Upcoming Days in the Life of an Internet of Things “Connected Sensor”

Blog Internet Of Things Mobile Use Case Technology Viewpoint

I am a sensor, a device that senses the environment. Humans first made me to enhance their industrial operations, and now I gather, my species can help them monitor their health too. My host is a machine called a turbine, and my particular DNA enables me to detect vibrations in my host. I was born in Taiwan and shipped to Houston, Texas as an infant. Maintenance folks every so often visit me, inspect my readings, and record them on a paper form. Or at least that is how they used to. Nowadays, they whip out their iPads with a flourish, and use mobile applications leveraging Mobile Application Development Platforms. But, I hear from analysts that all that is about to change. Technicians will not visit me to inspect my host-instead, I will send data to them. For, we have arrived at a momentous event—the Internet of Things (IoT) is here. I am told that the IoT will connect Machines to Machines (M2M) and things to humans, and everything to everything.

I for one, am confused. For decades, I led a lonely life isolated on the shop floor with only the occasional visit from the Maintenance technician. Now, in one fell swoop, I am going to be connected to what they call the Internet. Others say that I am going to talk to the cloud. I will be sending vibration data about my host—not plain old data but Big Data. This Big Data will be analyzed in real time using frameworks like Hadoop. All this vibration data analytics will actually help keep my host healthier, and enable humans to run their industries better. But, I feel like Brutus, in that I have betrayed my turbine host, by sending data every minute without permission. Is there no data privacy for machines?

The other day, some reputed consultants had come over to “Connect” me. They were repeating a mantra incessantly—what I could decipher was Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud (SMAC). I felt like “smac(k)ing” them on their faces. “Bluetooth Low Energy” will make it feasible for me and my brethren to be connected in droves of billions—in fact over 50 Billion things will be connected within 6 years. I am anti-social, and do not want to be connected. Just because humans have replaced reading with Facebook, doesn’t give them the right to impose this state of “always on” on me. I like my quiet time.

In any case, my turbine host will also not be spared. Augmented Reality will be used to perform better maintenance on her. Our technician visitors will come armed with Wearables when they come to repair us—novel looking Google Glasses and fashionable smart watches powered by Android Wear. Beacons may be deployed on the manufacturing floor, I hear to deliver contextual data.

I guess I am being a spoilt sport. Rooted in the past. Isn’t progress the purpose of life—even for a lowly sensor and a turbine? Are Cars not being connected too? Are Homes not being Nested? So, I am going to embrace this brave new world. I say, usher in the era of the Internet of Things.

As posted on LinkedIn

Google Glass in Oil & Gas and Oil Field Services: Digital OilField

Blog Mobile Use Case

Recently, Wearables have been getting a lot of attention with Google Glass and Android Wear based smartwatches.  Gartner has predicted that companies can save over $1 Billion in costs related to Field Service leveraging Wearables including Glass.  We have done our own research talking to Exploration and Production companies as well as Oil Field Services.  We have also brainstormed with Google on this.  The use of Glass is ideal where hands free use is needed, typically in a messy environment where workers may be wearing gloves. Here are some of our findings where Google Glass applications can be useful:

1. Collaboration with Remote experts: Workers in the Field can make video calls, and take pictures to get expert opinions thousands of miles away

2. Training: Glass can record video from the user’s perspective while activities/tasks are being performed.  This video can then be used to train new workers.

3. Digital Checklists: Workers can get hands free checklist instructions on their Glass that can enhance compliance.

4. Data Overlay: Workers in Exploration can get reservoir/geospatial data overlay on Glass to help them appraise the Field better

5. ERP Remote Data access: Workers can get data from their SAP and Oracle systems and perform transactions like Goods Movement and Inventory Check.

The Use Cases of Glass are emerging and will be defined over the next year as companies launch pilot projects.  Unvired is working with several early adopter customers to usher in the era of Wearable Computing.


A Tale of Two Wearables: Google Glass and Smart Watch

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Did you notice how quickly smartphones and tablets have been relegated to the realm of the ordinary? Yesterday, Google announced the developer preview program for Android Wear, their OS for smart watches.  And along with that, they talked of an ecosystem supporting Wear–the likes of Intel, Samsung, LG, and Fossil that will now produce smart watches.  A short while ago, Google also launched their Google Glass Developer Program–yes, those nerdy glasses that will deliver information to our very eyes.  These two newer devices are ushering in the era of wearables, and a new wave of mobile computing.

