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Will IoT and mobility combine to transform business processes?


By Mark Chillingworth

Data and Digital Director of the Food Standards Agency Julie Pierce

Mobile devices have already transformed business processes, from road warriors able to keep on top of emails via an iPhone to utilities companies using tablet devices and workforce management applications. With the Internet of Things (IoT) being adopted by a rising number of organisations, business processes will be impacted and the usage of mobile computing will therefore change.

Data and Digital Director of the Food Standards Agency, a non-governmental regulatory body, Julie Pierce (pictured left)  and Zebra Technologies EMEA CTO James Morley-Smith discussed how the IoT and business processes are changing the mobile technology landscape. Pierce has led digital and the move towards open data at the Food Standards Agency since 2015 and previously was CIO at the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Before joining the public sector Pierce led major technology programmes in financial services with insurance firm Zurich.

Morley-Smith has focused his technology leadership career on mobile technology having worked for the likes of Motorola and Zebra, the CTO is passionate about usability.

Mobility has changed the way organisations operate, in the 1990s when many CIOs were shaping their careers the first major shift away from paper based systems of record took place with the initial handheld computers from Palm and Compaq. At the turn of the century connectivity linked the computer with the local area network (LAN). Initially existing business processes became slightly more mobile, but with the introduction of the Internet of Things CIOs are now able to take mobility to a new level with real time business process management. This change is not just about improving the management of inventory in a shop or factory though.

Pic/iconphotomedia Cycle retailer wiggle uses wrist mounted devices on its warehouse order pickers



“A good example in healthcare is around a trial in Netherlands with stroke victims,” Morley-Smith says. “During a stroke episode victims are losing 1.9 million neurons a minute, which is a significant impact on their quality of life, so having them treated quickly is paramount. The trial is to put a wristband device on the patient that tracks them through the hospital so that staff can make a decision on triage and the difference is huge and positive as it makes a positive impact on people’s lives,” he says. CIOs such as Tracey Scotter at the Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS trust is working on a similar strategy.

Pierce tells the Horizon Business Innovation podcast that mobility is changing social behaviour and therefore IoT is essential for CIOs looking to meet the changing needs of the consumer.

“For the food sector mobility has become very significant, the way people engage with their food as well as the workforce undertaking inspection and regulation of the food, we are seeing mobility having a greater impact. We are seeing people consider what and where to buy food whether retail or eating out being enabled by tech and we see people sharing pictures of their food on social media,” she says.

The UK has suffered from poor productivity for a number of years and our panel agree that the next phase of mobile computing will increase organisational efficiency.  Morley-Smith cites nurses spending more time at the patient’s bedside.

“A nurse can spend a large proportion of their shift documenting what they have done. By integrating mobility and IoT into their systems that can be captured in the background and free them up to do the  things they are trained to do. The statistics are that at least one hour per-shift is spent on documenting, change that to time by the bedside is of real benefit.

“In retail users will have the ability to be more engaged with the consumers as they will have information to hand which will level the playing the field with e-commerce. In transport and logistics, the productivity is about enabling everyone being as good as the best operator and improving the productivity,” Morley-Smith says.

As with any CIO debate, moving the use of mobility to reflect the opportunities of IoT is about ensuring the business processes are able to adapt and that culture changes.

“It is so true and so hard, getting people to step back and think about the real challenge they are trying to solve,” Pierce says of the perennial problems the CIO community share. “With modern technology we need to remember IT has been around for a number of decades, so we need people to break out of that traditional mentality and get back to the basics if what they are really trying to achieve,” she says of improving the service or care your team members provide.

Real time business processes

Zebra Technologies CTO James Morley-Smith

“The world that we have been operating is an artificial construct largely based on paper and it introduces time delays; so it’s not the real world. The world we are in now enables us to be intuitive to the real world and that is totally transformational ,” Pierce says of the move to real time operations. Morley-Smith (pictured left) agrees, adding that this will increase the context for organisations and that in turn will increase efficiency.

To date the Internet of Things has been portrayed in the mainstream media with the same lazy standards as robotics and AI are today. One of the most common IoT examples thrown around is that of the connected refrigerator in the home kitchen.

“The connected fridge is a gimmick and it isn’t,” Pierce says. “Think beyond your own fridge and think of all the fridges that are in the supplychain of the food that ends up in your own house and if you think of all of those being intelligent then that is really transforming the food system.

“We think about mobility as a three step process – sense, analyse and act. Act is the ability to do something and to act at the right time. Sense is in the environment with data analytics to provide contextual information,”

“Temperature sensors are relatively cheap and straightforward and we are seeing sensors in abattoirs to check the quality of meat or sensors that check the constituents of cheese to check it is authentic and is what it claims to be.”

Morley-Smith adds that many of the illnesses from food are caused from when food is in transit. With IoT the CTO is helping the organisation tag food in transit to produce real time monitoring of the environment food is in during transit, which he says is enabling organisations to take substandard food out of the supply chain.

Beyond the device

“We think about mobility as a three step process – sense, analyse and act. Act is the ability to do something and to act at the right time. Sense is in the environment with data analytics to provide contextual information,” Morley-Smith says of how as a CTO he considers a process that is supported by hardware, software and business processes. In retail the CTO says organisations are improving sales by using IoT to increase the visibility of goods.  “In an apparel store it should trigger an event when someone buys a product, as not having an item on display is a no found and there is a 40% no found rate in apparel stores; if you reduce that by 6% it can improve sales by five to six million a year,” Morley-Smith says.

Pierce reminds the CIO community that mobile and IoT technologies are also empowering disruption: “smaller businesses that would have been operating on a slow paper based process in the past now have access to this sort of technology whether sensors, devices and analytics and it is levelling the playing field,” she says.

Pierce adds that organisations considering how to combine IoT and mobility have a great opportunity as the prevalence of smartphones and devices means many members of the organisation are already carrying a device that can process large amounts of data, has the ability to capture audio, video, pictures, barcodes and has an accelerometer, “think about how those functions can be used. You have them in a very cheap device that everyone can use,” Pierce says. Morley-Smith agrees, adding that: “give the user the ability to use the device to its full capability”.

“The more important thing to do is not just fine tune a process, it is changing the way a user uses a device so that they make fewer mistakes,” Morley-Smith says. “When you consider the kind of users found in the enterprise in a warehouse for example you have situational disability it is often cold so their hands feel that cold, they may be wearing gloves and it is often noisy. Unlike someone with a permanent disability the worker may only have a short time to adjust to that impairment, so CIOs must strategise around the way systems are used and they need to consider those situations and be very deliberate about how an App is designed for controls, hit zones and contrast means there are far less opportunity for a mistake,” the Zebra Technologies CTO says.

“The situation is critical,” Pierce agrees and she says as CIOs need to analyse the market and consider the outcomes the organisation is trying to achieve. “Efficiency and productivity are not mutually exclusive.”

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