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by No Analyst or Consultant

Sensor Telemetry Re-Evolution

Feb 24, 20059 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

The emerging trend of sensor telemetry combines datahistorical and currentwith two-way wireless communications to offer unprecedented visibility into and management of equipment, products and interactions. It promises organizations more detailed, real-time views, not just of individual business transactions, but of physical state and operations, and human conditions. Sensor telemetry will also enable organizations to respond faster and even predict incidents before they occur.

Accenture Technology Labs, the technology research and development organization within Accenture, believes that sensor telemetry will offer organizations the potential to improve performance by generating new revenue streams and improving their operational effectiveness.

How? Imagine, for example, the goods in the back of the delivery truck being able to tell the truck driver that they have fallen over and are broken.1 Or imagine if utility poles could alert city officials if harmful insects enter the city limits. Sensor telemetry can help organizations across many industries develop new revenue-generating services.

Extrasensory perception

Today, sensors and wireless communications along with the business insight they generate are delivering measurable business benefit. But few organizations have tapped fully into the enormous potential they can offer. For example, automobiles have sensors but typically no communications. Wireless telecommunications networks provide communication but cannot sense, and manufacturing environments have sensors and basic control room communications, but no real insight.

In the future, it is likely that more and more automobiles will have wireless communications; newer telecommunications networks are adding location-sensing capabilities, while new generations of manufacturing equipment will be more tightly coupled into Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and business systems.

Why now?

A number of factors are now converging to make sensor telemetry ready for widespread adoption:

  • Cost sensor, tag and computing costs continue to drop. Data transmission through channels including satellite, cellular and wireless LANs is becoming easier and more affordable.
  • Technology advances recent advances in new types of sensors, sensor networks and new technologies that support ubiquitous wireless communication, along with software enabling enterprise integration, business intelligence and Web services, are broadening the scope of what can be sensed and monitored cost-effectively.
  • Need customers and citizens continue to demand better, cheaper and more personalized products and services, while businesses and governments need greater visibility of their operations and business processes in order to innovate and stay ahead.

Just as the Internet fundamentally transformed the way that we communicate and access information around the globe, Accenture believes that sensor telemetry will extend the

Internet’s reach to cover nearly every physical object on earth-in real time.

As a result, sensor telemetry will offer organizations the opportunity to improve performance and further differentiate themselves by driving operational effectiveness, improving customer relationships, creating new services and generating business insights.

A myriad of opportunities

While some industries are clearly more advanced than others in reaping the benefits sensor telemetry offers, there are potential applications for every industry.

Manufacturing: Manufacturers could use insight gained from sensors to predict mechanical failures and reduce costly downtime. They could even help move towards in-depth usage-based instead of time-based maintenance. Moreover, insight on product usage could be used to improve quality, generate new or additional products, or be sold to interested third parties.

The business benefits of sensor telemetry for any manufacturer include the ability to:

  • Communicate with products after they have been shipped or used. This can help companies improve products or diversify product assortments and connect better with customers;
  • Optimize operations in logistics, supply chain, manufacturing and transportation to turn increasingly commoditized products into services;
  • Convert data by-products, such as shelf space, real-world product performance and environmental impact, into new revenue streams by providing insight to a wide range

    of stakeholders.

Aerospace: NASA plans to use more than 500 sensors on its jet engines to gather information about almost every aspect of flights. Project engineers say that the data will be vastly superior to information from wind tunnels and will show how engines work under real conditions.

Also, data gathered on the real-life operation of each unique engine can be used to create individualized models that can better predict and help avoid failures in the future.

Chemicals: The chemicals industry is currently investing in the development of fuel cells, but how can they price a product that might have a working life of, say, 10 years? Sensors offer the capability to measure a chemical reaction or the number of energy units consumed, enabling the supplier to charge by consumption, rather than a single initial payment.

Energy and Mining: Sensor telemetry also offers spectacular improvements in the field of physical safety. For example, oil rigs and mines are dangerous places, with a large number of people working in a physically challenging-and constantly changing- environment. Sensors in clothing can be linked to sensors monitoring environmental conditions and then used to warn workers whether they are properly equipped to work in certain areas and of other potential dangers.