So, the question is about how well these newer devices will be adopted.  There are many skeptics who believe that Glass will not take off.  The concern is that people will not want to be seen with those glasses.  A more serious concern is about privacy–that for example, someone can take your picture without you having any clue.  As far as smart watches are concerned, do we really need a watch that does things your smart phone already does.  The answer is that both these wearables have their place.

Some people are already misusing their smart phones–so, Glass does not really add any significant new element of privacy risk. On the other hand, in some situations, it helps to get notifications and messages for example delivered to your eyes without having to look down at a phone.  It would be very handy at a dinner where one could read urgent and important information without appearing rude.  I think the keywords are urgent and important.

I have much greater faith in smart watches taking off.  People are used to wearing watches, and a smart watch could be a fashion statement and a status symbol.  Remember the Roger Federer and Rolex ads? So, as applications are built for the smart watch like health monitoring, notification/message delivery, they will become more and more popular.

It seems that the next few years will even be more exciting and bring more innovation.  You can rest assured that Unvired will keep abreast of these trends, and build some cool applications for wearables.



Internet Of Things

Blog Technology Viewpoint

There is now a shift happening towards a world where there will be billions of connected devices to the Internet. These connected devices can be in buildings, cars, manufacturing plants, or bridges.  of course, there are sensors already today collecting data every second, and transmitting them to systems in the backend.  For example, temperature sensors on medicines that are shipped can ensure that any violation of allowable temperature range is detected to prevent health mishaps.  So, what is the big deal now about the Internet of Things (IoT) you may ask.

Well, what makes the IoT exciting at this time is the sheer scale –we are talking billions of connected devices, and the converging technologies that have arrived which promise to transform business and our lives.  On a personal front, we could be wearing monitors that sense our health parameters and alert us and our doctors about any impending health event. On the business side, we could have Machine to Machine (M2M) integration that can create new processes or enhance existing ones.

The question arises as to what are these new technologies that will give birth to the IoT? Also, what are the requirements to realize the Vision that we have for the IoT?  First of all, devices at the edge need connectivity. Secondly,  all data has to be securely transmitted to the backend systems.  One has to ensure that these devices cannot be hacked. Scalability is key where the Cloud comes in. Then, very large volumes of data (Big Data) have to be stored.  That is not enough–this data has to be analyzed in real time for predictable analytics.  Action has to be taken on the analysis.  Process Integration becomes key so that when a person has to take an action, it is triggered in an ERP, HR, or CRM system as the case may be.

Unvired has many of the components to enable the IoT.  The Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) allows for M2M communication. Data is transmitted securely from any thing/device to any system.  UMP encrypts all data for security purposes. UMP also  has an Application Development Framework to rapidly build applications for IoT.  UMP enables process integration with backed systems like SAP, Oracle, or CRM systems like Salesforce.com. UMP leverages the cloud for scalability, and has an analytics app that can render data analytics visually for enhanced decision making.

Let the IoT games begin.


Mobile Apps for Planning and Design to Enhance Asset Management

Blog Mobile Use Case

Mobile apps for Work Orders and Rounds are among the more common used by field technicians to increase employee productivity and asset/plant maintenance.  An equally interesting area where a mobile app can be very useful is in the upfront Planning and Design process.

For complex maintenance and construction tasks, the technicians have to go onsite and survey the site, take measurements, estimate the components needed for repair, and supporting equipment like ladders or scaffolding.  Today, most of this work is done on paper leading to errors, duplicate data entry, time delays, and increased downtime.  These inefficiencies can be eliminated by a mobile application that can help with the following:

The technician can download the Work Order authorizing the Design/Planning activity.  The notification can be attached to the work order.  The worker can take pictures with the mobile device’s camera so that the work execution can be facilitated.  The estimates of time, material, tools, and equipment needed can be captured on the mobile device, and sent to SAP or any other backend system instantly from the field. Workflow can be enabled so that the manager approves the Planning tasks.  User guides and standard operating procedures can be accessed from corporate portals like Microsoft SharePoint that help the worker make accurate estimates leading to increased compliance and safety.

As we have conversations with customers around Mobile Enterprise Asset Management, we find that a Planning/Design mobile app can solve an important pain problem.  Combined with Rounds, Work Orders, Inventory Manager, the Planning app completes the portfolio for keeping plants and equipment running smoothly.

