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The Internet of Smart Things – humanizing the IOT

January 30, 2018

David Grebow, CEO of KnowledgeStar and former co-director of the IBM Institute for Advanced Learning, believes that the Internet of Smart Things (IosT) is the most significant opportunity that has come out of the IoT world, especially for manpower-intensive heavy industries. He spoke with Industrial Internet Now about IosT’s potential to humanize the IoT and realize companies’ returns.

What is the Internet of Smart Things and how does it differ from IoT in its implications on work as we know it?

The IoT was originally designed as an interconnected system of computing devices that could transfer data over a network. The original focus was to enable machine-to-machine transfer and display of data. The primary output was the data that informed a few people about how the interconnected devices were functioning. The emphasis was on managing that data, driving new business value from the investment of the infrastructure supporting the IoT, and finding more effective and efficient ways of doing business made possible by the IoT. It was not focused on how people could more safely and effectively use the machines, since there was no human-to-machine interface.

The Internet of Smart Things™ (IosT) incorporates that human-to-machine interface and uses the interconnected computing devices to alert and inform people about what they need to know and do to safely and effectively do their jobs. Imagine if the equipment you use in the workplace could show you what you need to know about how they operate, tell you how to use them correctly and efficiently in your native language, help you be safer working with or around them, offer you details to complete and submit regulatory forms and checklists. What if they could also show you how to fix them if they are broken, provide you with the schematics and diagrams you need, help you contact a mentor or emergency assistance, and more?

Imagine if the equipment you use in the workplace could show you what you need to know about how they operate, tell you how to use them correctly and efficiently in your native language. What if they could also show you how to fix them if they are broken, provide you with the schematics and diagrams you need, help you contact a mentor or emergency assistance, and more?

What if all this information was delivered automatically whenever you were within a short distance of the machine? Imagine if it was instantly and securely viewable from any nearby internet-connected device. Think of the enormous impact that could have: increasing safety, eliminating errors, boosting employee productivity, proving timely compliance, among others. It could dramatically reduce injuries and associated worker’s compensation and insurance costs – all of which would have an immediate and positive effect on the bottom line.

We’ve all heard and read about how the Internet of Things in the home will transform the ways in which we live. We’ve heard for years how your refrigerator is going to send a shopping list to your grocery store, your car will make an appointment for an oil change, and the blinds on your windows will automatically close as dusk falls.

What about the Internet of Things in the workplace? It seems to me that far more people have an immediate need for the machines they work with every day on the job to supply them with specific information.

While I can appreciate that having an expensive lathe machine tell me that there is a problem with the calibration of one of the lathes, having that same piece of machinery provide me with safety warnings, a way to access operational information I may have forgotten, a name of a person to call to solve an immediate problem, or a checklist of compliance issues that need to be completed before I operate it would be far more useful. That’s the Internet of Smart Things.

In the shift to a learning economy, what role will managers play, particularly in companies in more manpower-intensive heavy industries like ports and container handling, mining, automotive and general manufacturing? Also, with relation to industrial jobs, in what ways is IosT an opportunity?

Managers who are currently responsible for providing on-the-spot reminders and remedial training would be free to perform more important managerial jobs. Learning becomes the responsibility of the workers who can find out what they need to know and do using their smart devices – phones, tablets, or Google Glass EE – connected to the machines. Managers’ role will be to enable workers to use the IosT.

Managers will also be able to look at the analytics the IosT returns and see where training is hitting or missing the mark, find out who is acting as a go-to expert for operations or repairs, check to make sure regulatory guidelines and maintenance are being met on time, and more. Managers responsible for training will be able to see what parts of the training are working and which areas need to be revisited and revised.

In your writings, you’ve said that the IosT humanizes the IoT? In what way?

It adds people back into the equation. It takes machines that can essentially talk to one another and gives them the capability to literally talk to the workers operating and maintaining them.

You’ve also mentioned that the return on investment is easier to see with the IosT. How so?

According to the 2016 Training Industry Report, the manufacturing sector alone spent more than $25 million on training that year. Current research informs us that we forget as much as 50% of that training in a matter of days or weeks. That means that every dollar spent returns only 50 cents in value. The IosT is an antidote to forgetting since it provides not only just-in-time information; it can be designed to provide just-for-me initialized training as well.

Safety direct and indirect costs from injuries and accidents in the workplace have been estimated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA – an agency of the United States Department of Labor – to amount to almost $1 billion per week. This ranges from medical payments to repairs of damaged equipment. Smart machines, driven by the IosT, would dramatically cut down these costs by reinforcing safety training and providing safety alerts and instructions. By ensuring that machinery was properly operated and maintained the indirect costs would also be reduced.

What, in your opinion, do responsible developers of technology need to consider in developing IoT systems to make the IosT a reality?

The human-machine interface. There is an entire ecosystem that needs to be accounted for. Machine-to-machine data sharing is one element of the ecosystem. Human-to-machine interaction and connection is the other. The value of having a smart machine talking to other smart machines has already proven to be valuable. Incorporating the people who work on those smart machines into the equation makes the IosT even more important. It’s a viewpoint that asks a simple question: How can this technology be used to make life better for the people who work with these interconnected machines every day?

David Grebow heads KnowledgeStar, a US-based consulting firm that provides Fortune 500 corporations, start-ups, NGOs and analyst agencies with insight about the intersection of digital technology and education. His latest book “Minds at Work” will be published in December, 2018 by ATD Press.The Internet of Smart Things™ is trademarked by KnowledgeStar, Inc.