Future of Retail

Essentials of an IoT Remote Monitoring Platform

To give your retail business a boost, you need to understand the essentials of IoT remote monitoring to ensure maximum ROI. Learn how.
Essentials of an IoT Remote Monitoring Platform

In this article, let’s explore what your IoT remote monitoring solution needs to include for your business to be sustainable and efficient. We’ll also look at the best practices you need for the implementation and daily use of your systems, so that your maintenance teams can operate at maximum efficiency, while also ensuring the best returns.

When I think about best-in-class IoT remote monitoring platforms for facilities, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Can a single platform monitor all types of devices at a facility?
  • How can you help ensure a first-time fix when a service provider closes a work order?
  • Does device availability affect the performance of an IoT remote monitoring platform?
  • How can my team cope with the plethora of alarms that come from each device to find actionable issues?
  • Is predictive maintenance real? Can we move from planned preventive maintenance to just-in-time maintenance?
  • Can we monitor facilities across an enterprise where different control hardware is installed for each device type possible?
  • How should an IoT remote monitoring platform operate with so many differing issues across equipment types and types of problems raised?
  • How can my team catch inefficient/overworked equipment causing excessive energy consumption? Do you have to monitor energy meters and individual devices to save energy?
  • Is it possible to maintain controller set points to corporate standards constantly instead of performing semi annual audits? What is the best way to control these set points and schedule changes at an enterprise level?

Throughout the course of this blog, I will answer these questions and give direction on implementing a solution that will help your organization save money and resources without costly implementations or lengthy reports.

Importance of controller hardware-agnostic IoT platforms

Many remote monitoring platforms, particularly those that come from a hardware provider (Emerson, Danfoss, etc.), tend to be category specific. This means your business can only monitor one provider’s hardware, and you are automatically limited to the categories of equipment that manufacturer can monitor. For example, you could have a remote monitoring platform built for refrigeration and HVAC devices. It’s great to monitor those two categories, but it may not be enough if you ever want to monitor lighting, elevators and energy.

There are two major drawbacks when implementing point solutions:

  • Your enterprise would only be able to use one provider’s hardware, potentially causing higher costs due to lack of competition for hardware procurement.
  • Two to three years post implementation, if you decide to monitor new equipment categories outside of that provider’s scope, your business would have to implement a disparate system to track these new categories. This would likely add additional recurring costs and additional difficulty when trying to report across platforms.

When choosing a remote monitoring platform, it should have the pre-built architecture to be controller hardware agnostic and support different device types. Your business today has a range of hardware already, especially if you have multiple categories of equipment. An IoT platform should be able to communicate to all of them with just few hardware upgrades.

There are several benefits to having a controller agnostic solution:

  • Seamless cross-device communication ensures a single point of reference for reporting.
  • You could accommodate additional device types without additional costs or setup fees.

By having a system that can communicate with multiple categories of equipment, you avoid leaving value on the table, or worse, going through costly control replacements. By having a system that communicates with everything in your enterprise you can expand when you choose to remote monitor additional equipment categories for additional operational savings.

Cutting Out Alarm Noise to Focus on Real Issues

Equipment controllers alarm whenever an anomaly is detected. This causes a lot of alarm noise and distraction for store employees as equipment cannot dynamically tell you which alarms are real problems that need to be addressed and which ones are not. Did a customer leave a refrigerator door open too long? Is a cabinet in a defrost cycle? All the refrigerator can do is send an alarm and your employee will need to follow up.

This is where remote monitoring comes in to help. Remote monitoring sits on top of your equipment’s control system to help you contextualize and filter out excess alarms that these devices generate and will only alert your store and maintenance staff to issues that need to be addressed. This helps prevent your staff from getting bogged down with or ignoring all alarms or chasing non-issues rather than helping your customers.

Device manufacturers sell their hardware based on the capability to generate numerous alarms, promising that no issues will fall between the cracks. In the real world, only 5-10% of these alarms will actually be an issue that a person has to stop and fix. But increased alerts cause businesses to bring on additional resources to look at each individual alarm, only to ensure they catch the 5-10% of issues that really make an impact on the business. This is common practice in today’s facilities call centers.

Adding a call center to your business is costly and introduces even more possibility for human error. People misinterpret, miss key trends and they can even fall asleep on their shifts. This also causes problems when looking at repeat alarms.

Our customers have seen a couple of key areas where call centers tend to go wrong. The first is around first-time fix. If the first-time fix is not achieved on a maintenance related work order, a call center agent can only call a provider back once they have left, potentially causing trip charges and additional invoices. The second issue is around identifying the root cause for alarms. If an electrical problem is causing seven lights to be out at once, a call center agent will place seven different work orders. This often leads to multiple truck rolls and wasted spend.

When selecting a remote monitoring platform, your business should take into consideration the system’s capacity and ability to accurately handle your needs without throwing people at the problem. A remote monitoring platform should be able to handle the ingestion of millions of controller alarms per day at an enterprise level while adding the context of your buildings and devices to ensure it is filtering the most noise possible.

Contextualizing your data is also extremely important when filtering out nuisance alarms. Otherwise, you can miss key issues or even worse create more issues than expected. Pairing your asset data with maintenance history, weather data, location data, and building attributes can greatly increase accuracy and give much needed context to your maintenance team when addressing alarm issues.

Ultimately, a successful IoT platform is key to helping reduce excessive equipment alarm noise and ensure that your staff stays focused on only the alarms that really matter.

