AI & IoT

Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Internet of Things (IoT)

Zebra Technologies Assesses Progress Toward the ‘Intelligent Enterprise’

However one chooses to define the term “intelligent enterprise”, there apparently aren’t many of them around.

A recent survey by Zebra Technologies Corp. found just 11 percent of companies qualifying as intelligent enterprises, by scoring more than 75 points on the vendor’s overall index.

Zebra broadly defines the intelligent enterprise as “one that connects the physical and digital worlds to drive innovation through real-time guidance, data-powered environments and collaborative mobile workflows.” It integrates cloud computing, mobility and the internet of things (IoT) to automatically sense information from various sources inside and outside the organization. Relevant data might include asset status location, utilization and user preferences. It’s then directed to the individuals charged with making key decisions related to the supply chain, operations and the customer experience.

Low as it might appear, that 11-percent figure was more than double the number of intelligent enterprises that emerged from Zebra’s first study in 2017. “It’s clear that more companies acknowledge the value of leveraging IoT strategies, and they will continue to propel adoption and investment in the future,” said chief technology officer Tom Bianculli.

Zebra’s assessment largely centers on the degree to which companies are embracing the IoT. In terms of money being spent on that area, the numbers skew positive. The 2018 index finds a 4-percent increase over the prior year in average annual spend on IoT, to $4.6m, by study participants. (Zebra interviewed a total of 918 information-technology decision makers from nine countries. Industries represented included healthcare, manufacturing, retail, transportation and logistics.) Investments can take multiple forms, including traditional barcoding and radio frequency identification, analytics, middleware, smartphones, tablets, sensors and artificial intelligence. A.I. and machine learning “are at the top of the list in terms of what drives investment,” says Scott Drobner, Zebra’s senior director of business and market intelligence.

Even more encouraging was a broad commitment by respondents to increasing future investment. Eighty-six percent expect to spend more on IoT within the next two years. And 49 percent are planning a boost of 11 to 20 percent over that period.

Just over half of the companies surveyed claim to have an “IoT vision” in place, and are currently executing on it. Thirty-eight percent have deployed the technology company-wide.

In pursuing the goal of becoming an intelligent enterprise, having a mission statement is essential, Drobner says. He stresses the need for tight integration of multiple business applications, including enterprise resource planning, supply-chain planning and manufacturing. Leaders also maintain strong links with outside vendors, who provide a critical source of data for managing the end-to-end supply chain.

IoT vision was just one of 11 key metrics employed by Zebra to define an intelligent enterprise. The others were business engagement, use of a technology partner, an adoption plan, a change-management plan, point-of-use applications, security and standards, a “lifetime” plan, supporting architecture or infrastructure, a data plan, and “intelligent” analysis.

Adoption is key, and obstacles remain, particularly internal resistance to the effort. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they expect to encounter opposition within their organizations, but currently lack a plan to address it. (That number was 50 percent higher than in 2017.) Twenty percent have such a plan in reserve, while 36 percent do not expect meaningful resistance.

The chief barrier to full adoption of IoT technology isn’t access to data. It’s whether companies can make use of it. Supply chains today are flooded with information, and figuring out how to prioritize it, let alone act on it, remains a huge challenge.

The latest Zebra study suggests that at least some companies are actively addressing the challenge. Eighty-two percent said they share information from their IoT systems with employees more than once a day. (That compares with 70 percent in 2017.) And two-thirds are sharing it on a real- or near-time basis. (Nothing is more useless to a supply chain than intelligence that’s out of date.)

Drobner attributes the increase in spending on IoT in part to a broadening of deployments. He likens the progress of the technology to the development of Wi-Fi, which began in limited locations before eventually becoming pervasive. The increase in applications, however, is placing a strain on I.T. organizations, he says.

Every industry has its leaders and laggards, but the latter are beginning to catch up. Retailers, who were slow in boosting I.T. spend over the last decade, have recently stepped up efforts in an attempt to compete against e-commerce rivals such as, Drobner says.

Healthcare in particular is ripe for the adoption of IoT technology, due to “a tremendous amount of customer-facing and physical assets,” he says. “It hasn’t been one of the strongest drivers, but it has definitely showed the greatest promise.”

Despite incremental progress shown in the Zebra index, the age of the intelligent enterprise has yet to arrive. “I think we’re in the second inning,” says Drobner. “Adoption is not by any means broad-based.”

Nevertheless, he says, “anybody that is a winner clearly wants to be seen as more intelligent than their brethren. Intricate machine vision use cases are happening in retail. That’s when you’re going to start to see some really tangible benefits.”