopt the work-from-home model. However, in some sectors and for some roles, work from home is not a viable option. In the past few months, as businesses open up and people return to the workplace, the hybrid model of working is emerging, wherein employees have the flexibility to work from home for a few days in the week. Regardless of the model of working, the priority for global businesses today is the safety and health of their employees.
Adoption of IoT technologies in the new normal
The year 2020 was a transformative year, with a greater need to interconnect people and their ecosystems. The accelerated spread of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the IT infrastructural problems existing in operating businesses and the need to adopt technology for business continuity during the lockdown. Businesses have become more sophisticated in their use of technology, and companies are now flexible and quicker to adapt and react to change. The focus has shifted to integration of data and digitization of operations to provide end-to-end visibility that will require collaborative environments with multiple stakeholders, and data sharing across the value chain. This is where Internet of Things (IoT) has stepped in.
A report titled – IoT Spotlight 2020 by Vodafone Business, based on a survey of over 1,600 businesses has revealed that COVID-19 has accelerated the plans of 73% of businesses that were previously considering adopting IoT technologies.
Businesses have implemented automation and connectivity in the form of IoT to tackle unforeseeable events in the future.
The adoption of IoT is not new; it is certainly not something that became popular during the pandemic. Research has indicated that even by the end of 2018, there were an estimated 22 billion IoT connected devices around the world. Forecasts suggest that by 20301, there will be around 50 billion of these IoT devices in use around the world, creating a deeply interconnected web of devices. Today, it’s no longer just an emerging technology, but a game changer propelled by the pandemic. IoT is now building upon the foundations of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and the cloud to unlock new possibilities for the future.
The role of IoT-based technologies like wearables, thermal imaging drones, smart thermometers, smart sensors, smart phone applications, and video cameras in tracking and control of COVID-19 utilizing state-of-the-art architectures, platforms, applications, and IoT-based solutions has played a major role in managing this pandemic. Converging technologies like cloud, analytics, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), 4G/5G, and high-speed internet have immensely contributed in sharing of the data, predictive modeling and conducting research studies.
IoT use cases in the pandemic
While vaccines are being deployed at a rapid pace globally, there is still a need for precautions, monitoring and tracking to reduce further spread. Overall governance across various facilities and locations spread across globally helps organizations to monitor the situation and take necessary steps in line with local governing authority guidelines. The 3 key people-centered aspects where IoT has been deployed effectively in the pandemic include:
- Establishing seamless communications with employees and other stakeholders on the safety and security guidelines and taking the necessary precautions to screen people when they arrive at facilities
- Sensors and other technologies help to plan ahead to ensure adequate supplies to support hygiene, regular cleaning based on time or occupancy level, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces considering the occupancy ratio that needs to be maintained
- Using cameras or sensors (Form Factors – Wearables, ID Tags & others), IoT can collect information on physical proximity of people with cameras equipped with thermal scanning or detecting heat signatures
- Contact tracing tools to identify contact with a COVID-19 positive person
- Virtual queue management and customer flow in retail, airports and other consumer business
- Touchless movement in airports, retail, shopping malls etc. using facial recognition, iris, palm vein
- Seat booking, conference or meeting room booking with an IoT system to reduce crowding in offices and ensure social distancing
- Sensors to automate the HVAC systems to ensure energy efficiency and cost reduction
- Connecting devices to make remote working possible in workplaces to improve employee productivity
Scalability of IoT use cases post the pandemic
There has been reasonable investment in implementing IoT technologies in managing the pandemic. IDC’s research indicates that IoT spending grew 8.2% year over year to $742 billion in 2020. It’s further expected to grow in double digits by 2021 and achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3% over the 4 year period between 2020 and 20242.
IoT technologies are growing at a rapid pace. The tremendous potential in the possible applications, be it products, services, suppliers, or end users, can be leveraged to scale for long term benefits and not remain constrained to managing pandemic scenarios.
There are long-term business benefits of the offerings that can be scaled to operational technology (OT) management of all the equipment that includes tracking KPIs / SLAs, automating the organization’s operations and providing single visualization on a real-time basis. Mobile and web application can be enhanced to use as an employee interface for seamless communication including tracking employee health, and wellness and safety for general health. In the future, occupancy data will be critical to optimize energy management like HVAC and lighting.
Also, with most organizations adopting a phased approach to re-occupying the office space, expensive real estate costs can be reduced with the help of this occupancy data and analysis. Occupancy management and sanitization modules can be used for real time employee desk booking integrated with office floor plan layouts and everyday facility management that improves employee hygiene and customer satisfaction. The PPE kit inventory module can be leveraged to automate inventory management and track all critical assets of the organization.
Wipro’s Health COV-ER solution: Back to work solutions ensuring health and safety
Wipro’s ‘Health COV-ER’ solution, powered by Wipro Smart i-Connect™, helps you ensure workplace safety and compliance through a system-driven, fast adopted process. Using the ‘Health COV-ER’ app helps you manage the employees for scheduling and health assessments. With easy and mobile communications, hassle-free forms and easy-to-follow social distancing ways; enabled with the latest technology, reinitiating the employees into the workspace becomes seamless and quick. The Health COV-ER solution is an IT-OT convergence tool, ready to deploy that allows clients to integrate any existing or new hardware, third party systems with its multi-protocol capability to connect devices across various communication channels that can be scaled to establish a technical operations center.
The future of IoT: About people and technology
IoT offers myriad applications to continuously enhance efficiency and improve productivity of the worker and the enterprise. The technologies enable accumulation and analysis of tremendous amounts of data for better decision making. In the next few years, IoT technologies will focus on health and safety, in addition to enhancing customer experience. Forrester predicts that in 2021, the demand for IoT applications, technologies, and solutions will be driven by connected healthcare, smart offices, remote asset monitoring, and location services.
However, the future will not be about technology, it will be about people. Forward thinking organizations, now armed with the learnings from the pandemic, are leveraging these technologies and making the best efforts to keep their workers safe and healthy, while improving productivity.
Wipro’s Health COV-ER solution is offered as an integrated workflow customized to each industry as per its unique processes and challenges. For more details, connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.