U.S. food safety has been a concern since the days of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel about the stockyards and meatpacking industries in Chicago. Public reaction to The Jungle compelled Teddy Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to pass food safety laws and establish the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1906.

More than a century later, threats clearly remain to the safety of domestic and global food supplies and the purity of water sources. Recently, we’ve learned about significant, ongoing, even deadly threats to our food and water. Food recalls have ranged from romaine lettuce to beef in the last 12 months; the tragedy in Flint, Mich., reminds us that poisonous chemicals still make their way into our water, as well. Faulty equipment or poorly executed processes often are to blame.

Solving Safety Challenges with Internet of Things

It doesn’t have to be this way. As the Internet of Things (IoT) begins to permeate our global infrastructure, sensor-equipped devices will soon outnumber the global population. There’s no reason to wait until communities face a food- or water-borne threat before fixing malfunctioning equipment or improving safety procedures.

Today we can automatically and rapidly glean information from IoT-enabled devices – about temperatures in IoT-equipped food storage and transportation equipment, for example, or the chemicals sensed by the pumps that filter and move our water, or the monitoring capabilities of the medical devices we increasingly rely on in hospitals and the home. With such intelligence, communities and businesses can address problems before they become a threat.

Increasing Food Safety on a Massive Scale

Recently, I had a conversation with Internet of Things maven Stacey Higginbotham on one of her Stacey on IoT podcasts. We discussed Cognizant’s work with Internet of Things adoption, and the ways in which these solutions can help businesses and the people they serve.

We talked about how one of the world’s largest sellers of fresh and frozen foods uses IoT-enabled refrigerators and freezers to reduce food spoilage across its global supply chain. Such spoilage not only results in financial losses due to food waste, but can also present risks to consumers. Although the business had already implemented alarms on the refrigeration systems in its distribution centers to signal malfunctions, it could take 36 hours for the maintenance operations team to respond – clearly too long when it comes to food safety and waste. There was also no mechanism to proactively monitor the refrigeration units and ensure timely service calls.

Our solution minimizes energy consumption and seeks to ensure consumer safety. It ties together sensors, cloud-based monitoring, algorithms that trigger alerts and warnings, reminders in handheld applications and a direct link of performance data to individual employees to encourage compliance with the company’s internal food safety protocols. The system covers hundreds of freezers, thousands of deliveries, 600 million data points and millions of pounds of food.

The results have been impressive. After rolling out the system to 100 of its stores, the business reduced priority response times from 36 hours to four hours, and decreased food loss by 10% in the first year by predicting refrigeration failures. The company aims to expand the system to 5,300 stores, with the potential to reduce operating costs by up to $40 million while ensuring the safe storage of food. (Hear more about this solution in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

From Providing Pumps to Offering Insights

These same principles guided our solution for a global manufacturer of high-technology industrial water pumps used in a range of applications, from providing drinking water for cities and villages, to processing waste water, to clearing and filtering the huge volumes of water moved during deep-sea drilling.

With the movement of all that water through its sensor-equipped and self-monitoring pumps, the manufacturer had access to a flood of information on everything from performance-based data on pressure and volume to the chemical composition of the water. By collecting and analyzing this information, the company could leverage and monetize its insights into not just equipment performance but also the safety of the water it delivers. If a certain chemical spikes in the water supply, for example, alerts are triggered, and municipalities can investigate. If water pressure or volume falls outside set parameters, precautions can be taken, including automatic alerts and even preemptive shutdowns.

Buyers of the pumps want this information. So, while using this data to improve the performance of its products, the business can also share insights with its clients on a subscription basis, opening up new revenue streams. The business is no longer just providing world-class high-tech pumps; it’s offering customers critical insights from the pumps it sells, as a value-added service. (Hear more about this solution in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

Connecting Things; Connecting to Our Needs

What links these two examples is their prioritization of real human needs as part of the solution. Clean and safe food and water are vital to human health, and companies that help provide themadd value.

For many years, large industrial enterprises have lived in two separate worlds: the world of all their physical assets (factories, equipment, buildings, people) and the world of their digital assets (software, workflows, algorithms, reports). Through sensor technology, network capability, security advances and IoT platforms, these two worlds are now becoming seamlessly integrated like never before.

Today, the shorthand for this ongoing integration is the Internet of Things. In reality, though, it’s the Internet of Us. Technology offers us a path to connect our physical world with a digital one, in which we occupy a new space and a new future: a place where the physical and digital come together, enabling businesses to transform their operational and business models, in a scalable way, through intelligence. (Hear more on the Internet of Us in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

Frank Antonysamy

Frank Antonysamy

Frank is the North American leader for Cognizant’s IoT and Engineering Manufacturing solutions. He is a seasoned professional who has been leading... Read more