Creating a System Between Your People and Your Remote Monitoring Platform

Traditional remote monitoring platforms can find anomalies, but it is not useful to your business if those anomalies are not taken care of and fixed. It is important that your IoT solution does not just find anomalies and throw them at your maintenance team. The people that interact with your software are just as important as the software you install. If your maintenance team cannot dynamically interact with the system – it will cause problems for your business. The software should find the problem, go into a dynamic workflow and then allow your team to act while understanding the priority of the issue.

It is important to design your workflows with your maintenance team in mind. Some issues may result in automatically creating the work order, others may need intervention from a facility manager, and others may need to be referred to regional managers or internal bureaus.

When searching for an IoT remote monitoring platform, look for solutions that:

Support configurable workflows depending on problem types

Allow for specialized alerts to various stakeholders based on problem type. Mechanisms such as making automated calls, sending SMS messages and emails should all be options.

Have reminder functionality to ensure follow up action so issues don’t sit in an inbox or voicemail.

Ensure escalation if action is not taken. If the issue has not been fixed and is being ignored, your system should automatically escalate to the next step in the workflow, documenting along the way.

A remote monitoring system is not the solution to all your maintenance and facilities problems. Your staff is your greatest asset when it comes to executing on your maintenance strategy and extending the useful life of your assets. Creating a seamless process from software to people is the key to unlocking more savings and more value for your business.

Creating a Closed Loop Maintenance System for Your Business

With any maintenance solution in place, you do not just want to identify problems; you want an automated process that helps you fix problems. This means implementing a solution that not only identifies issues, but also streamlines the process for getting the problem resolved.

Most of the remote monitoring solutions on the market today do not integrate with downstream Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) solutions, which makes a closed-loop system nearly impossible. This can cause many problems for the end-user and maintenance teams, and inherently limits the scope of your solution.

When the remote monitoring system and CMMS operate independently, we often see problems like:

  • Constant disruptions at the facility caused by remote alerts
  • Manual entering of work orders, which can cause the creation of duplicate information
  • Poor root cause analysis, causing incorrect or multiple work orders for a single problem

A comprehensive IoT solution should integrate several CMMS solutions and the architecture should also allow additional integrations for other CMMS solutions with ease, requiring less time to set up. This allows for problem identification-to-resolution coverage for your facilities with a closed-loop system that ensures work orders are fixed correctly the first time. Additional benefits of having an intelligently integrated remote monitoring and CMMS include:

  • Work orders are automatically created inside the CMMS
  • Improved issue triage to let contractors know the root cause of the issue
  • The system can recall a previous work order in case of work not done properly, causing the issue to repeat

By creating a closed-loop system for your maintenance, you are streamlining the process from problem to solution and ultimately making it easier on your maintenance teams to track spending, reduce reactive maintenance and spend more time thinking strategically about your business’s critical assets.

Stop Reacting: Use Data to Get Ahead of Equipment Failure

Remote monitoring on your equipment should do more than just monitor incoming data. A strong IoT platform should assist you in making decisions and acting based on that data.

By understanding equipment data and applying rules to it, your business can:

  • Predict equipment failure hours and days in advance
  • Highlight inefficient equipment performance
  • Bring to light situations where compliance processes were not followed

The ability to acquire, normalize and correlate data from as many relevant sources as possible will ensure the quality of your data before it is sent downstream to be processed and actioned.

To make that data more useful, it should then be processed through a configurable, rules-based engine that spans all data sets across the organization. At this point, the engine should be able to accommodate different types of data such as transactional, operational, calculated, conditional and static, as well as simultaneously assess multiple impact types.

A configurable rule builder that can incorporate data gathered from the field, as well as information derived from the collected data, will you then spot not only immediate issues but also anomalies that occur over a longer duration of time. This rule builder should be able to use benchmarking features to compare data trends within a site and across sites.

Finally, using this data alongside machine learning (ML) can take your insights to the next level. For example, using ML algorithms on data sets allows you to establish baselines using equipment attributes like make and model so you can identify issues right from the start when you commission the device in the field.

An IoT platform with these types of features that allow you to take advantage of your data should allow you to replace your preventive planned maintenance with just-in-time maintenance and prioritize actions accordingly, saving you wrench time and man-hours.

Gaining Enterprise Control of Your Setpoints For Next-Level Savings

A powerful IoT solution should enable you to take control of your operational setpoints and schedules.

A setpoint is a defined value that drives device operation. Often, setpoints and operating plans do not align with corporate standards. The setpoints are changed to fix a temporary problem, and the revert is forgotten or changed intentionally to prevent future issues. Whatever the reason, this misalignment can unknowingly cost companies via energy consumption every year.

At a minimum, an organization’s IoT platform should notify users that changes have been made outside of corporate standards. With the ability to raise an issue when a setpoint is changed, the system can provide greater visibility into why changes are made and help alleviate additional energy cost, assuming the setpoint returns to standard. This would ultimately remove the practice of making a provider visit a facility every 2-3 years to ensure setpoints are maintained and keep them from going out of range.

The next step in achieving savings is to provide users the ability to change setpoints and adjust schedules quickly at an enterprise level.

A simple example of a cost savings opportunity would be to reduce consumption during peak-demand times. During these hours, energy costs are considerably higher, and enterprises can reduce wasteful spend and cut their energy costs significantly by avoiding the peak-demand charge. There are also scenarios of energy droughts, where utility companies will incentivize an enterprise for curtailing load. However, without the ability to make setpoint and schedule changes at an enterprise level, enterprises typically cannot take advantage of these energy-saving scenarios.

To combat this, a remote monitoring solution will provide insights into setpoints and schedules across an enterprise by sending notifications when they are not in line with corporate standards. But a best-in-class remote monitoring IoT platform will make setpoint changes and then revert them back. This slight difference in functionality is what allows enterprises to take advantage of those additional energy-saving scenarios.