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Automate or Drown

Artikel fra Effektivitet nr. 2, 2017

BRANCHENYT

For good reason most people don’t think that much about traffic lights. You may not know that in Southern African English traffic lights are called robots. Put like that, you can see the humble traffic light is in fact part of a network of intelligently controlled devices. And that it’s replaced harassed humans waving sticks to regulate traffic flow.

Traffic in large cities is now too heavy for policemen and women to manage by doing that. What’s more, their highly developed skills are better deployed on more valuable work. Some things are better done by robots, as they’re better at dealing with high volumes of repetitive tasks that don’t require much intellect.

It’s a good parallel for the way we all need to handle the data explosion arising from the Internet of Things (IoT). It just won’t be possible for people to cope. The robots - AI and automation - will have to take over.

Connect and harvest

Sensors and imaging devices are getting cheaper and more durable and open standards make them easier to adopt. So people are starting to put them on any and everything. Even mousetraps.

Rentokil Initial is one of the world’s leading Pest Control and Hygiene businesses with annual revenues of over £1.8Bn and operations in over 60 countries. They, like many of our clients, have been looking at how the Internet of Things (IoT) can make a difference to their customers.

The company had already spotted the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve its services. At 1,000 customer sites, it was using mousetraps fitted with sensors that sent a message whenever the trap needed clearing or maintenance. As a result, Rentokil has the ability to monitor a customer’s location 24/7 and have real-time updates on any infestation. This enabled Rentokil to provide a more proactive pest management service based on customer needs. What’s more, Rentokil staff no longer needed to visit these sites regularly to check the state of devices and traps that needed clearing could be attended to sooner. This, in itself is a rewarding automation undertaking, even though the mass of the gathered data would bring new challenges.

Rentokil wanted to expand the connected business to 10,000 sites within less than a year – but its infrastructure was already struggling with the volume of data the sensors were generating. Together with digital and IoT experts, Rentokil created a cloud platform to support the expansion.

Time was of the essence so, working with Google, an Agile approach to develop the platform quickly was chosen. With six bursts of activity (‘sprints’) rapid progress was made which showed early on how the solution would deliver value. The new platform was launched successfully in 12 countries in just 12 weeks and it gave Rentokil the capacity to meet its immediate expansion target and it offers effectively unlimited scalability for the future. Using Google API’s such as PubSub, Dataflow, Datastore and BigQuery, the scalability and reliability necessary to support the rapid growth of the connected pest control and hygiene businesses was provided. This will become key as the company takes advantage of its data to build stronger relationships with customers, increase the flexibility, responsiveness and profitability of its operations and become a truly digital business.

Automate or drown

Rentokils’ IoT endeavour created a large volume of realtime data – 24 million messages a day – that can be managed and mined for operational insight.

As a CIO you need to make sure you manage that kind of data deluge so you can harvest the right information at the right time. Just because a single temperature sensor creates data every millisecond doesn’t mean it’s always going to be useful.

And it isn’t always going to be technically possible or economically feasible to send all of it all the way across the network into the cloud (or your own data centre). Paradoxically in some situations, such as monitoring a component in chemical plant, there’ll be times when it’s going to be very useful to know what happens every millisecond for a given temperature sensor.

It will mean AI and automation agents need to be on hand to constantly mediate and make appropriate decisions about whether information is useful or not at a specific time.

But retain a human touch

You also need to figure out where the boundary lies between when AI agents should act on their analysis of mountains of automatically generated IOT data – and when they should hand off to a human.

PA Consulting Group worked with clients to implement automated security monitoring within large scale IT infrastructures. And our experience is that it takes several months of iterative learning to ‘train’ new AI systems so they get this.

You’re going to need to use AI and automation to overcome the challenges created by the IoT – and reap the rewards. But you need to get the correct balance of people and technology. You need to decide when it’s okay for robots to direct the data traffic and when decisions need a human touch.

Getting started

The IoT maturity amongst companies is quickly rising which generates massive data sets. Five tips on how to start using AI to find relevance in the data and to help source the right data:

1. Get connected

If you haven’t already, the first step is to connect relevant data points to the internet. Whether these data points are mousetraps, industrial machinery or GPS information from trucks – if it is part of your core business, it should be connected.

2. Go cloud

Traditional IT infrastructures aren’t built to withstand the massive data surges IoT generates, especially for large corporations. Either use an established cloud solution or redesign existing infrastructure. Using established cloud solutions gives easier access to automation and analytics tools.

3. Leverage AI

Making sense of connected data manually can easily become more costly than the benefits realized. Let the machine do the work by leveraging AI capabilities to find insight and to make sure you only gather and store relevant data. Real insight requires a tailored algorithm and don’t forget to retain the human touch.

4. ROI vs easiness of implementation

Comparing the ROI with the easiness of implementation builds a foundation for some great automation cases. Go for the low hanging fruit first to build a proof-of-concept and get acceptance within your organisation. Then scale the undertaking.

5. Change before change happens

Start thinking about change early and how automation will affect your business and people. Automation will bring an unparalleled change journey for companies and employees in modern time and this is a realization that comes best early. The opposite might have devastating consequences for the automation undertaking but also for the organisation.

Rentokil Initial

  • One of the world’s leading Pest Control and
  • Hygiene businesses.
  • Founded: 1925.
  • Headquarters: Camberley, Surrey, UK.
  • Employees: App. 31. 000.
  • Annual revenues of over £1.8Bn.
  • Operations in over 60 countries.
  • Winner of Best IoT Project of the Year 2016 at the British Computer Society UK IT Industry Awards.
  • Awarded The Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2017.

Website: www.rentokil-initial.com

Læs her flere artikler fra Effektivitet nr. 2, 2017 med temaet Industri 4.0

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