Building Your Own Internet of Things for Field Service

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I’m a cold-blooded killer — of plants.

I can’t keep them alive no matter how little I try. When people bring me a plant as a gift, I’ve taken to just dropping in the garbage while they watch. Saves us all the time and embarrassment of them asking how the plant is doing the next time they see me. But what if I wasn’t the one keeping the plant alive? What if I could just buy a robot that took care of all my plants?

Enternet

Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT).

In reality, the IoT isn’t a robot taking care of my ficus, it’s a collection of sensors, computers, and machines reading the world on their own and making decisions about what to do, given the current state of affairs.

In the gardening example, you could rig up a series of sensors that monitor soil temperature, air temperature, sunlight exposure, and rainfall. Then when optimal growing conditions weren’t being met, the data from the sensors could spur action from awnings, sprinklers, or fans, instead of relying on me to notice that the soil around the plant has the consistency of lunar dust.

Field service companies can build their own network of devices to monitor and react to clients’ needs. While in many ways this seems like the stuff of the future, it’s actually achievable here and now. It all starts with staring your problems in the face.

Define the problems

Before you can put the world to rights, you need to know what problems you’re hoping to solve. This step involves defining the types of sensors and reactions that you’ll be employing. As an HVAC servicer, for instance, you might want to track water temperature coming out of a boiler, the humidity in a room, or the air temperature in a freezer. All of those can be tracked with small sensors, which feed their data to a central source.

In many cases, the action you’ll want to generate when things go wrong is simply to notify a technician. But you could also send along data to support a diagnosis or you could shut a system down if the change was too drastic — a ruptured pipe dropping water pressure quickly, for instance.

This is one of the most important steps in building a network of devices, as the architecture you lay out now will determine what steps you have to take next and will affect the type of response you can take in the future.

Build the physical network

Now that you know what you want to do, it’s time to assemble all the pieces to make the dream a reality. As a head up, there are a lot of sensor options out there. At this point in the process, you should consider working with someone who’s done this before.

Parsing the wide array of sensor options to find the one you need can be time consuming and technically challenging. Instead of reinventing the proverbial wheel, you can find a consultancy or outsourced partner to help you navigate the technical waters.

Regardless of whether you go it alone or hire on help, this is going to be the fun part. Armed with your litany of requirements, you can now find all those little pressure plates, temperature gauges, and infrared detectors that can help your clients keep their equipment up and running.

Build the data network

Your army of sensors are just Things without a way to connect them all into a network. With the growth of the internet of things, companies like Xively have popped up to help businesses make sense of the data they receive. Once your network is built, you’ll have your sensors reporting data to a hub, which will then upload the data to a service like Xivley, which can process it and make decisions that get pushed back out into the real world.

For example, New England Biolabs (NEB) used Xivley’s IoT offering to manage local freezers for researchers working with biological goods. Instead of housing the good offsite — like it used to — NEB can now setup biological minibars, where researchers have the tools they need on hand and are charged simply for what they use.

By monitoring the level of product and the state of the freezers, NEB can cut down on wait times and ensure its freezers are running like they should be. Xivley feeds data into SalesForce.com’s Service Cloud, allowing NEB to send techs out before there are outages.

It’s this process of data that’s the final goal of an IoT solution. Cutting down on the back and forth you have to spend with clients when things go wrong.

Three simple steps

While the term Internet of Things can make the whole thing seem daunting, there really isn’t much to making your own IoT and keeping your customers happy. By identifying problems, gathering the right hardware, and then monitoring the data you receive, you too can get in on the cutting edge — and you won’t have to spend $3 billion, like IBM. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Looking for Field Service Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Field Service Management software solutions.

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Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.

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