Mobilizing your Manufacturing Plant

Blog Mobile Use Case

Lately, I have been discussing with several manufacturing companies the Roadmap they have for mobilizing their manufacturing plants. It is very common even today, when we find mobility ubiquitous, that manufacturing plants are still using paper and manual processes. There is a tremendous opportunity to build mobile applications that will give worker in the plant or the warehouse access to real time information to increase their productivity. Here are some ideas:

Maintenance: Plants have lots of equipment that needs to be kept running to ensure plant uptime and production. There are also regulations and compliance needs that call for preventive maintenance. And, yes, when a part is broken, it needs to be fixed. One Use Case that is Perfect for mobile apps is Inspections.

Inspections:Workers have to inspect equipment sometimes, daily, weekly, monthly etc. They need to record the measuring points. If measurements are out of range, alerts need to be sent. Trends need to be captured and charts viewed to detect problems before the equipment breaks down. If repairs are needed, notifications need to be created. Data needs to be exchanged with backend systems like SAP Plant Maintenance, Maximo, Oracle, and others.

Repair: When the worker is out there in the plant doing repairs, he or she needs to check the Bill of Material, identify and locate spare parts, look up Operating Procedures, and enter their time and material so that the costs can be captured against the work order or equipment. All this is a perfect scenario to introduce mobile applications to empower the maintenance worker.

In the past, plants have used technology for mobile data entry. They have used scanners with small screens that are very user unfriendly. The presence of tablets that can be ruggedized present another opportunity for manufacturing companies to refresh their mobile initiatives, and benefit from this golden era of mobility.

Mobile Use Cases: Straight From the Field

Blog Mobile Use Case

In this blog, I would like to share some real world scenarios where companies can deploy mobile applications to increase customer engagement and employee productivity:

1. Public Sector: State and Federal agencies can deploy mobile applications to serve their citizens better. For example, state agencies can make the Unemployment Insurance Benefits process much more effective using mobile apps. Unemployed persons can get access to information that will help them claim their benefits. They also need to validate that they are actively seeking work and could enter the information related to their job applications from their mobile device. Status of claims could be checked anytime anywhere from mobile devices. The state agency could use analytics to gain insights on adoption of the mobile app by the citizens, and improve their service. From a technology standpoint, this would require a mobile web based application and be able to cover the multitude of popular smart phones, tablets, and operating systems, and data security would need to be ensured.

2. Utilities: Utilities can deploy mobile apps on both the Retail and the Generation front. On the Retail side, with de-regulation in many states in the US, there is fierce competition for consumers. In Texas alone, there are over 20 retail electricity providers. Many of them have already adopted a mobile-social strategy. Typically, there are sales people going from door to door selling electricity and associated products. Imagine a sales rep going out there with the ability to map out her route using Google or Apple Maps, retrieve all data related to the prospect, check the latest pricing, present the contract and capture the customer signature–all using their mobile phone or tablet. The sales process would be significantly enhanced.

Now, on the generation front, mobile applications are ideal to improve asset management and field service. We have mobilized these processes for a large Oil and Gas company in the Middle East that runs SAP. RFID tags and integration with Plant Maintenance modules gave the field technician real time acces to notifications, work orders, and the ability to enter time and material spent on repairs. No need for paper based proceses.

Let me know if you found these ideas interesting.

Mobilizing the Enterprise–Lessons Learned

Blog Lessons Learnt Viewpoint

In an increasingly mobile world and an age of instant gratification, the enterprise user is demanding the same access to information as the consumer. This is not surprising as in many cases, they are one and the same. At my company, Unvired, we have been implementing mobile solutions for several years now, and I would like to share our insights so that others can benefit. Here goes:

1. The Overwhelmed Enterprise: Unlike consumer mobility, enterprise mobility is yet to really take off. Customers are still defining their mobile strategy. In an age of tight budgets, Mobility projects have to pass the ROI test. Customers are faced with many challenges: worry about mobile security, mobile device management, choice of mobile application development platforms, testing, and support. Software vendors are consolidating, and many seemingly separate components of Enterprise Mobility Management are converging–like device management and applicationdevelopment platforms.

2. Cloud or Not to Cloud: We have found several customers still worried about data security in the cloud. When presented with both an on-premise and a cloud deployment option to build mobile applications, some customers prefer on-premise, even though it is more costly to implement.

3. HTML5 vs. Native: There is a perception that HTML5 will enable “Build Once Run Everywhere” saving development effort and costs for multiple platforms like iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows. From our experience, we believe that there is a place for both HTML5 and native apps. For sophisticated complex apps where performance is a premium, native apps may still be the best option.

In my next blog, I will discuss some Business Use Cases for Mobile Applications covering the Consumer Products, Utilities, and Oil & Gas industries.



