The world’s elite business schools are hyped about harnessing the latest whizzy technological innovations. The internet of things (IoT) — the idea that every object, from selfie-taking fridges to toasters, can be connected to the net — is next on their bucket list.
Gartner, the tech research firm, puts the number of objects that will be connected at 25 billion by 2020. Cisco says the figure is more likely to be 50 billion.
Theos Evgeniou, professor of decision sciences and technology management at INSEAD, puts these bullish projections down to the advent of big data. For years data has been disrupting industries from financial services to marketing. “The industries that may be mostly affected now are all around the internet of things,” Theos says.
He points to healthcare — a sector in which the IoT market is poised to reach $117 billion by 2020, according to MarketResearch.com. Digital devices will enable real-time monitoring of patients at every stage of care.
As an example Proteus Digital Health, a US company, has developed tiny sensors that can be swallowed to monitor patients’ use of medication during clinical trials.
“So much in healthcare revolves around data and information,” says Kimberly MacPherson, associate director of health management at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Haas hosts healthcare sessions exploring such technologies for its MBAs. And others are following suit. “We cover issues such as data and the impact of IT,” says Fred Hagigi, director of health initiatives at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Schools are taking stock from the swelling number of tech companies trying to come up with uses for their IoT technologies. IBM, Cisco, Intel, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and GE are exploring smart sensors in everything from aviation to manufacturing.
An example is Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, which generates and analyses vast amounts of data that is partly generated by smart sensors. HEC Paris, Hult International, and NUS business schools have all worked with Watson on this.
“We’re living through the early days of a [big data] revolution that I think will be of the same magnitude as the industrial revolution,” says Mark Kennedy, associate professor of strategy and organization at Imperial College Business School.
One area schools have looked to connect with IoT concepts is in supply chain management. The impact of smart sensors on manufacturing — which GE calls the Industrial Internet — is profound. Nearly 40% of US manufactures polled by PwC said they embed sensors in products that enable the collection of data.
“Disruptive technologies have reshaped global supply chains to some degree already, but will do so increasingly in the future,” says Thomas Roemer, senior lecturer in operations management at MIT Sloan. He says the IoT could accelerate traditional supply chains. Sloan explores such themes in its Leaders for Global Operations program.
Mike Bernon, senior lecturer in supply chain management at Cranfield School of Management, says there is a “massive shift” going on at the business school.
Chief among the supply chain tech topics being explored is big data, which is collected somewhat by connected sensors. “With big data we can understand personal preferences and anticipate what you want before you even know it,” Mike says.
Nick Vyas, director of the Center for Global Supply Chain Management at USC’s Marshall School of Business, says it is already revolutionizing how suppliers network.
“It enables and expands knowledge sharing and the ability to collect information from both downstream and upstream,” he says, ultimately leading to better analysis of consumer behaviour.
The look into the future of the IoT by business schools is a prelude to their excitement around big data and advanced analytics. “Data availability has increased dramatically in recent years, from recordings of people’s online shopping behaviour….To the tracking of goods through the supply chain,” says Juergen Branke, Warwick Business School professor of operational research and systems.
“Today’s managers need not become data analysts, but they need to be aware of the opportunities.”