How IoT is helping businesses navigate COVID-19

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Aridea’s Fever Kit uses infrared sensors to create a contactless temperature-taking experience for professionals.

Image: Aridea

The coronavirus pandemic has placed the spotlight on the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, with many businesses using IoT applications as a means of adapting to the new normal. The majority of organizations are ramping up tech solutions in the wake of COVID-19, with 70% of companies confirming they will either be maintaining or increasing digital transformation spending, an IFS report found

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“I’ve seen a lot of IoT use cases pop up in response to the virus. I saw someone created an app for the Apple watch that can tell when you raise your hands toward your face, to keep you from touching your face,” said Rob Moore, vice president of solutions development at Aridea Solutions, an IoT provider. 

One area IoT is playing a significant role during the coronavirus is in contactless interactions. Aridea Solutions, for example, recently released its Fever Kit, a no-touch, portable device designed to screen users for fever. 

Aridea is an example of a company that was quick to notice the need for IoT with the coronavirus. Previously, Aridea focused IoT efforts on environmental monitoring, but seized the opportunity to create an infrared sensor-based IoT tool for professionals. 

“The power of IoT is demonstrated in the speed and flexibility it allows,” Moore said. “We were able to take technology tailored toward monitoring environmental threats to other species and quickly adapt to monitoring and mitigating a direct threat to our own species.”

How the Fever Kit works 

[The Fever Kit] is a small microcontroller platform, a little box, five inches by five inches. It has six data ports on the bottom that you can hook various sensors to. We use one of those ports for the infrared sensor,” Moore said. “Then we have an LED wand that we use for the other port to give an indication of a good or bad temperature, when the person steps in front of it.” 

Companies can use this device as a quick, secure, verified way of taking an employee’s temperature, which is critical as fever is a symptom of COVID-19. Businesses considering reopening could place this mechanism at the front door of their office, where it can independently screen and track each employee who passes through. 

“You just step right up to it. Within five seconds, it gives you an indication of green or red, [as well as] a little a beep if [the temperature] is good and a buzzer if it’s bad,” Moore said.

“It’s completely non-contact, which was what we were going for, because we were hearing horror stories of people with the handheld thermometers that you buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot, that are not even designed for human temperature, trying to take people’s temperature and having to get within six feet of them,” Moore said.  

Aridea was able to develop the product in only a few weeks, selling about 200 Fever Kits to high-profile companies including Toyota and Georgia Pacific. 

One organization that is using the product firsthand is Metro 911 of Kanawha County, West Virginia. 

Prior to using the Fever Kit, Metro 911 was using handheld thermometers, which required a second trained person to administer the thermometer and log the temperature, said Russell Emrick, deputy director of technology at Metro 911. 

“This was slow, and even with masks and handwashing, required additional potential exposure to the administrator of the test,” Emrick said. “The Fever Kit has greatly simplified this process. The immediate benefit is a faster, easier, no-touch process. It has also proven more accurate and consistent than the handheld thermometers, especially on hot days.”  

IoT post-pandemic 

IoT products like the Fever Kit are extremely important and helpful during COVID-19, and they may not be going anywhere, Moore said. 

“We think that this is going to be normal now. We think most businesses probably should have been doing this even for flu season,” Moore said. “People come into work, they have a fever and they don’t realize it, and then they end up contaminating the office. There’s lots of sick days that the employers have to payout, just with the common flu. 

“With the coronavirus and new viruses popping up, we think this is sort of going to be the equivalent of how TSA has changed in the wake of 9/11. Now, taking your shoes off at the airport is sort of commonplace,” Moore added. “We think all businesses will have some type of temperature screening process from here forward.”

For more, check out  With COVID-19 as backdrop, CIOs are playing bigger roles leading digital transformations on TechRepublic. 

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How digitalization is helping those who work in field service

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Tracking and maintaining assets is much easier if your field service workers have the digital tools and data they need.

Image: Thampapon, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before COVID-19 struck the world, field service operations were already undergoing digitalization and transformation so technicians out in the field had more tools at their disposal as they repaired equipment far away from offices. COVID-19 and the need to do more business remotely only accelerated the need to digitalize operations and empower technicians with more tools and resources to support long hours of work away from headquarters.

SEE: Data Circuit Installation or Change Checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

This need is particularly acute in asset-centric businesses such as utilities, oil and gas, healthcare, and construction and transportation, with its field-based heavy equipment assets.

“In healthcare as one example, we’ve been witnessing the need to track and maintain assets during COVID-19 such as MRI machines and ventilators,” said Stacey Epstein, chief marketing and customer experience officer at ServiceMax, a field service software company. “Organizations need to know where their assets are and whether these assets are being properly maintained.”

How IoT helps with asset management

Now that some business activities have resumed, there is demand for asset tracking and maintenance.

“Before the relaunch of businesses, companies like restaurant equipment suppliers saw their businesses grind to a halt, and they lost employees,” Epstein said. “With the relaunch, some of these companies have hired new employees to replace the service technicians that they lost, but many new workers lack the same service knowledge. In other cases, companies with pent-up work orders want to make decisions as to which equipment they can afford to let run an extra month so they can get to the more immediate maintenance cases.”

In situations like these, companies that are further along in their digitalization and Internet of Things (IoT) journeys have a distinct advantage. These companies can use IoT to track assets and collect data on assets that tells them whether they have an immediate need to keep a particular asset in working order.

SEE: Tableau business analytics platform: A cheat sheet (free PDF download) (TechRepublic)

They can run diagnostics and quickly determine whether they can repair an asset remotely by sending out a software fix, or whether they need to dispatch someone to the field to perform onsite maintenance. If they have newer, less-experienced service technicians, companies can equip these employees with laptops and mobile phones that enable immediate video conferences with in-house service experts so that sticky repair problems can be quickly solved.

In field service, it also becomes easier to track warranty and entitlement issues, such as whether a particular part on a machine has failed and should be replaced for free. Many systems now enable you to plug IoT into the base system. These systems have the ability to ingest audio and video data.

“We can do this because we now have field service systems that can track an asset down to the part level,” Epstein said.

From a data perspective alone, systems like this reflect some of the success companies have had in integrating big, unstructured data with standard records-based data. 

How does all this help you tune up your field service operation?

“First, you have to understand that you can’t just put in a couple of weeks if you want to transform your service operation,” Epstein said. “You should start with evaluating your requirements. Then, identify the big wins and go after them.”

One method is to study the service workflows of your business, asking questions such as how you are maintaining equipment and assets, how you are scheduling maintenance for them, and how you are tracking warranties. Equally important is the degree of integration you are able to achieve between your records-based data systems and your unstructured “big” data systems that contain photos, video, audio, pdf files, and schematics.

SEE: Big data and AI play a part in improving field service work (TechRepublic)

The goal is to properly integrate and deliver all of this information to the remote devices of technicians in the field so they have the tools and support they need when they need them.

“Those in field service who have moved forward with their digital strategies are reaping rewards because they are able to understand the health of their equipment and to manage it remotely,” Epstein said. “Other companies have been caught flat-footed as they struggle to maintain business continuity in a remote world. This is pushing companies to make the transition to a new normal in industries that rely on field technicians to keep their businesses running.”

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