How the internet of things can help create a better new normal

On March 16, prime minister Boris Johnson told everyone in the UK who could do so to work from home. Across the country, office buildings emptied almost overnight. Couriers were summoned to ferry monitors and computers from offices to homes and the streets were packed with people making one final commute. Back then, few would have imagined they would not set foot in their office again this year. And, when they next do, much will have changed.
The office buildings of the near future will have to be reimagined to cater for a new normal. They will be smarter, more flexible and, crucially, Covid-secure. At the centre of this shift will be the internet of things (IoT) – body-temperature monitoring and people counting, monitoring air quality and energy consumption, and powered by a network of smart, connected devices that will help governments and businesses not only track Covid-19, but also make smarter decisions about transport and office infrastructure. And, as we work together to create a new normal, these IoT solutions will also help us hit zero carbon emissions targets.
At Vodafone’s London headquarters, this future is already being realised. A smart building IoT management solution uses a variety of connected sensors to track energy use and manage desk occupancy. This all feeds into a building management system that helps detect busy areas and ensure social distancing takes place. The technology will help manage the return to work in a safe and controlled way – while also providing the data required to constantly adapt and improve its operations.
Heat detection is another example. As and when offices start to open again, employees will be counting on their companies to keep them safe. Vodafone Business’s heat detection camera quickly and discreetly screens people to check for raised body temperature, a potential sign of a Covid-19 infection and allows businesses to take appropriate action. The service is fully managed and secure, with detections sent to a secure central console. Data analysis is hosted on an organisation’s local system and there’s round-the-clock technical support and next-day repairs.
The technology is already available to make this shift – and many businesses are already leveraging this. IDC predicts that companies will invest up to $1.1 trillion in IoT by 2023. Alongside this, cellular IoT connections, powered by the rise of 5G, will reach 3.5 billion by the same year. Just as Covid-19 has pushed us all apart, technology has brought us all together. And, as we adapt to the new normal, IoT will allow us to build for a better future.
Covid-19 has been a brutal stress test for many businesses. Whole industries have gone through more disruption in a few short months of 2020 than they had in the preceding decade. As we slowly emerge from this crisis, companies must reassess what “business as usual” looks like. To do this, many will turn to digital transformation to achieve the agility, intelligence and scalability needed to respond to a changing world and help employees and customers thrive.
According to research conducted for Vodafone’s May 2020 IoT Spotlight report, 84 per cent of companies felt IoT had ensured business continuity for them during the pandemic and 95 per cent saw a positive return on investment. Even before the pandemic, the internet of things era was well underway, with one in three businesses using the technology. The rollout of 5G has enabled more devices to come online. But, in the midst of a global healthcare and economic crisis, many businesses struggle to articulate the benefits of adopting what’s often perceived as complex new technologies. Research by digital security firm Gemalto shows that 48 per cent of businesses struggle to detect internet of things security breaches on their network. Half of organisations said the cost of implementation was also a major hurdle, while maintenance and integration of legacy technologies were also key issues.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies to look at the way they operate, and in many cases, reassess how they spend money,” says Anne Sheehan, business director at Vodafone UK. “So for those who believe IoT is a technology that only pays off in the long run, this might discourage investment. I believe that would be a mistake, because IoT has the potential to be truly transformative today. It could even help your business survive.”
Many of the frustrations felt by businesses that have implemented, or tried to implement, internet of things technologies can be solved by taking a more holistic approach. Vodafone Business specialises in end-to-end solutions that are modular, scalable and able to hook into legacy systems. Having the physical network and the management and control infrastructure to realise the benefits of the internet of things is key, as are the co-created customised solutions that let any business looking to make the switch gain access to a vast array of expertise and technology.
To further bolster its internet of things expertise, Vodafone Business has partnered with IoT.nxt, allowing it to offer a wider range of end-to-end internet of things solutions. Founded in 2015, IoT.nxt is a Vodafone-owned software development company that specialises in dynamic internet of things equipment and software solutions and recently benchmarked the best-in-class IoT platform for Edge, Data Management, Monitoring and Usability by MachNation. Combining IoT.nxt’s secure platform, sensors, software and frameworks with its own decades of industry experience in connectivity hosting and extensive support, Vodafone Business is aiming to help its customers make even smarter decisions and develop a competitive advantage in the most challenging economic environment for a generation.
At the centre of this are the offices and city centres many of us left behind in March. Buildings are the second-highest cost to companies behind employee salaries. Monitoring and understanding building occupancy not only helps save businesses money, it can also help ensure that employees get the most out of their time in the office. As the world of work shifts from daily commuting to working flexibly or entirely remotely, the internet of things will play a crucial role in optimising workflows and making buildings Covid-19 compliant.
In the long-term, internet of things technologies will help businesses to not only collect more data in a secure and compliant way, but also to learn from that data and make important changes that benefit their employees and the environment we all share. Co-created, internet of things solutions will help organisations to minimise risk and restore employee and customer confidence. And what works for a single building can also be scaled to a whole city, where smart sensors connected to resilient and ultra-fast 5G networks can help officials monitor infrastructure and better understand the changing way in which we interact with and move through urban spaces.
From smart industrial solutions that improve the safety and efficiency of your machinery and workers to smart utilities solutions that enable the management and monitoring of key utilities to meet operational and regulatory requirements, data-led, smart solutions can help enable a return to work and accelerate innovation and efficiency in your business, “It’s not about reinventing the business. It’s not about going into something different,” says Nico Steyn, co-founder and CEO of IoT.nxt. “It’s really about grasping where the market is moving and then understanding how you’re going to bring these technologies into your business to actually cause the disruption.”
For the offices and city centres that we left earlier this year to continue to deliver for us in the future, change is needed. From the rise of flexible and remote working to the challenges of keeping our cities moving as priorities change, leveraging digital technologies can enable organisations big and small to build a new and better normal.

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Watch Anne Sheehan, Vodafone UK’s Business Director at WIRED Live as she discusses how the future of digital transformation has already arrived with 5G and IoT.

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