Insurance: Insurance companies could tap into sensor data to provide new services in, for example, potentially dangerous manufacturing and processing environments. The data could be used to increase the accuracy around compliance of insured customers, to help assess and manage risk borne by the insurer and to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place.

Healthcare: Healthcare providers could use sensors to enable remote patient monitoring, especially in the area of telecardiology. Benefits include improved care (patients are monitored continuously and doctors can detect potential incidents before they happen) and long-term cost savings for both the healthcare provider and patient.

Sensors can also be used to help rescue personnel monitor each other during stressful and dangerous missions, improving their safety while they work.

Encountering and overcoming obstacles

A key part of any new technology-driven evolution is managing the challenges along the way.

Information flood: Organizations will get even more real-time information about their world with sensor telemetry, including insight into their own physical environment and that of suppliers, competitors and markets.

To derive value from this new breadth and depth of information, businesses will have to consider what to do with the data and then designate resources to assimilate, extract and apply the insight gained from it.

Data ownership: One of the burning questions will be: who owns or manages the data? Many sensor telemetry systems will create value chains with a number of potential stakeholders who will want to use the data. Across these chains, ownership, access, usage and revenue creation from the data must be agreed upon between parties. What roles should the product manufacturers, wireless companies or application service providers play?

For example, many automobiles are equipped with Telematics devices with sensors that can sense a range of details from the state of the airbags to vehicle location to engine temperature. Insight from such data can then be distributed to all those linked to the car including the driver, manufacturer, parts suppliers, insurer, government bodies and even marketers and advertisers.

Privacy concerns: As data becomes shared, organizations will need to ensure that personal and proprietary data is managed in a way that does not compromise the privacy of individuals and business partners. Building trust will, over time, help generate opportunities to gather new business value from sensor telemetry data. For more on Accenture’s Privacy Point of View, visit

Cost: While the cost of sensors and communications is still expensive for massive deployment by average organizations, overall cost of implementation will vary depending on existing infrastructures, location, types of sensor and types of application needed. Organizations that are already using RFID will be able to build on existing back-end infrastructures and platforms.

What next?

Accenture has been at the forefront of the “sensor revolution”, developing Telematics and remote monitoring prototypes for over five years. From a transport security services prototype that uses a variety of technologies-including RFID tags, sensors, GPS and biometrics-to ensure that hazardous products know where they are going and who can access them, to a field test that uses equipment sensors to detect potential mechanical failures before they occur, researchers at Accenture Technology Labs are exploring how organizations can use sensor telemetry to generate valuable business insights and outperform the competition.

The Labs have also been monitoring the work of researchers at the University of California at Berkeley who are developing smart dust inexpensive, autonomous sensors so small that they will fit on the head of a pin.

To showcase how organizations could manage and aggregate data coming from these potentially millions of sensors or smart dust, the Labs created sensor aggregation models. This technology prototype receives data wirelessly from sensors and transforms individual data points into a cohesive, integrated view of the environment. It then uses insight generated from the back-end data to build visual models which help users to easily detect or investigate any changes in the object-or the environment-as they occur. For example, if the application senses a change in temperature along an area of pipeline, the user could zoom into that area remotely and check factors such as air quality, which could be used to detect a possible gas leak.

Sensors and sensibility

Improving economics, smaller form factors and ubiquitous communications allow sensor telemetry to deal with the world at an increasingly granular level- customer by customer, product by product, minute by minute.

Implementing a solution based on sensor telemetry is not a question of waiting for the technologies to emerge-rather it is a question of assessing what it will take to launch and manage for the long term. Organizations must ask themselves how much detail they require, what information they can assimilate and would like to act upon to achieve a particular business benefit.

For more information on sensor telemetry, visit

1 Source: BusinessWeek, April 26, 2004, “A machine-to-machine ‘internet of things.'”

About Accenture Technology Labs

Accenture Technology Labs, the dedicated technology research and development (R&D) organization within Accenture, has been turning technology innovation into business results for almost 20 years. The Labs create a vision of how technology will shape the future and invent the next wave of cutting edge business solutions. Working closely with Accenture’s global network of specialists, Accenture Technology Labs helps clients innovate to achieve high business performance. The Labs are located in Chicago, Illinois; Palo Alto, California; and Sophia Antipolis, France. For more information, visit