Pilgrim Beart, cofounder and CEO of DevicePilot explains how service monitoring works and how it can help your business

In the relatively short time since their inception, connected devices have already had a significant impact on our lives. Consumers have invested in smart speakers and thermostats, whilst businesses have started to recognise a plethora of use cases for connected devices. Contemporary offices have heating and lighting that automatically adjust to match occupancy – though they don't always get it right – as well as other applications to monitor cleanliness, humidity and water usage.

These connected devices can not only help to reduce bills and streamline processes, but also slash energy usage and play a part in helping to address climate change. We are already seeing many sustainability initiatives relying heavily on networks of connected devices – the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). Essentially, service providers are looking to create efficiency by using tech to automate and streamline processes, saving their customers money, whilst also delivering sustainability. However, these devices can only deliver these benefits if they actually work. Many connected device service providers haven’t been able to deliver the promised levels of service quality, which ultimately means that customers have been short-changed and the sustainability benefits of IoT have not been realised. service monitoring is the missing piece of the puzzle which drives connected devices to realise their potential and deliver the promised efficiencies.

What is service monitoring?

Put simply, service monitoring allows connected device providers to deliver a better service at a lower cost. It drives efficiency, which ultimately reduces consumption, by giving providers a complete overview of their entire estate of devices. This includes highlighting any faulty devices and their location, which enables providers to see patterns in faults and whether they are part of a larger problem. Providers can also understand whether there are too many, or too few, devices in a particular location to deliver good service.

Service monitoring also enables providers to define business critical KPIs, both for internal reporting and to demonstrate the value they have delivered to their customers. For example, an occupancy sensor might optimise air conditioning in a certain room depending on the number of people inside. Working with their customer, the service provider can agree on targets for reducing air conditioning energy use, cutting bills and reducing emissions, and service monitoring is the feedback process which measures whether this is achieved – or helps diagnose why not.

Additionally, providers can use service monitoring to automate crucial business processes with "rules". An example rule would be for a smoke alarm to alert the engineering team if it needs cleaning, allowing the team to react before the customer even realises there is a problem – and not waste time servicing devices that don't need it – while ensuring that the office remains fully protected. Rules can work at the scope of KPIs across whole device estates too – for example "fewer than 5% of smoke alarms need cleaning in the next month in a set building".

These elements of service monitoring combine to offer three main benefits to service providers:

  1. Protecting revenue by keeping customers happy and enabling providers to deliver an effective, efficient service as promised.
  2. Reducing the cost of delivering that service by replacing manual processes with a powerful tool that allows your teams to work more efficiently, such as the engineer who can proactively intercept potential faults instead of constantly firefighting.
  3. Enabling growth, not only by allowing providers to rapidly deploy new solutions and ensure they are working properly, but also shedding light on hidden data which empowers the sales team to approach customers with real-time statistics on uptime and usage and identifying particular locations that are experiencing high demand – potentially leading to further sales.

When monitored properly, connected devices become powerful tools that can streamline and optimise the processes that are essential to creating a more energy-efficient business landscape.

Not so smart buildings

So how does this relate to smart buildings and sustainability? Earlier I described some of the ways in which companies are using smart tech to automate processes in their buildings and reduce emissions whilst saving money. While these products each have a provable business case on their own, their value increases as they become part of a connected ecosystem. For example, information on occupancy can be derived from several different types of devices (motion sensors, door sensors, water flow) and then that occupancy information can be used by several other devices to deliver better service (HVAC, cleaning, safety).

However, as the number of devices deployed into the real world creeps inexorably up, so too do the number of ways in which devices can fail – either individually or in combination – often in ways that service providers cannot anticipate until their devices are live. I experienced this first-hand when I founded smart home company AlertMe, which was later bought by Centrica as the platform for their Hive™ brand.

Smart building service providers generally start by running beta tests and trials, which gives them a chance to identify any functional issues and perhaps experiment with different user benefits. During this period it is very possible to monitor devices using manual processes and spreadsheets, as trial managers only have to keep an eye on a relatively small estate of devices, and customers are generally more forgiving as they understand that the product is in trial stage.

Once they have ironed out critical bugs and finalised their offering, service providers feel ready to "scale" – deploy their products in large volume to a growing customer base. As this is no longer the trial stage, customer expectations of the service rise and providers are expected to deliver an effective service, and possibly even to meet contractually-defined levels.

Suddenly, instead of monitoring a handful of devices – as in the trial stage – each building might contain hundreds or even thousands of devices. Having pumped money into R&D and creating a great proposition, many providers overlook the tools and processes they will need to deliver a high-quality service, and are now left with thousands of devices gathering data, but without any means to analyse it to determine which of them are not working properly. "It's tested or its broken" goes the old engineering adage. The same manual processes and spreadsheets that were so effective during the trial phase are now overwhelmed. This causes providers to lose track of their devices and service suffers, leaving customers annoyed as the promised “smart building” has become just a collection of poorly-managed, unreliable devices, and they are not seeing the economic or sustainability benefits they have paid for.

Realising enormous potential

Just as the rise of corporate IT in the ‘80s and ‘90s required a suite of new tools to manage the machines and networks, so these the connected devices of today require some way to see if they are working as expected and delivering what they have promised. For smart buildings to really "kick on" and realise their enormous potential for businesses and sustainability, it is crucial that service providers improve their service, and this starts with service monitoring.

Without it, you can’t possibly know what is happening to your device estate and whether you are delivering an effective service, which is why many smart building projects fail to deliver sustainability.