IoT and the 1-bit problem

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IoT and the 1-bit problem

There are already over 270 million connected devices in the UK which maps to just over 4 devices per person, and Gartner estimates that there will be 25.1 billion connected ‘things’ globally by 2021. While the consumer space has seen some incredible growth in Smart Things (homes, buildings, cars, buggies, and so on), its commercial adoption is only just getting started. At DXC, we have been fortunate enough to be involved in quite a few transformative projects in this space, which led us to be selected as a Global Finalist for the Microsoft IoT Partner of the Year.

Much has been written about the complex, industrial applications of IoT, but we wanted to talk about the 1-bit problem in this article instead. The “1-bit problem” is a phrase I have borrowed from Kevin Miller who runs Microsoft’s IoT Platform team. It’s a problem you could solve if you had just one extra bit of information. If you knew your window was open when it was raining, you would close it. If you knew the pallets in your warehouse floor were misaligned, you would correct it immediately.

Sounds like a fairly obvious application of IoT so far doesn’t it? Connected devices and sensors have been solving these problems for decades though modern IoT platforms do allow us to deliver this capability in a less-complex, cost-effective manner.

Truly solving the 1-bit problem is much more than that. The question you want to ask yourself is:

“If I had just one more piece of information about what I do, would it fundamentally transform the way my business operates?”

Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • There is a (surprisingly) large business around delivering propane to disconnected resorts, hotels and homes. A small company in France tackled this logistics problem by adding a small sensor on their propane delivery systems enabling them to know when the customer switches from tank A to tank B. While it’s great that they no longer need to deliver on a fixed schedule and can scale up and scale down delivery based on the customer’s needs, they took it a step further. They analysed the information captured and now guarantee that their customers will never run out of propane – fundamentally disrupting a very traditional business.
  • Pest control is big business, bringing in $14 billion annually. A significant part of this business is pest control offerings across residential, commercial and industrial properties. There are some companies in this space looking at connected traps to reduce the regular, expensive service visits required to check the traps. Some though, are taking this a step further. Just like the earlier example, they have started including guarantees around preventing infestations and – more interestingly – are using trap data to model the spread of pests in an area; allowing them to proactively offer services to customers who may be impacted.
  • In a retail environment it is important to have the right products available for consumers as and when they want it.  Sounds simple and on the face of it, for a large retailer, it often is.  But what about suppliers who sell through small outlet stores? If what we do is sell snacks and sandwiches via a refrigerator located in a small store, how do we know when to replenish it? EDI solutions are too costly and complex for this scenario, but what if the refrigeration unit could tell us when it is out of stock?  An automated re-order message could be triggered within an operational system like Dynamics 365, scheduling a delivery based on actual demand.

It is often easy to overlook the simple IoT use cases, but as the old saying goes “the best ideas are the simplest ones”. The key to maximizing your investments is feeding that newly accessible data and insight back into your business processes, allowing you to create differentiated offerings that could disrupt your market.

If you would like to know more about our approach, some of our IoT offerings like Smart Worker, or just share your thoughts on this topic, please contact us at

Paul Saxton & Amir Jafri

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