Part 3 – How Sentient Infrastructure Changes the Game for Field Services, and Why This Is Important

This post is part 3 in a 4-part series: “How Sentient Infrastructure Changes the Game for Field Services, and Why This Is Important”.

The Future is Closer Than You Might Think

Sentient Infrastructure Is The Future

Sentient infrastructure opens up vast new possibilities for businesses, both in terms of revenue uplift and cost efficiency. Business with deployed infrastructure will be able to know more about the way their systems are engaging with their environments. It will allow them to adjust system performance in real time or near-real time, deliver more effective service, and elevate the customer experience to levels that promote loyalty and increase customer lifetime value.

To maximize the opportunity from sentient infrastructure, a services-oriented business must be able to effectively monetize the data that the infrastructure generates and manages. Monetization can take many possible forms, including cost avoidance, cost minimization, contract leakage prevention, contract renewal, cross-sell or up-sell. This bright prognosis isn’t a pipe dream, The key technology enablers are already here: device and component miniaturization, embedded sensors, industry standards for wireless connectivity, cloud-native applications, cloud-based solution development platforms, core cloud infrastructure, advanced analytics applications (including machine learning and artificial intelligence), and the list goes on. The technologies that enable sentient infrastructure are deployable now and leading companies aren’t waiting. Let’s look at some examples.

Oil & Gas and Facilities Management Leads the Way

ExxonMobil is a prime example of an energy conglomerate actively embracing IoT for field service, placing the company squarely on the path to a future of sentient infrastructure and associated field services. In 2014, the company began using advanced sensing devices and algorithms to remotely detect hydrocarbon leaks and alert technicians. By 2016, the company had begun deploying smart applications to wirelessly monitor and control wellhead activity, driving more efficient field operations. ExxonMobil also outlined a vision for a future-state “system of systems” incorporating IoT technologies, predictive analytics, real-time service capabilities and other core IT capabilities as an industry-wide solutions architecture.

Shell is another company that has demonstrated a strong commitment to IoT and the concept of sentient infrastructure. In early 2016, the company announced a partnership with two IoT solution vendors to implement digital pipeline surveillance and wellhead monitoring functionality on Shell’s remote infrastructure in Nigeria. This technology deployment gives Shell precise, rapid and reliable insight into its extraction and transmission infrastructure. It also helps reduce the incidence of theft, which is a major challenge in the country. Shell has also recognized the value of capturing and analyzing data from every possible device on a continuous basis in order to maximize the value creation opportunity from IoT.

Building and facility development and management is another market evolving towards sentient infrastructure. Environmental Systems, Inc. (ESI), a pioneer of smart buildings, specialized in energy management systems, but evolved to offer services in a variety of other disciplines related to smart buildings, including building automation, security systems, systems integration, and support services.

Commercial real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle has also entered the race to adopt sentient infrastructure and services. Its IntelliCommand solution is a technology platform that seeks to optimize what the company calls “building performance” by monitoring the various systems that deliver key functionality to a building and using the collected data to drive analysis and action. This solution is a key enabler of the company’s Next Generation Maintenance and Digital Facilities Management offerings, both of which utilize IoT and advanced analytics to improve workplace productivity, enhance energy efficiency, enable more effective compliance, and achieve more cost effective building operations.

Smart Cities Embrace IoT

The private sector isn’t the only space where the  future of connected infrastructure is taking shape. Municipalities seeking to become “smart cities” also hold the potential to bring the vision to life. In the case of smart cities, the physical scale of deployments stands to be much larger on average, and the types of infrastructure involved span multiple industries. The field service opportunity is also proportionately much greater in aggregate, making smart cities a particularly attractive revenue opportunity for service providers – especially those that can service multiple types of equipment.

Sydney, Australia is one municipality that demonstrated an early interest in the smart city concept through collaboration between government entities, academic institutions, and the private sector. In 2014, the city launched the Sydney Harbor Bridge Monitoring Project, which involved installing 800 sensors on the bridge to assess corrosion and structural integrity of the bridge, enabling proactive and ultimately predictive maintenance that will save public funds and improve safety. Since then, the city and federal government have sponsored initiatives to convert municipal infrastructure into smart infrastructure, and promoted public-private partnerships involving the government, a consortium of 5 Sydney-based universities, and Cisco. Other cities often cited as leading examples of smart city advances include Amsterdam, London, and Seoul.

The growth and expansion of smart cities is staggering. Here are a few key figures that paint the picture:

  • At the end of 2016, Gartner quantified the global installed base of smart city devices at 522 million for the year, and projects this to grow to 2.4 billion by the end of 2020. This reflects annual growth of over 45%, across healthcare, public services, smart commercial buildings, smart home, transport, and utilities.
  • A March 2017 report by consultancy Navigant identifies 178 smart cities globally, and projects that the total value of related solutions and services will increase from $40 billion in 2017 to $98 billion in 2026.

It is important to bear in mind that the number of smart cities is but a small fraction of the total number of cities worldwide. Still, an accelerating pace of urbanization and the proliferation of IoT technologies globally mean that all cities stand to become at least somewhat “smarter”, opening up the possibility of at least partially sentient urban infrastructure.

Companies and municipalities seeking to impart IoT functionality to their deployed infrastructure can draw useful lessons from examples like these. Such examples may even inspire a creative and tailored approach to enabling sentient infrastructure and allow business and engineering leaders to accelerate their efforts by borrowing concepts from those who have gone before them.

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