The Discovery Channel in the US used to have a great show called “Dirty Jobs.” It featured the host being an apprentice for a day doing the worst jobs imaginable. Working as a sewer tank cleaner, shark repellant tester or a dairy cow midwife, the show’s premise is that while dirty jobs are unpleasant, they are critical to keep the world running. The people that perform these jobs are unsung heroes who are vital to keeping our society working.
The show came to mind as we approach a tipping point in 2018 for mass IoT deployments. I believe that the “dirtier” or less glamorous the task, the more opportunity for an IoT solution to provide value. I have written about how consumer IoT examples capture most of the attention because they are easy to understand, to write and to read. Most of the opportunity in the next few years, however, is actually on the business side. It does not get the same press coverage as it is not exciting as talking about connected cars or bouncing a communication signal off the moon, but the volume in IoT solutions is in enterprise and industrial.
For example, the US new car market in 2017 was only around 17.25M vehicles, and a small percentage of these will be fully autonomous in the next few years. The level of data generated and value is high, but the volume is low. Look at something like the often-ignored pallet industry. There are over 3 billion pallets in circulation globally that could potentially send low amounts of data. Then consider all the items moved by the pallets that would benefit from asset tracking. The asset tracking opportunity alone, especially low-cost tracking, is so large as to be a major potential stand-alone industry.
Keeping dirty jobs in mind, let’s look at the problem of garbage. We know that when garbage cans are equipped with sensors, a city can save about 30% on garbage collection costs by only picking up the trash cans that are full. But how does this apply to garbage outside of public services? In a former role, my team worked closely with a major brand name to implement sensors to track garbage levels because of the impact on customer experience. The best restaurant in the world will not survive a week with dirty floors or bad smells. Customer perception is everything, and IoT can help.
Link Labs, a small IoT company is Maryland, has prospered by focusing on some of these dirty jobs. Link Labs started out by focusing on the hardware side of IoT thanks to some deep technical expertise, but soon realized that customers want solutions, not components. They now enable remote monitoring of carbon dioxide tanks for restaurants, lubricants in an auto shop, and many types of consumables in office buildings. Getting your hands dirty can pay.
This may seem simple, but it provides enormous value to the customer by enabling better service. It also avoids significant costs by avoiding checking levels of a product by sending a person to every location. There are always technical problems to be solved, but the bigger problem is usually the integration of an IoT solution with an existing distribution and business model. The real challenge is about business and digital transformation, which includes cultural changes.
Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs also hosted a follow-up show with a similar concept called Somebody’s Gotta Do It. Once again, he tells the stories of often unseen workers doing unpleasant jobs that are essential to run our society. I suggest that some of the largest opportunities in IoT will do the same thing, and we will find the greatest success stories coming from companies wiling to get their hands dirty.