Wave of smarter data collection could transform how business works

A new wave of intelligent sensors, cameras and tracking devices is expected to sweep across Canada over the next few years, quickly transforming how business is done — much as smartphones took communications to a new level of performance.

A new wave of intelligent sensors, cameras and tracking devices is expected to sweep across Canada over the next few years, quickly transforming how business is done — much as smartphones took communications to a new level of performance.

The forecast prepared by IDC Canada and funded by Telus Corp. (TSX:T) shows companies are prepared to dramatically increase spending to collect and analyse data on complex issues like city traffic flows, pipeline safety and health care.

Tony Olvet, IDC Canada’s group vice-president for research, says Canada is just beginning a period of rapid industrial-scale innovation that will have far-reaching implications, not only for many industries but also for cities and hospitals.

“We’ve been able to communicate over phone lines for over a century but the capabilities that are in a smartphone far surpass voice communication . . . If you take that as a parallel into industrial or commercial machinery, that’s what we’re looking at today.”

“The ability to analyse, predict and make changes in real-time to a process . . . those are the things we see as new and valuable to businesses.”

IDC estimates that $21 billion will be spent on such projects in 2018, up from $5.6 billion last year.

Olvet based his remarks on IDC’s interviews with representatives of about 209 Canadian organizations that it considered a representative sample of large and mid-sized companies. About two-thirds of the companies had at least 500 employees. Regionally, the study included 90 Ontario companies, 69 from the West and 50 from Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

About 13 per cent of the respondents to the IDC study were working on what’s been called the Internet of Things, or IoT, which refers to intelligent, controllable devices that are usually connected by wireless communications.

An additional 30 per cent of the respondents were planning to adopt that type of technology within two years — often planning to make small, easy steps that provide a quick payoff.

“Some of them will be short projects and some could take a number of years to roll out but have a very long-term lifespan and have an economic impact that’s quite wide,” Olvet said.

For example, Humber River Hospital in western Toronto is designing digital technology into its building from the outset in order to improve energy usage and medical treatment.

“Many of the innovations that they’re building into that hospital are examples of the Internet of Things,” Olvet said.

Telus vice-president Jim Senko said the Vancouver-based company — one of the country’s biggest telecom service providers — sees IoT-related services and technology as “one of a number of emerging businesses that will provide new growth for us and it will be meaningful.”

He said the Telus wireless communications network is one of its most obvious assets but added that its secure data centres are another and a third is its expertise in system design and installation.

“I think we have all the skills in different parts of our organization and what we’re doing is putting it together and focusing it on IoT,” Senko said.

Telus is only one of the companies that has said recently that they are gearing up for the Internet of Things, which is machine-to-machine technology, and the Internet of Everything (IoE), which refers to machine-to-machine (M2M), person-to-machine (P2M), and person-to-person (P2P) connections.

California-based Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO), which is the world’s largest maker of computer-networking equipment, is planning to open an Internet of Everything Innovation Centre in Toronto, one of four locations around the world. It expects to spend $100 million over a decade on the initiative including infrastructure, technology, staffing and operational costs.

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