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Launching into the Future with the Internet of Things

Darren Hedley
About the author : Darren Hedley

Chief Executive Officer | Asia Pacific Energy & Resources at Sodexo

Published on : 5/9/20
  • With technology developing at a rapid pace, it’s easy to feel as though we’re living in the future. For many industries, new and emerging, technology has become the cornerstone for effective and innovative practice, and this is no different for the facilities management sector.

    One of the most innovative technological advancements has been the Internet of Things. For a long time, this was our prospective solution to better decision making, operational efficiency and connectivity – it’s now the current solution we have.

    Internet of Things, or IoT, technology is a network of devices, machines, objects, or even people and animals who can transfer data using a cloud-based system rather than human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

    Through IoT, we have made great leaps in the way we work. In a snapshot, some of our increased capabilities include

    • The use of drones for project mapping, checking temperatures across power lines, remote water level monitoring and more;
    • Augmented and virtual reality to communicate with sites remotely and support training;
    • Monitoring asset performance through data, reducing manual check-ups and entering the predictive maintenance space;

    In my experience, IoT presents several key benefits, particularly when combined with data analytics and artificial intelligence, including:

    • Real-time data retrieval that you would historically have sent someone out to recover in person. It then allows you to adjust your strategy based on what the data is telling you;
    • Improved business insights and customer experience through the use of connected equipment, smart trackers and mobile card readers;
    • Business and workplace safety through the use of wearable technologies and sensors;
    • Increased productivity and quality levels through the automation of data collection activities;

    Around a decade ago, all assets and technology had to be hardwired into processing plant infrastructure and controlled through a variety of systems. With the introduction of IoT, we can now monitor and control assets remotely through cloud-based systems, which removes the need for hardwiring. With improvements in machine learning, the control of assets can even be fully automated.

    Like all new technology, IoT was initially a relatively expensive way of setting up assets and was used exclusively by large organisations in big industries. But in the past three to five years, there has been mass uptake of IoT, and, over time, businesses have learnt how to apply it successfully to retrieve relevant data.
    Today, you can buy IoT hardware from your local Bunnings, and it’s more expensive to manually hardwire an asset than to ‘plug and play’ with IoT.

    IoT IN ACTION

    Sodexo employee is using AR glassesFrom an organisational perspective, the customer journey, the employee experience, and the financial performance of the business all benefit from IoT. Organisations that have already started to understand the changing environment and invest in short, medium and long-term strategies, will be the first to experience those benefits. 

    Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with Sodexo’s Technical Services team and have been able to support the launch of this technology on-site.

    The remote nature of our client’s sites and facilities has historically created many challenges when it comes to the retrieval of data from the client’s assets and communication between the Perth-based Technical Services team and field workers on-site. Support staff were previously required to fly in regularly to our client’s sites to check on asset performance and provide technical support to field workers. Meaning that asset data could only be tracked and monitored intermittently – often only once or twice a year.

    We recognised an opportunity to increase operational efficiency by introducing IoT technology on-site. In doing so, teams can simplify their service with real-time data streamed from their client’s remote sites to central offices and experience significant time, cost and productivity savings.
    IoT technology has allowed teams to capture asset condition, performance and data across communication platforms, providing them with access to comprehensive data sets and asset analysis without having to leave their base.

    It also means teams can be proactive in forecasting losses in asset performance and communicating technical advice to field workers before technical issues arise. By creating data plot points based on trends over time, the team is able to determine when a problem is imminent as data will begin to exceed certain thresholds.
    On one particular project at Sodexo, Augmented Reality (AR) glasses were introduced, allowing full visualisation of the client’s sites from 1,500 kilometres away. Using the glasses, the Technical Services team could see through the eyes of on-site field workers. This provided further insight into how assets were performing and enabled the team to provide accurate and timely support to field workers.

    As part of this project and future planning, our team has been collecting meaningful data, not just data for data sake, to apply machine learning/artificial intelligence methodologies to our asset strategy.
    Ultimately, with the use of IoT technology, city-based workers aren’t required to fly in and out of the client’s remote sites to be able to provide support. For Sodexo, each time the AR glasses are used, the team achieves the equivalent cost and productivity savings of at least one return flight and up to 12 hours of labour.

    IoT AT SODEXO

    Group Sodexo employees waring AR glassesI’m proud to be working with a company which is arguably leading the industry with IoT-based innovations that deliver remarkable leaps forward in enhancing the workplace experience.

    In essence, IoT has created four major benefits for Sodexo:

    • It provides us with more accurate data (by eliminating human error) to enable real-time decision making
    • Access to real-time data, which allows predictive analysis and reduces operational and maintenance costs
    • Workplaces are more connected, which drives engagement and results in greater productivity from teams and individuals
    • Employees are empowered to focus on rectifications, improvements and other higher-skilled roles, rather than menial tasks such as data collection

    LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

    Two Sodexo employees are waring AR glassesWith technology evolving so rapidly, it’s difficult to envision how IoT technology will develop even in the next five years. However, as it does develop, we see a continued reduction in the size of the technology – sensors that were once the size of your phone are now tiny. Through economies of scale, price is also continuing to decrease.

    As the quality of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality improves, their use cases and integration with IoT systems will continue to evolve.

    Further, it’s also becoming more and more clear that the cloud-based nature of IoT is enabling globalisation of data, a valuable prospect for companies like Sodexo who operate across borders. While Sodexo is a global organisation, Australia is the piloting ground for IoT before we implement the technology globally. It’s an exciting time and position to be in for myself, to be an early adopter of this technology as it becomes available.

    I think a big fear is that as this technology develops, it will replace the need for workers – but that’s not what Sodexo has experienced, and we don’t expect that to change. Yes, technology is replacing many tasks, such as data reading and physical asset monitoring, but this is enabling employees to focus on upskilling and activities they enjoy.

    What is essential as practitioners in any industry where IoT is used is staying ahead of the curve. It’s paramount we remain open-minded about the different ways IoT can be implemented into our current operations in a meaningful, and effective way. What we know for sure is that IoT allows us the ability to dream big!

    Sodexo has recently released a report on current trends in the facilities management industry, including IoT and AR. You can read the full report by clicking here.