The impact of Covid-19 on the Internet of Things – now and beyond the Great Lockdown: Part 1

Update November 2020: IoT Analytics published a more recent blog on: State of the IoT 2020: 12 billion IoT connections, surpassing non-IoT for the first time.

Covid-19 is having an unprecedented impact on our society and our economy. There are also strong indications that many technologies will see accelerated adoption in the coming years because people become more digitally minded as they embrace technology while working from home.

But how does Covid-19 impact the Internet of Things, its technology, and its applications specifically? In the last weeks, we did our own research and talked to various IoT decision-makers to understand what the Covid-19 IoT impact in their organizations is and where they see things going from here.

The results are 25 different Covid-19 IoT effects, published as part of a 2-part blog series. This is part 1 and you can find Part 2 here.

The impact of Covid-19 on the Internet of Things

IoT Analytics also, today, published the new 105-page State of the IoT Q1/2020 report. The Covid-19 IoT impact presented in this blog post is discussed in even greater detail in that report – together with the IoT Analytics view on 70 overarching current trends in the fields of IoT software, connectivity, hardware, and security as well as an update on the number of globally connected IoT devices and a drill-down into regions, verticals, and technology segments.

The impact of Covid-19 on enterprise needs

In order to understand the Covid-19 IoT impact on specific applications, one first needs to understand the enterprise needs that drive some of these applications.

1. Cost (CAPEX) has to be reduced

As demand for products and services dries up throughout the crisis, one of the most important needs is to cut costs accordingly.

Impact of covid-19 on selected 2020 capex plans

Oil companies are particularly hard-hit by the Covid-19 crisis due to a combination of a decline in demand and a subsequent fall in prices. Major companies such as Exxon have reduced their CAPEX plan for 2020 by 30% or more already. Although most of the CAPEX will be related to technology-low investments such as new oil rigs, it can be expected that non-necessary tech will also see a cut.

2. Better business transparency is needed

The quickly changing dynamics of the Covid-19 pandemic and the inability to visit some physical sites has led to the realization that transparency about employee whereabouts and wellbeing, about goods in transit and about manufacturing has become crucial.

Download rank of the app tableau mobile on ios

Firms that operate in the business of data visualization are seeing a spike in tool usage. Widely popular Tableau, for example, saw its app climb 600 spots in the ios “Business” category in one week.

3. Processes become more automated

It can be expected that in the coming months, businesses will need to automate their processes more. Before the crisis, automation was in many cases seen as the enemy of our jobs as robots, autonomous vehicles and other technologies were threatening to replace them.

Now the question has become: “How can automation accelerate our recovery and protect us from future pandemics?”. Robots working alongside humans in hospitals to perform cleaning and automated warehouses have shown how humans can be protected through automation.

Many automation experts foresee the topic to take off. “Economic literature over the last decade shows that investments into automation are made especially during a crisis.” says Mark Muro, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution.

Melonee Wise, CEO at Fetch Robotics reports: “We’re hearing from customers that many of their budgets have been frozen except for budgets for automation. We’ve been fielding a lot of inbound from new customers around, ‘How can robots enable us to continue manufacturing while keeping social distancing’?

4. Supply chains and manufacturing capacity become flexible / resilient

The recent ISM Global Supply Chain Survey (published March 11, 2020) shows that “75 percent of companies report supply chain disruptions in some capacity due to coronavirus-related transportation restrictions, and more than 80 percent believe that their organization will experience some impact because of COVID-19 disruptions.”

Due to the severe impact of the crisis on supply chains, it can be expected that one Covid-19 IoT impact will be that companies will need to change their supply chain strategies. Most notably:

  1. Multiple suppliers / supply locations. Companies will re-think some of their single-supplier and single country of origin strategies that have helped them to cut costs when things were stable. The pandemic shows that it is too risky in times like these to rely on one or few sources.
  2. CAPEX to OPEX will be a “theme”. In a Q4/2019 IoT Analytics survey of manufacturers, 58% indicated that they would prefer to procure equipment as a service or lease it instead of keeping it on their balance sheet. In times of crisis this conversion of CAPEX to OPEX makes it much easier for companies to scale their costs down as demand disappears.

The impact of Covid-19 on IoT applications

The need towards more transparency, reduction in Capex and automation of processes do explain why some enterprise IoT applications right now are in high-demand. It is a different story for consumer IoT devices.

1. Decreased interest in consumer IoT devices

Although consumers are spending considerable time at home, it appears as though they do not go out and buy personal IoT devices at a large scale.

Download rank of the app Phillips Hue on android

App downloads for major consumer IoT devices are a key indicator for sales volume. The ranks of these apps (as well as their download volumes) are down considerably (e.g., Philips Hue in the US dropped from rank #233 to #351 in 2 months)

2. Remote asset access becomes important

Conference tools like Zoom are booming because they connect people remotely. In a similar fashion, remote asset access tools are also booming because they connect the people with their machines and assets. They enable people to remotely communicate with machines and perform virtual inspections, remote diagnostics as well as remote support. Librestream recently reported a surge in their remote expert software usage.

Usage of Librestream's Onsight Connect remote expert software usage

Keith Blodorn, Business Director at Prosoft Technology confirmed this trend in a recent interview with IoT Analytics: “We are seeing many new users for our ProSoft Connect Remote Access Solution as companies are in need to access their PLCs from afar”.

