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The 'Internet of things' will mean really, really big data

Bob Violino | July 30, 2013
Bland by name and superficially viewed as gee-whiz technology never to be realized, the IoT (Internet of things) has significant potential to transform business. Early forays into Net-enabling physical objects are already pointing the way.

Business opportunities

For all its whiz-bang futuristic appeal, IoT presents compelling business benefits, especially for organizations prepared to make the most of the stream of real-time data that will come from networked physical systems.

"IoT technologies allow for real-time and accurate data sensing and wireless transmission of that data to Web applications and servers connected to the Internet," says Ronak Sutaria, lead researcher at technology consulting firm Mindtree. "This leads to a more precise and accurate monitoring and control of physical systems."

loT-related technologies are already being tapped in a variety of industries, Sutaria says. For example, agricultural companies are monitoring crops in real time to improve the yield quality of produce and to conserve the resources needed for farming, including pesticides, fertilizers, and water. Utility companies have implemented smart meters to monitor energy, gas, and water consumption, and municipalities are launching "smart city" projects to help ease traffic congestion, improve waste management, monitor energy radiation from cellphone towers, and control street lights.

Some of the more successful and instructive endeavors have come from the health care sector. Great River Medical Center is one health care organization that's connecting many of its medical devices into a network using Microsoft's Windows Embedded, a family of operating systems designed for use in embedded systems.

The deployment "spans our entire operation of medication management, from anesthesia workstations that monitor controlled substances in our operating rooms, to automated and secure cabinets that track and dispense medications at nursing stations, to an inventory management carousel in our pharmacy that records medication levels, automatically reordering when medications are needed," says Darwin Cooley, director of pharmaceutical services at Great River.

The devices are all connected to a central server running Windows Server with a SQL Server database. Each medication is bar-coded in a single-dose package, Cooley says, which the medical center is able to track and control during each step throughout its facility.

"The big driver from our administration and board of directors was to be more cost effective," Cooley says. "Automating the distribution of our medications drives efficiency, keeping down personnel costs, as it's much more efficient than people running all over the hospital to take medications out to the patients each time a prescription is written."

The automated bar-code system is designed for patient safety, tracking medications at each step to assure the correct dose is being administered to the right patient.

"This system is so accurate that pharmacists are required to check only 5 percent of doses leaving the pharmacy, compared to 100 percent before bar-coding," Cooley says.

The technology has allowed Great River to cut medication delivery time to patients by 67 percent, from an average of 90 minutes down to 30 minutes. Getting the correct medication to patients faster has improved patient outcomes and reduced the rate of readmission.


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