How COVID-19 Will Impact IoT

August 19, 2020 - 9 minutes read

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the global population’s lives and livelihoods, it’s easy to get pessimistic. But there is a silver lining to this crisis: Change and innovation have accelerated at an unprecedented rate. While many people are itching to resume life as it was before the pandemic, some things may never return to full normalcy. As a result, many businesses and governments have to manage this new reality by utilizing emerging technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT), in a variety of novel ways.

IoT, in particular, is extremely flexible, customizable, and up-to-date. IoT applications generate, measure, and analyze data in real-time, making them indispensable for any job, no matter how large or small. Here’s how we think IoT is going to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innovative Camera Uses

Most businesses have a camera system that monitors and records customers while they shop inside the store. With the virus, companies are beginning to use their camera systems to monitor workers to ensure they’re following national and international guidelines for pandemic-related safety measures. Cameras can even come equipped with artificial intelligence to instantly alert an executive for a possible infraction. They also allow companies to monitor the camera feed remotely in real-time, through a desktop or mobile app.

For example, in Paris, cameras were set up by transportation officials to detect masks on people taking public transit. This three-month trial didn’t store data or use the data to punish riders (although riders can be fined for not wearing a mask if caught in person by a law enforcement official). Instead, it gave officials a calculated percentage of how many people wore face coverings. This metric has been invaluable for Paris public health employees to plan out restrictions and in forecasting how long the pandemic may last locally.

At retailers, IoT systems are using cameras to count how many people are entering and leaving. Once the system calculates a number that exceeds the highest acceptable amount, it alerts the appropriate party to take action to lower the number of people inside the building. This can help companies stay in business longer by enabling them to follow the law at all times. Additionally, the IoT system acts as a paper trail to show government officials when and how many times the capacity exceeded the allowed amount.

Tagging instruments and equipment with sensors and cameras can help technicians maintain social distancing while checking in on the machine’s numbers in real-time. If an emergency arises, it can be tended to at the proper time, rather than having an on-site crew twiddling their thumbs all day. The on-site crew can also get a sense of the situation through the equipment data before ever approaching the machine.

Improving Customer Experiences

For companies to survive in the post-pandemic era, they’ll have to continuously improve their customer experience during the pandemic itself. IoT enables businesses with analytics and measurement, both of which help elucidate any issues that customers and fulfillment chains may be having. Taking these problems seriously can make a lasting impression on customers who are now expecting long lines, delayed packages, returns, refunds, customer service, and more.

To help mitigate the long lines issue while still following social distancing requirements, the London-headquartered grocery chain Sainsbury’s is introducing a virtual queueing system through a mobile app. Customers register for a place in line, go back to their car, and wait for a notification letting them know they can enter the store to shop. It affords the customer some comfort in a familiar environment instead of standing outside for half an hour or more. Sainsbury’s leaders expect social distancing to last through the end of 2020, if not longer.

Another way to help customers is to measure and forecast the most in-demand products, like hand soap, hand sanitizer, masks, paper products, electronics, and more. Using these insights, companies can plan ahead and place larger pre-orders for these products, ensuring that their customers never arrive at the store, only to be disappointed by the lack of supply. For online retailers, a notification before the customer checks out to let them know that the product may be delayed in shipping can also mitigate miscommunications between the retailer and the customer.

Rethinking the Workforce

Employers are scrambling to keep their employees healthy so their businesses can stay open. On the other hand, many companies have transitioned their entire staff to work from home for the first time in history. Human resources employees should keep employee happiness and productivity top of mind by analyzing workforce gaps and working to bridge the gaps.

The pandemic is putting many businesses in a tough spot. For example, if several small departments with highly-skilled employees lose an employee or two around the same time to self-isolate for two weeks or more, company output as a whole could decrease due to a workforce shortage. Another issue could arise if employees are required to show up to work early for temperature readings. This extra time can eat into an employee’s life and daily routine. IoT can help fix this problem with thermal imaging cameras that measure the body temperature of a group of people from a distance. This method improves employee safety and gives them some time back.

For employers that have a majority of employees taking public transit (in places like New York City, Paris, or London), a disruption in public transit can directly impact business output for that day. This factor can dictate when a company should open their doors for commuting to the office again. Speaking of reopening offices, it’s important that businesses take a hard look around their office to see what changes need to be made to keep employees safe. Is the kitchen too small for the size of the office? Are there enough bathrooms? Are employees requesting anything specific?

Ultimately, the pandemic will uncover a variety of issues in offices and within companies that were already present pre-pandemic. These issues will surface as bigger problems post-pandemic, and many businesses will lose chunks of the annual budget in fixing things. Analyzing historical data can show areas for improvement, while continuous data measurement can show if progress is being made. With reliable data, leaders can make intelligent, data-driven decisions to steer the company and its employees in the right direction.

Using IoT for the Greater Good

IoT affects every single aspect of the supply chain, from materials sourcing to package delivery. Its full potential hasn’t been realized, but the pandemic is certainly accelerating the innovative and impactful ways we can apply the technology to retailers, online shops, customers, and employees.

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual company to do right by their staff and customers by listening to the data when it alerts leaders that something may be amiss. This will be one of the only ways a company can come out on top after the pandemic finally ends.

Have you started utilizing IoT more since the pandemic started? If so, don’t hesitate to let us know how in the comments below!

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