Of rust belts and beacons: IoT and wearable trends for 2015

IoT and wearables have made important inroads in manufacturing, warehousing and retail.

Some of the more exciting trends around the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables right now can be found in industrial America and behind the scenes in retail. I had a chance to speak with Adam Stein, vice president, mobile solutions and product marketing for SAP before he left to attend the Mobile World Congress to get this perspective on current IoT and wearables trends in industry and retail.

Commonly, IoT takes the form of mobile beacons in retail and warehouses that offer a growing number of benefits for inventory, break/fix maintenance, and even user assistance.

Wearable and IoT trends in industry

"If you look at what's happened in industrial America, let's say you work for John Deere," Stein said. "John Deere builds tractors and all kinds of farming machinery. How are they going to do the Internet of Things? Why are they going to do the Internet of Things?"

"Well they do that because the cost of manufacturing and the cost of maintenance can go down tremendously and the productivity of the users and the farmers and the mechanics can go up precipitously as well," he said. "That's exactly what's happening these days with warehouse manager and the augmented reality field manager applications that people are putting together including SAP."

"This way before you go out and fix something you have an indication from the device or machine that's broken," Stein said. The repair technician then knows what parts to bring to complete the service call.

He said, "you don't have to have a highly skilled individual or maybe their not even trained yet in fixing this particular device. They have the augmented reality front end, like a "Ikea map" in their eyes showing them the different pieces and how to put everything together and how to fix something in the field."

There are other technology vendors filling the gap in augmented reality glasses that Google left behind according to Stein. SAP has a demo planned around such augmented reality technology planned for Mobile World Congress.

Stein said that continuity with augmented reality wearables is because that market was not tied to Google Glass.

"It got the visibility," Stein adds about Google Glass. "I hate to use that pun but they had the augmented reality leadership."

IoT in retail

There's a retail vertical is relatively strong, and Stein said SAP is seeing some positive news and statistics from this vertical market.

"There's also some interesting IoT and mobility trends happening between the warehouse and retail floor," Stein said.

"The retail stuff turns out to be extremely mobile. They have tablets and smartphones replacing the paper catalogs," Stein said. (Read this TechRepublic article about tablets as a replacement for Point of Sales (PoS) systems.)

"There's a really cool movement to put all kinds of barcodes on devices you are buying like Weber grills," Stein said

"All the Weber grill packs these days you see a barcode that says scan me for instructions to assemble," Stein said. "If you scan that you get the ability to put the device together interactively. You don't need augmented reality glasses or anything like that, but you can go to your mobile device scan that with any kind of scanning application and get the online instructions on how to put that product together."

Stein said, "It becomes a user assistance tool that God forbid they don't pack instructions in the crate when you buy something."

Stein said that this new user assistance channel gives a manufacturer a feedback mechanism to alert about missing parts in a given product package without a customer having to call a general information number and waiting a week to receive a missing part. The same feedback mechanism can also provide the manufacturer's documentation team customer feedback for updating future versions of the assembly documentation.

An SAP customer in the United Kingdom, which Stein said was equivalent to CVS Pharmacy in the United States, uses similar IoT/beacon technology to manage loss prevention.

Future of beacons in 2015

Stein sees a future of smarter and more embedded beacons as we get further into 2015.

"I know the automobile manufacturers that SAP is working with are all very interested in beacon technology just like you said from the showroom floor to the warehouse for repair history and managing inventory and managing parts needed for repairs," Stein said.

He said, "The beacons allow the car manufacturers, for example, to get real-time input on what parts are failing, what frequency and where."

The beacon adds multiple dimensions including geography, economic, and even weather offering automobile manufacturers insights into parts failures and related information, he said.

Final thoughts

IoT and wearables are growing into valuable back office tools even competitive differentiators for manufacturing and retail that gradually is translating into an improved customer experience with benefits to the business bottom line.

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By Will Kelly

Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...