How companies are putting the Internet of Things to work today

Web-enabled toothbrushes tend to get the headlines, but automating commercial and industrial processes is where the Internet of Things truly shines

Boston Pizza restaurant exterior by night

Boston Pizza is implementing Internet-of-Things tech for purposes like monitoring food temperatures. (Mario Beauregard/CP)

When people think of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its impact on business, it conjures up images of space-age workplaces overrun with robots. In reality, the current capability of IoT solutions revolves around the automation of simple industrial processes: low-level tasks that once could only be reliably performed by humans. Those small changes can gradually lead to big ones, as Melissa Graham recently found out. Graham, a general manager at a Boston Pizza in Stratford, Ont., used to rely on one of her staff members to check the temperature of the food in her restaurant’s refrigeration system. Now the Internet does it.

Last summer, Graham installed a series of sensors made by blueRover, a Kitchener-based company founded in 2007. The sensors can both gauge the temperature of the air in the fridge as well as the approximate temperature of the food itself. The data collected is wirelessly relayed to a main base over mobile carrier networks. (blueRover recently inked a partnership deal with Rogers Communcations, which owns Canadian Business, to offer IoT ‘as a service’ to businesses.)

Graham says what sparked her interest in the IoT was her desire to go paperless: she no longer needs an employee to do manual checks and keep paper records. But the benefits have far exceeded that, she says. Graham now gets updates to her smartphone every few hours, allowing her to detect possible food safety problems earlier on. “It’s made life much easier for my staff, my managers,” says Graham. The servers who once had to be pulled from the dining room to complete checks can now focus customer service.

Licensing the software from blueRover costs Graham about $126 a month. By her own rough calculations, she’s saving close to $35,000 annually on labour. And that’s not including the potential savings from mitigating risk: “If one of our fridge stopped working in the middle of the night for eight hours and someone got sick? We would have been closed down. The costs would have been huge,” she says.

blueRover only graduated from Waterloo’s renowned Accelerator Centre two years ago, but already over 500 Sysco refrigeration trucks now use blueRover sensors to monitor the temperature inside their trailers, says Peter Smith, the company’s director of business development in Canada. The aim is to make it as simple as possible to add sensors to their existing processes. (The company will soon reveal a system that owners can install themselves, says Smith.)

The market for the IoT as a service is expected to reach a value of $13.5 billion by 2019, according to market research firm IDC Canada. Already, 45% of Canadian businesses are, at some level, using IoT solutions. These companies aren’t just servicing the consumer product market (where there are wifi-enabled toothbrushes, wine bottles and watches galore). A number of Canadian startups are focused on servicing the needs of business exclusively: Vancouver-based software developer Bit Stew Systems Inc. partnered with B.C. Hydro to build a program that constantly monitors data emitted by the two million home smart meters in the province; and New Brunswick-based RtTech Systems’ platform monitors and gives “asset utilization and utilities consumption.”

Businesses will continue to find new applications for the sensors, says Smith. Their platform was made with the developer community in mind. “It makes sense at the person at the end and it’s scalable. The value is there.”