IoT market pulse: transforming electric grids, ESG agendas, supply chains, online events and health tracking

February 11 2021
by Katy Ring, Johan Vermij, Ian Hughes, Mark Fontecchio, Rich Karpinski, Brian O'Rourke


As we all trudge valiantly into 2021 with the pandemic not yet under control, IoT is coming to the rescue in a variety of areas. Indeed, our data suggests growing enterprise interest in using IoT to address new, COVID-specific challenges in a variety of areas – shipping and logistics, the utilities sector, virtual events, enterprise IT and in consumer wearables and healthcare, to name a few.

The 451 Take

Addressing the power and utilities sector, we reported on the evolution of 'The Sentient Grid' and the all-electric society. Another report explains how virtual business events can be livened up by learning from the gaming industry. We have also recently covered how the shipping and logistics industry is transitioning to improve supply chain operations, while our survey data shows that 63% of respondents are maintaining or accelerating their IoT projects and that interest in new IoT projects is growing. For example, in healthcare we see increased consumer interest in health tracking. Given that the big management consultancies also see IoT as an important enabler for realizing corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, adoption of IoT technology is set to grow in many areas in 2021.

How IoT and AI are transforming the global electric grid

2020 was a turbulent year that shook global markets, but it could prove pivotal in decarbonization and achieving climate goals. As the transition from fossil fuels to renewables takes shape, the energy market is transforming. And as the smart grid becomes AI-infused, we slowly see a sentient grid emerging to address the change. In a recent report, we explore how the digital transformation of the power and utilities sector is affected by the advent of the all-electric society, which is changing the demand side, as well as how the use of intermittent renewable energy resources is changing the supply side, and how transmission and distribution companies have been affected by the global pandemic.

Finally, we take a high-level look at the technological components of the sentient grid. AI algorithms and machine learning models are increasingly valuable in maintaining grid stability and have become interwoven in the rise of digital twins, distributed energy resource management, how they augment machine data with real-time weather data to fine-tune load forecasting, and give rise to new economic models in smart billing and smart energy contracts. Additionally, ESG factors will drive a more holistic approach to energy consumption in all IoT projects.

ESG is promoted by professional services firms to pull in IoT technology

As companies get financially rated according to their ESG strategy and execution, each corporation's response requires technology investment that will frequently involve IoT tooling. At the end of January, the World Economic Forum announced a declaration of support for 'universal' ESG reporting standards advocated by the World Economic Forum. One hundred and forty companies have signed up to implement reporting on the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics drawn up by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Bank of America, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.

Schneider Electric, AVEVA's parent, and Accenture are both signatories to the Metrics, so ESG took prominence at last month's AVEVA World virtual conference and infused its partner discussions. For example, Accenture explained that when it is discussing IoT technology with clients and prospects, it always factors in the sustainability factor. It explained how IoT can support greener IT, ensuring sustainable use throughout product lifecycles, how it can help with the transition to low-energy approaches to reduce carbon emissions, as well as its applicability in more effective management of value chains, creating more transparent and traceable products and services to aid corporations in their missions to achieve net zero carbon-emission status. In this way, the technology consulting firms are leading the charge, pushing ESG within enterprise digital transformation projects, and this topic is now also beginning to inform channel partnerships and alliances within the tech sector. For example, Salesforce (another signatory to the Metrics) is introducing sustainability and diversity metrics as part of the overall scoring of its partners.

Alleviating supply chain bottlenecks

During a webinar in late January, some supply chain experts listed two of the main supply chain bottlenecks expected in 2021: container shortages and port congestion. The topics have been discussed at length by S&P Global Platts and Panjiva Research, as the resurgent economy in China along with increased import volumes in the US have led to port congestion and subsequent container shortages.

While digital transformation and IoT cannot eliminate these problems, they certainly can alleviate them. There is plenty of room for more connectivity in the supply chain: According to a recent survey from 451 Research, only one in five companies said they gather data from devices in their supply chain, such as shipping containers. That was far down on the list, behind other endpoints such as surveillance equipment, facilities, factory equipment and environmental sensors.

As we explained in a report last year, shipping and logistics markets – usually slow to technology adoption – are on the verge of a wave of digital transformation and IoT adoption that will transform the industry. That adoption will accomplish goals such as improved cargo tracking and more thorough visibility into complete, multimodal supply chains. And that in turn will open opportunities to offset supply chain issues like container shortages and port congestion by tracking datapoints such as detention and demurrage times, border-crossing delays, and distribution yard management.

Understanding COVID-19's impact on enterprise IoT

Enterprises continue to be bullish on IoT, even during an otherwise very challenging 2020, according to a 451 Research survey. Few of our survey respondents (just 3%) said they have stalled IoT deployments altogether, while a majority (63%) either maintained or accelerated their deployments. In some cases, it's a matter of keeping current projects moving forward. Yet our respondents also reported interest in using IoT to address new, COVID-specific challenges – with 32% saying they already are planning new IoT applications in response to the pandemic, and another 43% saying they could envision using IoT for that purpose in the future.

Enterprises that accelerated their IoT projects shared some critical characteristics. For instance, they were much more likely to have achieved a 'very positive' ROI on past IoT projects (51% vs. 19%) than those that delayed in response to COVID-19. Past success not only kept those enterprise IoT projects prioritized, but also led such organizations to 'pour gas on the fire' and further accelerate their efforts during the pandemic. By comparison, survey respondents that delayed IoT projects last year were also more likely to have reported challenges in their early IoT efforts, such as finding budget or garnering IoT skills – making it easier to stall IoT projects when faced with COVID-19 challenges.

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Figure 2: COVID-19's Impact on Enterprise IoT 451 Research

The following shed more light on how COVID-19 impacted enterprise IoT initiatives:

  • Spotlight: COVID-19/IoT Accelerators share critical characteristics – including past project success

  • Providing va-va-voom for online events

    Physical trade shows and large company information events have clearly taken a hit due to the pandemic. The mass gathering of people in convention centers and hotels may be a while coming back, if they come back at all. As we head into 2021, though, it is apparent that there is not yet enough innovation in the delivery of these shows online. The primary feature of any event is a list of videos, often prerecorded, aligned by tracks or certain themes. Consumers of these, and those include industry analysts and media as much as customers, are faced with hours of similar content with little to differentiate one event or one presentation from another. We explored a range of techniques that could be applied to these events to leverage the online capabilities and how to render and consume content in this report, 'A year into the pandemic, virtual events are still missing that extra something to make them more engaging.' Here, the notion of space and placement again comes to the fore in the same way many people are feeling the video fatigue of online meetings with cognitive overload a growing issue, as we wrote in a previous IoT pulse.

    Consumer wearables and health tracking

    Health tracking is the solid number two preference, after fitness monitoring, for consumers who purchase wearable devices, according to recent 451 research. This is true regardless of the type of consumer queried, whether typical or early adopter, and regardless of the type of wearable, whether fitness tracker or smart watch.

    One interesting response in the 'typical' consumer survey was about which health-related features were most important in their purchase decision. Nearly 8% said it was important that their wearable 'automatically send relevant data to my healthcare provider.' While not among the most popular responses, it may be a significant one for the COVID-19 era. As in-person doctor visits are discouraged to reduce strain on the healthcare system, there is an increased emphasis on home health monitoring and making data available to healthcare providers. It will be interesting to see whether more people look for this feature in future surveys, particularly as the pandemic subsides.