This emerging technology is set to bring multiple benefits for those who adopt it, will humanitarian do?
The Internet of Things is a giant network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software and sensors which are connected and exchange data. The growing use of smart technology is already transforming how manufacturers implement the IoT.
Humanitarian and Development actors can benefit from IoT-generated data in two main areas: i) Logistics: through accessing organization specific data generated through smart sensors, smart devices and, at large, any equipment connected to the Internet, and ii) Programs: through accessing data related to the physical and social environment of the project by a large spectrum of smart sensors and wearable devices connected to the Internet.
There are undoubtedly many benefits in using IoT for a humanitarian or development organization. Today, there is very little in the way of reviews or evaluations of the impact of IoT in our sector but when looking to the private sector, we could see how it could help transform our work. Using data automatically generated through the IoT will significantly decrease the need for time and labor-intensive data collection and open up new data sources that programs have not tapped into before. It will provide opportunities for new and wider analyses that can significantly extend the basis for decision-making and influence program design, monitoring, implementation and policy. It may also help to reduce operational costs across the logistics chain and its support services and enable better insight into the quality of field activities.
Safe to say, IoT has huge potential to transform our world and the way we work, but we are far from being ready…
And mostly because we do not fully know what to do with it; IoT is one of the most anticipated but least-understood technology!
Most organizations I speak with recognize the potential of IoT. When it comes to conceptualizing a project, we always end up speaking about the potential, but also the many challenges and fears associated with a little understood technology. These include:
• The organizational cost of modernizing existing operations and procurement of new hardware and software,
• Establishment of common modalities for the creation and fundamentally, the management of data,
• The certainty that our data remains safe and we can protect ourselves from cyber-attacks,
• How to secure funding streams, ensure project sucess and demonstrate that it will have significant cost savings in the long run.
Most managers see the potential of IoT but just don’t know where to begin to adopt the technology; finding the right answers and guidance remains a real challenge. IoT experts and companies are today mainly focusing on private sector initiatives. Browsing the web will bring countless example of construction companies using IoT and AI to cut back on machinery downtime, or a petroleum leader optimizing drilling costs using the same concept but finding external advisors with understanding of the development and humanitarian sector is a real challenge. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to look to peers and case studies for best practices in integrating operations and IT networks as there are only a few successful examples save for a few pilot projects.
One of the main challenges for organizations is to better understand what services could be designed with IoT in mind, how to analyze large volumes of sensory data, how to set up and use IoT gateways and how to integrate concepts such as IoT and AI driven predictive and preventive maintenance into their work habits.
The way forward is not easy and will require in-depth organizational transformation and behavioral changes. Demystifying the beast with successful and concrete applications and project ideas will help add weight to the case for using IoT within the sector. You could start almost anywhere; and why not find inspiration from private sector leaders instead of reinventing the wheel?
Organizations can harness the power of predictive analysis and maintenance for vehicle fleets; embed sensors and intelligent pump control systems for their WASH projects, use
smart meters and big data analytics to optimize the energy usage of office buildings, use temperature and humidity sensors to monitor in real time rice quality, the possibilities are numerous and widerspread.
IoT Is versatile and powerful. This emerging technology is set to bring multiple benefits for those who adopt it. Industries such as manufacturing, retail, logistics, mining and many other are massively investing. With the latest IoT development practices, IoT-enabling technologies are becoming smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Industry leaders like Cisco, Amazon and Hitachi are launching new solutions almost daily, there are a lot of opportunities that can transform in-depth the way we work in the humanitarian sector helping us to be more efficient, faster and better informed. To do so we need to start looking around and seize the opportunities.