The Internet Of Things: Powering The Modern Workplace

August 22, 2019

The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change the world…or at least that’s what many consumers and business leaders believe. The truth is, IoT is already changing the world.

Gartner research forecasts that there will be 20.4 billion IoT devices by 2020—a 41% increase in just three years. The same report projects that businesses will contribute almost half (48%) to the overall spend on IoT technology at the turn of the decade. The growth is striking. However, this vast technology network is a still nascent, even vague, concept in many professional environments.

The introduction of virtual home assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, has helped to demonstrate the power of IoT to the mass market. But beyond asking Alexa to spin your favorite album on Spotify, what else does this technology have to offer?

Sodexo’s Group Chief Digital Innovation Officer, Belen Moscoso del Prado, shares key insights into this digital transformation and explores the main considerations for business leaders probing the practical benefits IoT can bring to their organization.

The Connected Workplace 

“There is reasoning for implementation of IoT across a broad spectrum of environments,” says Belen. “However, the most successful cases have emerged where they’re needed most. For example, we’ve seen some really interesting uptake in the pharmaceutical, biomedical and healthcare sectors.”

This connectivity between previously exclusive technologies is also helping to drive the future of manufacturing. Airbus is one of the leading innovators in this space. Through its Factory of the Future program, the European Aeronautic Company introduced IoT technology to improve on-site health and safety. The use of wearables in this program has enabled a 500% increase in productivity and the near elimination of operational errors.

Streamlining Experience
From a corporate perspective, there’s also an opportunity to use this connectivity to augment and streamline the workplace experience. Organizations can both improve quality of life for their employees, and reduce routine and substantially redundant tasks.

“Networks around IoT will redefine the very nature of work as all networks become services based on real-time data relevant to the individual.”

Rob van Kranenburg, Founder of IoT Council said: “IoT allows end users and business leaders to understand what’s happening in their workplace and translate that information into solutions,” Belen continues. “When we track and interpret people’s actions and behaviors, we can create a workplace experience that promotes efficiency and better quality of life.”

Space management technologies provide real world insight into how IoT can power this connectivity. The typical workplace is set up in a specific way—from the offices and meeting rooms, to the open spaces and dining areas. It’s not often clear why, or how, that arrangement was determined; however, organizations now have the capability to manage, optimize and better communicate this set up based on usage data collected through sensors.

“Hot desking apps are a great example of how IoT can benefit the end user,” explains Belen. “If an employee wants to determine desk availability, they simply need to login and check. This also eliminates the need to book ahead. They can just show up at the room with the most availability.” Similarly, sensors can be used to monitor lines in the cafe, so employees can plan their visit to avoid busy times of day.

Proactive Operations

Sensors are also being used to enable predictive maintenance on costly systems such as air conditioning and water pumps. Analytics platforms provide an understanding of where and when units are going to fail, so service providers can take action before the unit actually fails.

This type of proactive process not only saves the organization money in the long run, but helps to improve productivity and employee performance.

“When a water pump fails, the workplace has to be evacuated because the water has to be purged and the pump changed in a sterile environment,” explains Belen. “This is great example of where organizations have reduced employee downtime. By using sensors to detect the symptoms of a pending failure you can avoid lost man hours.”

Eliminating Unnecessary Tasks
Another IoT solution has allowed organizations to track waste volume and trash bin capacity. It’s far from the sexiest use of technology, but certainly effective. Sensors are used to automatically monitor bins as they fill up. The waste team is then alerted when each unit is approaching capacity. This completely removes the need for someone to manually check the bins and frees up employees to focus on more meaningful tasks.

The automation of mundane and labor intensive tasks, and its consequences for the workforce, is part of a growing conversation. However, eliminating human involvement in these repetitive jobs actually opens the way for leaders to build a more engaging workplace experience.

“Yes, certain tasks will be removed—or automated—but employees shouldn’t feel insecure about their jobs,” says Belen. “Technology is giving them more time to expand their skill sets and explore new areas of the business. The real value comes when you retrain employees and utilize them within more dynamic roles.”

“Technology is giving employees more time to expand their skill sets and explore new areas of the business. The real value comes when you retrain employees and utilize them within more dynamic roles.” Belen Moscoso del Prado, Group Chief Digital Innovation Officer, Sodexo

Building Trust

Sodexo’s 2018 Workplace Trend The Internet of Things: Shaping the Future Workplace explores the key challenges and common misconceptions that create barriers to mainstream adoption. Data privacy is one of the main concerns when it comes to the safety and viability of IoT on a mass scale. While research suggests people are open to the idea of sensors and wearables that track their activity, many want reassurances from their employer.

