Zebra Survey Shows Security, Management Planning Driving IoT Growth

The company's 2019 "Intelligent Enterprise Index" finds greater planning is taking place among Internet of Things adopters in retail, manufacturing, health care and logistics to ensure that systems are secure and that data can be potentially shared with partners.
Published: November 6, 2019

The rate of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions adoption continues growing across multiple sectors, according to a new survey conducted by Zebra Technologies, though implementation is being better planned than in the past. This year, the company released its third annual “Intelligent Enterprise Index,” involving 950 participants in health care, manufacturing, transportation and retail (see Zebra Survey Finds IoT Plans in the Works at Most Companies and Zebra Annual Survey Sees Growth in IoT Adoption to read about the 2017 and 2018 editions).

According to the survey, growth is being driven by an on-demand economy that requires faster deliveries in transportation and retail, greater mobility for health care, and transparent receipt of materials and work-in-progress (WIP) for manufacturers. However, the company found, one key takeaway from this year’s survey wasn’t so much the rate of growth but rather the more strategic approach to IoT deployment, including planning solutions with security and data-management plans. “People are instrumenting out further, but they’re doing it in a more purposeful matter,” says Drew Ehlers, a global futurist at Zebra Technologies. “It’s about the data and what they can do with it.”

Drew Ehlers

The survey’s participants consisted of 24 percent health-care firms, 27 percent manufacturers and 26 percent retailers, while transportation and logistics represented the remaining 23 percent of respondents. They were based in nine countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, China, India and Japan. Each company responded to questions about its IoT deployment status and vision, as well as 10 other criteria, such as security, data-management plans, infrastructure and adoption challenges.

Overall, the survey found that those with what Zebra calls an “intelligent enterprise,” either under way or in the planning stages, represent 61.5 percent of responding companies, up from 55.9 percent a year ago. The firm defines enterprise intelligence as a business’s ability to understand what is happening in its operations, both in real time and for analytics, with a platform to act on that enables higher levels of growth, productivity and service. The IoT is the enabling technology for this kind of intelligence, Zebra maintains.

The percentage of those that have completed their IoT deployment planning entirely is up from 8 percent in 2018 to 18 percent this year, according to the survey. Most have one or more strategic partners to make that happen, and most commonly are using a single provider to manage their entire solution. The majority of deployment activity is still taking place among the largest firms, while those companies that are furthest evolved in their IoT solutions are firms reporting $500 million or higher in annual revenue. What’s more, the overall average spending of intelligent enterprises is $6.4 million, up 39 percent from last year. The number of companies claiming to be nearly complete in their IoT implementation planning has risen from 37 percent in 2018 to 45 percent this year.

What was unique to the latest survey, Ehlers says, was the amount of planning around data management and security. For example, 58 percent of those using IoT solutions in 2018 were monitoring their systems for security in real time, whereas the percentage this year has risen to 62 percent.

Both privacy and security concerns are typically worked into the planning phase, the survey indicates. “Security today is at the forefront,” Ehlers says, so that companies can ensure data is protected from unauthorized parties. That requires security built into IoT devices at the physical layer, as well as into the wireless connection as data is transmitted to the cloud, and also at the application layer. “There’s vulnerability at all these points,” he says. “Security must be planned and budgeted for, and it must be kept up to date.”

In the past, Ehlers says, “Some folks deployed IoT solutions and thought about security after the fact.” That meant they had to determine how to secure data they were already collecting. Now, he adds, partnerships are considering security as part of their deployment planning. “It’s very proactive now,” he states, “with plans for mitigation factors and for future vulnerabilities.” Then there’s the question of data management. While 39 percent said they planned to share information from their IoT solutions with employees in real or near-real time in 2018, 50 percent now do so, potentially by text or voice mail in the case of actionable data.

Typically, companies in the retail sector are using the technology to meet the needs of consumers for knowledgeable service and fast delivery. For instance, the IoT—using RFID, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or other wireless communication technologies—can help sales associates better know who enters a store, as well as quickly access data about the products they seek. The “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) model is enabled with RFID since it can help automatically identify where the merchandise a consumer seeks is located, and then make it available to that individual within hours. The technology also helps transportation companies to reduce delivery times and manufacturers to boost efficiency so that goods are readily available when and where they are needed.

Manufacturers are beginning to use IoT technologies to improve the management of materials, the survey found, and to feed RFID or other wireless data into a blockchain, so that they can leverage contracts with suppliers and payments for goods received. “You can take the data points being collected [via the IoT] and register those to a blockchain layer,” Ehlers explains, and thereby use that data to create smart contracts that confirm when goods arrived and whether they met the contract’s conditions. A payment can then be made accordingly.

If goods have not arrived on time, a manufacturer could, for instance, take a 3 percent discount off the supplier’s bill. In fact, Ehlers says, 95 percent of enterprises have budgeted the cost of implementing a blockchain in their future operations, but are still identifying needs and immediate solutions.

In health care, IoT technology is enabling nurses and doctors to have mobility by helping them gain access data on tablets and smartphones rather than from desktops and carts. In that way, medical personnel can spend more time at patients’ bedside, Ehlers explains, while having access to information about those patients, as well as their treatment history and the location of any equipment required for their treatment.

Additionally, health-care providers are using IoT data with RFID or BLE to reduce patient wait times. “There’s a lot of room to grow there,” Ehlers notes. “Higher utilization of room optimization leads to higher patient satisfaction” he says, while also improving potential scheduling. One way to accomplish that goal is to deploy RFID or BLE technology to understand the movements of patients who wear or carry trackers. Their locations can be viewed on a dashboard, and treatment can thus be provided accordingly.

Based on the survey results, Ehlers says, “Innovation folks are starting to identify the problems they want to solve first, and [are] clearly defining the outcome they want.” That, he adds, means reversing a traditional mindset that had been a matter of deploying the technology first, then developing use cases around it.

The next horizon is developing plans to share data with partners, Ehlers predicts. “If you look at data-management planning” between 2018 and 2019, he says, the direction indicates users are planning how they can disseminate data further into the supply chain in order to solve other problems.