Mobile DSD – A requirement

Blog Lessons Learnt Mobile Use Case Viewpoint

In a world of fast changing tastes and instant gratification, my can of favorite beverage had better be on the shelf. If not, the retailer and supplier will have lost a loyal customer. Direct Store Delivery (DSD) is a vital process that brings foods and beverages to the shelf. Mobilizing the DSD process makes the supply chain much more efficient, and ensures that the shopping experience is a pleasant one. In the world of enterprise mobility, mobile DSD is not a luxury—it is a must have.

While SAP and other companies have solutions for DSD, the Mobile DSD (MDSD) area remains ripe for innovation. During our implementations of DSD and MDSD Solutions, customers have shared with us valuable feedback. The usability of MDSD solutions can be improved to enhance sales and productivity of the delivery drivers. The User Interface can be simplified for data entry and screen navigation. In many cases, there is a need to re-engineer the process flow to meet our clients’ needs.

One area to improve is in Sales Order creation. Immediate Sales Order replication to SAP can trigger the follow up leading to faster order fulfillment. Another area to improve is Customer Surveys. During the store visit, the supplier personnel collect customer data via surveys. This survey data can be integrated with CRM systems like SAP CRM, which can be fed into BW and analytics can be utilized to make better decisions.

Another insight from our customers is that it would be good to integrate the MDSD application with Asset Maintenance/Plant Maintenance systems to create and access Notifications. Many times, the drivers are doing multiple things —taking orders, merchandising as well as conducting maintenance and repairs on a variety of assets the supplier has deployed at the retailers – think refrigerators as an example.

Some customers have unique requirements for mobilizing DSD, and only a custom MDSD solution will work. In these cases, we utilize our domain expertise and deliver a custom MDSD solution. We also give our customers the option of either an on-premise or in the cloud solution.

Mobile DSD in conjunction with DSD has benefits for both the CP (consumer products) manufacturer and the retailer. The supplier can better monitor demand on the shelf, be more responsive, and better control merchandising and promotions. New products can be introduced better and innovations increase. The retailer in turn benefits from lower capital outlays and always having fast moving items in stock.

So the next time you grab that beverage, thank the process that enables you to quench your thirst – Mobile DSD.

Note: This blog also appeared as a guest blog on Enterprise Mobile Strategies.

Lowering the Activation Energy for Enterprise Mobility Implementations

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As we talk to customers, it is clear that enterprises have not adopted Mobility as quickly as consumers. We have had many conversations with customers, and two main points stand out. The first is that they are finding it difficult to justify the ROI for many mobility projects. Yes, it is true that there are certain scenarios like Field Service or Sales where the value of mobility is accepted, but beyond these it becomes more difficult. When enterprises look to mobilize processes like Purchase Order Approval or Travel Expense approval, the barrier to mobility has to be reduced.

An analogy can be drawn to the Activation Energy concept we all learned in Chemistry—for a reaction to occur, the activation energy barrier has to be overcome/lowered. Similarly, in our world of enterprise mobility, the ROI barrier has to be lowered.

Our second insight gleaned from customers is that IT departments today are under extreme pressure to deliver multiple projects with dwindling resources. One large SAP customer was all set to mobilize their applications, when they had a major restructuring in their IT department. Another high tech customer in the US is rolling out SAP to their subsidiaries globally, leaving no time or resources for mobility projects even with a recognized need. A third customer was given the mandate to mobilize multiple business processes running on SAP in just one month.

These situations suggest that the old model of installing software on-premise, and conducting, say a 3 month POC to prove the ROI of a project is obsolete. Companies do not have enough budget, and the cloud is increasingly getting the mindshare of the CIO. The consumerization of IT has made all of us seek instant gratification—we want the mobile application instantly, inexpensively, and without any bother.

All this sets the stage nicely to usher in the era of the Mobile cloud. The Mobile cloud delivers a rain of mobile applications at a low cost without consuming the resources of a strapped IT department—no hardware investment, and minimal time commitment. It is a Pay As You Go model, and eliminates the need for a capital investment. It is scalable, provides flexibility, and insulates the firm in a rapidly changing technology environment. The data security concerns of the cloud are understood by now, and have been successfully managed.

As more applications move over to the cloud, can the mobile cloud be far behind? Are you ready to lower the activation energy for your Mobility projects? There is no reason that your Mobile initiatives be confined to just a few use cases. It is time to make Enterprise Mobility ubiquitous. The mobile cloud may be just the catalyst you need.

Note: This blog also appeared as a guest blog on Enterprise Mobile Strategies.