Data is the lifeblood of our economy today. It helps businesses in every single industry provide better, more personalized experiences for their customers. And with the IoT, we are creating data at unprecedented rates. However, there are a few challenges to IoT data storage and consumption that many large enterprises are running into. For one, storage solutions can be costly and difficult to scale. Two, it can be a security risk if it isn’t stored safely. And three, in many cases, it’s worthless if it isn’t processed in real time. Luckily, edge computing has the ability to face those problems head-on. And, with the increasing access to 5G, it can meet them even faster and more safely than ever before, allowing businesses to make the most of data and personalization opportunities that data provides.
As a short review, edge computing involves processing data locally—at the end of one’s network, rather than sending it “all the way” to the cloud for processing and storage. That means the data is used before it even crosses the WAN. Because it’s closer, it’s also (usually) safer and able to be processed more quickly. That’s huge in terms of decreased latency and increased security. It’s no wonder edge is growing so quickly. In fact, it’s estimated that the global edge market will increase from $3.5 billion in 2019 to more than $43 billion in 2027.
So, how are companies using edge computing and IoT to support their digital transformation efforts? The following are just a few real-world examples.
Retail at the Edge
According to recent research, there were an anticipated 440 million IoT endpoints in the retail and wholesale sector at the end of 2020. What does that even mean? Every one of those endpoints represents a data source providing valuable information to the retail sector. It could be Alexa sharing information about the type of music someone listens to or Google providing data about the type of product someone is searching for. That’s all great information—as long as a company has the ability to process it quickly and personalize a message to capitalize on it. Edge processing can help with that.
The Open Retail Initiative powered by Intel and other major technology companies is driving the charge on this by deploying new edge solutions based on an open source framework of common components. Ideally, retailers will be able to integrate the framework with their existing systems to process massive amounts of data in real-time whether a customer is in-store or shopping online.
The wave of focus on edge applications are also continuing to be in the spotlight. At last week’s Microsoft Ignite conference, the company announced its IoT/Edge platform Azure Percept, which is designed to enable customers to use pre-built Azure AI models for object detection, shelf analytics, anomaly detection, keyword spotting, and other functions at the edge. This doesn’t only provide opportunity for retail, but really all sorts of edge applications. Microsoft isn’t alone in focusing on this area. Cloud and analytics companies from AWS to IBM to SAS are among those focused on delivering solutions to collect, optimize and utilize edge data in real time.
Supply Chain Poised for Growth
While the supply chain itself is a byproduct of every vertical, the opportunity for edge and IoT data to optimize the supply chain is substantial. Whether you are measuring lead to cash, or warehouse to store/door, having real-time data and analytics to optimize every step of the process can remove significant friction in the supply chain yielding higher customer retention, greater margin, and reduced operational expense.
Last year’s pandemic exposed many businesses and consumers to the potential weaknesses in the supply chain and just how important immediate data processing can be. When supply for a product or part is high, organizations need to have visibility into the supply chain to meet demand. The earlier this visibility can be had, the more likely the supply chain isn’t disrupted. More data and analytics couldn’t have necessarily fixed all of the woes from an event like Covid-19, but there is a reason so many companies are investing heavily in their transformation efforts in the wake of the event—It became very clear that kinks in the supply chain had an exponential impact, and better real-time data could reduce the fallout.
From manufacturing to shipments, in today’s world where immediacy matters, having this type of data readily available is table stakes. Companies like HPE and SAP are working together to create solutions that capitalize on the data created by IoT devices so organizations can process and glean in insights in real-time to meet customer needs. When customer experience matters so much, finding the weak link in the supply chain can be the difference between gaining and losing market share.
Healthcare and Medicine
The amount of data being generated in healthcare and life sciences has gone up nearly 900 percent in the past two years due to things like wearables and other connected devices. The rise of remote healthcare is a huge benefit to so many, including those living in rural areas and those older people seeking to age in place. But in healthcare situations, latency issues simply aren’t acceptable—and security breaches aren’t, either. These are both areas where edge computing can help: being able to monitor patients and people in real-time with technology that can alert medical professionals to personalized needs.
Another area where edge can help: healthcare logistics. What’s one of the problems we saw logistics providers dealing with in delivering the coronavirus vaccine? Temperature and storage issues. So many times, vaccines had to be thrown out because they dropped to a certain temperature level before being used. With edge, that doesn’t have to be the case. It can monitor and manage things like distribution dates, temperature changes, open times, and amounts remaining in vials in real time, alerting healthcare partners when they are in danger of wasting a dose. These are the types of personalized solutions we need now, especially in a time of pandemic.
In the end, the goal is to see technology integrated to solve the return to more normal daily mobility for citizens around the world. In one of my recent articles here on Forbes, I spoke to how technology leaders like Honeywell, Amazon, Salesforce, and Microsoft were building solutions to help with the rollout or vaccines. These solutions ranged from IoT/edge solutions that measured traffic, vehicle routing, and geo-fencing for vaccine delivery to cold-chain traceability and serial verification. Many of these companies along with upstarts like Lumedic and Skyflow are also building extensible solutions that could provide digital proof, or what is being called a vaccination passport—a great example of how the entire journey from vaccine manufacturing to normal mobility can be achieved using IoT, edge, cloud, real-time analytics, and blockchain.
Another industry where edge computing stands to play an important role is industrial manufacturing. With hundreds of heavy equipment machinery with several moving parts, being able to see what is happening where is invaluable. Siemens Digital Software, Honeywell, AWS and several other organizations are helping industrial manufactures capitalize on the data from the thousands of sensors placed around factories. From predictive maintenance that reduces downtime to an understanding of how machines are being used, companies can improve employee productivity and eliminate time spent trying to locate a problem or reallocate resources. This will revolutionize manufacturing as adoption spreads across the globe.
The Edge isn’t new. The fact that it’s becoming more and more mainstream is. And as it continues to grow and develop, along with the innovations like 5G and advancements in AI/ML, we’re going to see so many more ways that it enables businesses in every industry, in every corner of the globe, to better serve their customers.