It’s unseemly to include “silver linings” and “COVID-19” in the same sentence. The pandemic has claimed nearly a million lives worldwide. While optimism around a vaccine is reasonably high, for now it remains beyond our grasp. And we’ve barely begun to feel what the World Bank says will be the worst global recession since World War II.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 has undeniably accelerated interest in applying advanced technologies to issues made acute by the virus. Manufacturers have pivoted from a low-cost-at-all-costs footing to a stance favoring flexibility and resilience. Retailers have invested in online channels as well as alternative offerings like by-appointment shopping, delivery and curbside pickup. Healthcare providers saw an explosion in telemedicine as patients opted to stay away from hospitals and doctors’ offices when possible – and, in many cases, discovered they preferred the new approach. Insurers and financial firms have been forced to reevaluate risk.

While the coronavirus lever is a tragic one, it’s a lever nonetheless – one that’s prompting businesses to solve problems that affect people’s everyday lives. In many cases, these solutions rely on the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows previously unimaginable levels of communication among all manner of devices that touch many aspects of our lives: from buildings and vehicles, to tiny implanted medical devices.

A Tool Fit for the Times

Consider some of the major problems, the “big lifts,” that modern enterprises are solving with IoT, at scale, today:

  • Cold chain: keeping food and medicine safe. Without proper asset monitoring and management, temperature-sensitive food and medicines are vulnerable to unsuitable environmental conditions during transportation and storage. This need for monitoring may come into sharp focus when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available; many of those under development may need to be stored and transported at sub-freezing temperatures. We’ve worked with an array of partners to create an asset management and cold-chain application to address this issue.

    Using the ThingSpace platform from Verizon and Microsoft, we developed a solution to help food and pharmaceutical companies proactively monitor their equipment to spot warning signs and increase uptime; gain real-time knowledge of the location of every item of inventory; monitor workspace density and sanitary conditions to improve employee safety; automate the cycling of goods; and meet compliance goals.

  • Fleet uptime: ensuring on-time delivery of goods. Uptime is a major concern for fleet operators, especially as the pandemic has increased demand for delivered goods. A leading manufacturer of commercial trucks and buses needed to improve its fleet uptime, speed repairs and enhance customer service. The manufacturer also struggled with parts availability and delays in determining the cause of breakdowns and rising costs. Moreover, the company needed to accelerate its revenue and market share by making its vehicles more reliable and less expensive to operate.

    We partnered with the manufacturer to design and develop an open architecture-based cloud platform that integrates with any telematics device to ensure speedy time-to-market of new capabilities. The goal was to create a high-performance, low-latency solution designed for scale and speed, supporting the manufacturer’s vision to leverage and share vehicle data. 

    The result: With rapid, three-way communication between the fleet, dealers and the manufacturer, the manufacturer can now deliver quick approvals and updates. The solution has increased fleet uptime and lowered total cost of ownership while enabling more efficient asset management and utilization.

  • Remote patient monitoring: improving virtual care. Data from the healthcare sector is growing at a 48% annual rate. The challenge is to translate that flood of data into meaningful information. We’re helping providers implement AI-driven solutions that link many data sources within the Internet of Medical Things. This will allow patients to spend less time in the hospital, with remote treatment delivered by physicians to patients at home. Armed with information, patients can become more involved in their well-being and better able to seek affordable, responsive care at their convenience.
  • Safe buildings: protecting employees, customers and others. For people to return to work, and for customers to feel comfortable with physical shopping and entertainment experiences, businesses will need to ensure the safety of their buildings. This will require them to screen employees and visitors for elevated body temperatures; monitor physical distancing and provide contact tracing (through smart bands, sensors, smart cameras and systems); ensure hand hygiene and sanitization compliance; provide insights into trends; and rapidly respond when safety requirements change. We’ve developed a Safe Buildings solution that helps businesses of all types — retail, factories, offices, warehouses, casinos and more —cost-effectively create safer workplaces and promote a healthier working environment.

Digging into the Complexities of IoT

Two commonalities of these endeavors are that they involve IoT, and they touch people’s everyday lives. But they have one more thing in common: They’re hard.

IoT initiatives are difficult, complex undertakings that require leadership, data, tech skills and general brainpower in massive quantities. Anybody who tells you otherwise is … well, you decide.

For this reason, choosing a partner is a critical component of the decision process, one that can make or break an IoT initiative. In two separate 2020 IDC Marketscape Business and Industrial IoT reports (here and here), we were lauded as a “leader,” with the breadth, depth and scale of our IoT talent earning praise.  

Based on a recent research study that I’ll discuss in my next blog, putting in the work also requires five essential levers to move from pilot to scale-ready IoT capabilities. Granted, there is no single recipe for success, but we can share lessons learned that accelerate and simplify the pathway to operationalizing intelligent IoT solutions in order to deliver value.

We believe IoT will continue to serve as a differentiator between leaders and laggards in the uncertain times ahead. We also believe in its power to improve millions of lives in myriad ways and across industries.

Randal Kenworthy

Randal Kenworthy

Randal Kenworthy is a Vice President in Cognizant’s IoT and Engineering Services group. He has over 25 years of experience in the technology... Read more