3. Digital Twins help with scenario planning

Many companies are currently affected by production, shipping, and distribution delays as well as demand variability due to Covid-19. In response, digital twins are being used to create digital representations of the end-to-end supply chain that enables customers to explore dynamic sourcing options, assess risks and evaluate trade-offs to speed or automate decisions.

Llamasoft, a US-based supply chain analytics software company for example, combines digital twins with data science to model and engineer anti-fragile supply chains and develop resilient long-term risk management plans.

4. New uses for drones

Drones have been of help during the crisis.

  1. For medical deliveries. E.g., Zhao Liang, COO at Antwork said that During the past month, our drone delivery system in Xinchang County has helped local hospitals with more than 300 flights delivering medical samples and medicines related to the COVID-19 virus”.
  2. For Surveillance & Monitoring (used in many countries to monitor public spaces)
  3. For Broadcasting messages and spread information
  4. For spraying e.g., on Jan. 30, agricultural drone manufacturer XAG Co. Ltd. and Huawei converted 2,600 smart robots and drones into disinfectant sprayers.

5. Specific IoT health applications surge

Healthcare is obviously at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Download rank of the app kinsa health on ios

Early data suggests that digital health solutions that relate to COVID-19 are surging (others not necessarily). This includes:

  1. Telehealth consultations. Telehealth (where a doctor speaks to the patient via a video conference and gives advice) has surged as people are locked down. The Stanford Children’s Health Hospital for example is now performing about 620 digital visits per day (up from previously just 20).
  2. Digital diagnostics. The next step from telehealth is the inclusion of IoT devices to perform digital diagnostics. Hospitals are still experimenting with it. However, consumers here are at the forefront. Kinsa, for example, a digital thermometer saw a spike in usage as the pandemic spread in the US. Sidenote: Kinsa also has a very nice overview on their website tracking the spread of the flu in real-time.
  3. Remote monitoring. Remote monitoring, particularly of the elderly, is also on the rise. Livongo Health, which provides a line of remote IoT monitoring solutions for “chronic diseases” that increase the risk of dying from COVID-19, unexpectedly raised their quarterly guidance on April 7, 2020.
  4. Robot assistance. Particularly in China, robots have been used to disinfect and clean hospitals and perform medicine delivery.

6. Track & Trace solutions get used more extensively

As supply chains get disrupted and demand patterns change, real-time supply chain visibility is proving to be extremely important.

David Hewson, Global IoT Network Manager at confirmed this in an interview:

A significant portion of our customers are reporting that the ability to track vessels is proving to be extremely helpful.  Local lockdowns have caused major disruptions, so some partners are relying on Vesseltracker to figure out if a vessel is actually coming to their port, or if there has been a significant change to its ETA”.

Providers of IoT technology are making use of their data and updating the public on what is going on in their IoT networks.

  • for example recently published updates (in German) on global cruise ship and freight activity.
  • Geotab is providing regular updates on the commercial road transportation activity across North America.

7. Smart City data platforms become key

Among the many Smart City initiatives, it turns out that the ability to have an overarching data platform and make use of that during the crisis is one of the most important tools a city can have.

Korea, the country that perhaps best handled the pandemic, used its “Smart City Data Hub” to allow epidemiological investigators request, obtain and confirm data about coronavirus cases and people they had come into contact with. Other cities, such as Boston, built up new platforms as the pandemic spread.

8. Increase in easy-to-install IoT retrofit solutions

Companies and end-users that are not digitally connected may find it beneficial to use a retrofit solution that is easy to install but doesn’t necessarily provide all the same benefits of a completely engineered IoT solution.

Bosch’s smart meter retrofit is a good example that enables utilities to continue meter reading of legacy meters without much effort. Rocky Emmler, Business Owner Connected Energy at Bosch.IO explains:

During this crisis, we are seeing increased inquiries for our IoT Meter Add-on device. We send the client a small device that they attach to their meter. The data then gets sent in a secure fashion through Bosch IoT Suite to the utility company so that they do not need to dispatch a person to perform on-site meter reading.”

Graham Immerman, VP Marketing at MachineMetrics sees the same trend:

“Some of our OEM customers are sending their customers cellular edge gateways to provide remote machine maintenance, diagnostics and service.”

More information and further reading

Part 2 of this blog series focuses on the Covid-19 IoT impact on technology, security, and people.

Interested in learning more about the current State of the IoT?

The State of IoT Q1/2020 & Covid-19 impact report  is part of IoT Analytics’ ongoing coverage of IoT and is available to corporate IoT research customers.

IoT Analytics -State of the IoT - Q1 2020 - Cover fullsize

This report provides answers to the following questions (among others):

  • 70 insights on the current market environment and technology developments.
  • Market update of global IoT connections 2019
  • Impact analysis of Covid-19 on IoT(25 effects)
  • Tech stack analysisacross 6 layers (IoT Hardware, Connectivity, General Software, Platform/Cloud, Analytics/AI, IoT Security)
  • Investment & M&A highlights
  • Top IoT stories of 2019 on investments, funding, M&A deals, and new startups.
  • Insights provided with examples and proof points uncovered in the last 8 months by leading more than 100 expert interviews, attending industry conferences, and listening to various briefing and analyst calls.

A sample of the report can be downloaded here:

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<a href="" target="_self">Knud Lasse Lueth</a>

Knud Lasse Lueth

Since founding IoT Analytics in 2014, my focus has been to build a team that produces high-quality research in areas such as IoT, AI, Cloud, and smart manufacturing. Throughout my journey, I have authored or co-authored over 100 reports, always with a commitment to delivering analyses that are not only trustworthy but also rich in insight and uniqueness.

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