“58% of employees will try out a wearable device if it helps them do their jobs better.” Cornerstone

“I think the biggest challenge is around the pervasive nature of the technology and encroachment on people’s privacy. It’s the Big Brother factor,” Belen explains. “If you place a sensor under someone’s desk, you’re able to collect a lot of data on their daily working habits. How companies use that information is a justified concern right now.”

Man with smart watchFormal opt-in mechanisms will almost certainly be introduced as the application of IoT technology becomes the new ‘normal’ for global organizations. Humans value privacy, so for organizations this is about communicating the value exchange to employees.

There are two key questions to consider:

What benefit does the individual get from sharing their data?
Does that benefit outweigh their concerns?
That’s the challenge for everybody associated with data in the modern workplace—clearly communicating the purpose for collection and the benefit to the end user, while ensuring employee information is protected. And how data teams overcome this will make or break the confidence and trust between the service provider, the organization and its workforce.

The FM Dilemma

Facilities Managers have found themselves on the front line of this digital transformation in the workplace. Technology has presented a real opportunity to increase efficiency and deliver predictive solutions that integrate with existing operations. However, it’s also rapidly changing what it means to be a Facilities Manager, and that learning curve still exists.

IoT enables organizations to bring everything—management systems, communications, data analytics and maintenance—under one roof. By using an integrated platform, Facilities Managers can understand where operational improvements can be made without having to ask the question. The information gathered from people’s actions can help to flag an issue or an opportunity that was always there, but had never been noticed or reported.

“Facilities Managers need to be able to access data and reporting in a single dashboard, otherwise they’re wrestling with five, ten, twenty, thirty different apps or websites to pull all the necessary information,” Belen explains. “We know they have a very, very busy schedule. It’s not fair to expect them to take on the role of data scientist. IoT connects these sources and presents the necessary information in an accessible way.”

Amazon, Microsoft and IBM are among the large organizations and innovators merging multiple technologies together for this reason. This is how Facilities Managers can begin to accurately manage and measure the condition of equipment or services, comprehensively understand people’s behaviors when they’re working on-site, and use data to inform predictive and preventative actions.

Risk versus Reward

The return on investment associated with IoT isn’t always easy to pin down. Naturally, business leaders want to know the metrics for success, and there are plenty of cases that prove the financial benefits of some IoT solutions. Waste management is easily quantifiable, and solutions like multilingual self check-in systems eliminate the need for around the clock receptionists and costs associated with translation. However, in other circumstances, solutions aren’t so definitive and the financial advantages aren’t so concrete. This is where business leaders must take a leap of faith.

Employee data analytics“The issue here is when new digital technologies are deployed, they’re put under a rigor that exceeds the usual standard of scrutiny,” Belen says. “It’s not always immediately possible to determine the financial impact of new technology. Which is why sometimes I think companies do have to grab the bull by the horns and say, actually this is the right thing to do.”

For example, in a flexible work environment the individual offices are typically shared between several people. Sensors and IoT are the levers that enable this type of workplace to operate efficiently. However, this may not always result in space savings—the rooms that are not in use may instead be designated for project work or collaboration.

There’s always some element of risk when an organization adopts a new technology for the first time. Everyone involved is required to learn and adjust to new processes, and that’s not always an easy thing to achieve. However, what’s clear is that when IoT is used in the right way it has the power to transform the way businesses operate.

The Competitive Edge

Organizations who resist change risk losing their competitive edge when it comes to market share and retaining top talent. However, the environment will mature in the coming years as the Internet of Things becomes fully established.

“There is a lot of test, fail, and learn going on at the moment,” Belen says. “Which is normal with new technologies, including IoT solutions. Global organizations need to find their way in this space because it’s the innovators who ultimately change the industry—you just need to look at Uber and Just Eat to understand that.”

The customer journey, the employee experience, and the financial performance of the business all benefit from IoT. Organizations 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.

The Internet of Things is no longer a future solution—it’s in the here and now.

Sodexo is leading the industry with IoT-based innovations that deliver remarkable leaps forward in enhancing the workplace experience. We partner with our clients to tailor our Integrated Facility Management (IFM) technology platform, which has been designed to integrate with existing systems into a single secure solution that provides unique benefits for employers and employees. All parties can access real-time reporting, analysis and predictive capabilities that drive intelligent decisions for a better, safer and more productive workplace.