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The traditional model for enterprise IT systems is centralized: data is brought in from the network ‘edge’ to the ‘center’ – latterly to the cloud – where all the smart thinking happens. Thanks to robotics, extended reality, artificial intelligence and connected devices, this model is being shaken up. This new generation of technology is overhauling existing infrastructures towards a balance of cloud and edge computing, and driving a renewed focus on hardware to deliver intelligence everywhere.

Dealing with data at volume

This approach makes sense operationally. Current predictions suggest that by 2020, smart sensors and other internet of things (IoT) devices will generate at least 507.5 zettabytes of data. Due to the sheer volume of this data, shifting it all to the cloud for computation is becoming increasingly limiting. Instead, businesses are looking to leverage special-purpose and customizable hardware to make more energy efficient and powerful devices at the edge of their networks. Smart technologies and solutions are, therefore, increasingly moving into physical environments.

This shift is taking place across a wide variety of industries. Wherever you look, industry-specific IoT offerings are dispersing data across the network and creating new business models in the process: smart sensors in distributed utility grids and industrial equipment, for example, are propelling everything from predictive maintenance services to workforce safety monitoring solutions.

This ‘internet of thinking’ is also driving unprecedented efficiencies. For example, we recently worked with a European facilities management company, VINCI Facilities, to seize a competitive advantage by transforming its operations with leading-edge technologies and disruptive digital services based on Oracle Cloud technologies.

In one project, the company rolled out intelligent sensors to measure workspace temperature and workers’ presence in a given space. The data helped the company provide a higher comfort to facility occupants and optimize cleaning interventions and energy consumption costs. The company also deployed a wearable device solution to remotely monitor its clients’ workforces, reduce liability and promote safety by ingesting data from workers’ wearable devices. The solution monitors worker vitals and maps employees based on altitude and other factors to mitigate risk and improve working conditions.

Similarly, Accenture developed a wearable offering for the hospitality industry that employs intelligent staffing by tracking when the housekeeping crew has finished cleaning and preparing rooms. It plugs into back-end systems built on Oracle systems, and provides data such as the time taken to prepare a room for a guest. This data is combined with metrics around room size for more effective deployment of housekeeping staff, driving increased operating efficiency.

Focus on hardware

To deploy such intelligent networks, organizations must renew their focus on hardware. For years, companies were sold the benefits of cloud computing and software-driven solutions; and for many these became go-to service delivery models. This approach shouldn’t be abandoned, but businesses also need to consider hardware as an alternative for specific solutions where intelligence at the edge adds value. To that end, we worked with Oracle to develop a joint IoT reference architecture, which combines Accenture’s base architecture for IoT with the Oracle IoT Cloud Service and PaaS and SaaS capabilities. It accelerates the delivery of these intelligent networks with purpose-built industry solutions across a variety of areas included under our core Accenture IoT Offerings.

Companies are well aware of this requirement: our Technology Vision for Oracle 2018 survey reveals that 63 percent of executives believe it will be critical over the next two years to leverage custom hardware and hardware accelerators to meet the computing demands of intelligent environments. A further 83 percent agreed that edge infrastructure will speed the maturity of many technologies. 

Towards intelligent environments

The imperative is therefore clear: businesses need to act now to incorporate hardware-focused skills into their workforce alongside the cloud-first skills they have nurtured over the past decade. Without this shift, it will be difficult for organizations to benefit fully from the revolutionary technologies of AI and robotics.

The task isn’t easy: businesses will need to rethink their processes, strategy, service design and hardware considerations, but for those that get it right the rewards are promising: smarter, more efficient and more agile business systems and processes. Those that delay may find it hard to catch up.

Photo by Sam Hetterich on Unsplash

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Managing director, Accenture Oracle Business Group

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