Intelligent automation empowers the Internet of Things

By: Daniel Pullen, Chief Automation Officer, CiGen

Intelligent automation is set to empower the Internet of Things (IoT) as we head towards 2022 as data from different devices is collected and integrated. Organisations will begin to leverage automation to collect, collate and normalise data from connected devices so it can be quickly and easily analysed and unlock insights not possible before.

Over a decade ago, organisations faced the big data challenge. While the volume of data being generated before then had been growing, it was nothing like the volume, velocity and variety they began to face as digital transformation took hold. Every business process suddenly had a new, digital face resulting in the creation of huge amounts of data that had to be stored and managed. 

And then came the Internet of Things. At first it started with a connected device to the internet, most likely a user’s workstation. But then came printers. And that was soon followed by sensors and actuators for everything from lighting systems to complex industrial machines used in everything from controlling the temperature in a shopping centre to the operation of a complex machine producing food in a factory. 

While there may be about 7 billion people on the planet, it’s forecast that there will be around ten connected devices for every man, woman and child – well over 60 billion – in the very near future. These include sensors that collect information, actuators that take some sort of action, storage devices that store information, network devices for moving data and myriad others. The challenge is no longer how to get that data and store it. The challenge is how to use more data than a human can possibly process.

The answer lies in intelligent automation. Automation can collect, collate and normalise the data so it can be quickly and easily analysed. Tools, such as Robotic Process Automation, can read data from one system, find the important information and then carry out some sort of action. A simple application might be detecting when a sensor in a machine records readings that indicate a drift in performance. That drift might be subtle and occur over several hours or even days. But an intelligent bot can detect the drift, by leveraging machine learning or AI, and send an alert to a person who can decide on an appropriate course of action.

IoT enables data to be collected and used at a scale and pace that humans simply can’t match. When the cost of downtime in some applications is measured in the millions of dollars, being able to quickly detect and remediate anomalous activity is critical. Intelligent automation can detect issues in the data, alert an operator of the problem and, in some cases, even suggest how to fix the problem. This relies on the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

We are many years, probably decades and perhaps centuries, from having machines that can mimic human intelligence. However, intelligent automation can support people in their work. Using automation to monitor the data collected by IoT devices means never worrying about fatigue. Automation can run all day, every day without a break. It doesn’t make mistakes caused by tiredness or boredom. It also means people can focus on solving interesting and challenging problems rather than trawling through huge amounts of data.

As well as industrial applications for IoT, there are many other ways it can be used. For example, in retail beacons can be used to provide insights into customer behaviour. They can provide data, in near real time, to tell you what products are of most interest to customers and what areas in a store are most frequented. That gives retailers insights into what products they should stock and where they should place them to increase sales. Intelligent automation can use the data from the beacons and your sales data to create a comprehensive view of what is happening, delivering sights that might otherwise be missed.

With a growing focus on the environment, IoT devices are being used to monitor everything from the performance of heating and cooling systems through to airflow and lighting. With increasing scrutiny, there is a need to provide real-time information on how these systems are performing. Automating the collection of all this information and providing live reporting gives insights that can be used to make faster and better decisions.

The proliferation of IoT devices has created a flood of new data for organisations to collect, store and use. The volume, velocity and variety of that data exceeds the capacity of humans to process in order to gain insights to make sound decisions. By using intelligent automation, with machine learning and AI, it’s possible to harness data resources to make better decisions.

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