Heating Up the Internet

As with many emerging trends, the Internet of Things (IoT) may come across as just another tech buzz term. But according to George Dannecker, CEO of Senet Inc., it’s anything but. “For many, many businesses, ”he says, “the Internet of Things represents a huge opportunity to use factual data to gain efficiencies in the ways they run their operations.”

And he should know. Senet is a network-as-a- service provider—the first such company in the U.S., according to Dannecker—that rents out its wireless network to a variety of clients, most of which are in the fuel-oil and propane-heating industry. (It’s also venturing into the water-irrigation and -metering business segments.) These companies use Senet’s EnerTrac sensing equipment on both oil and propane tanks to measure capacity.

These sensors send transmissions 24 times a day to Senet receivers on nearby radio towers, with the corresponding data sent to Senet’s cloud infrastructure using low-power wireless access networks in conjunction with IBM Long-Range Signaling and Control (research.ibm.com/labs/zurich/ics/lrsc). Senet will then manipulate and aggregate the data and hand it off to its users.

“They can then use that data to decide when it’s time to deliver fuel to individual tanks on a tank-by-tank basis and even use that information to prioritize delivery routes. Usually these deliveries occur when the tanks are only 50 percent empty, but by using EnerTrac and knowing the exact amount of fuel in every tank, it allows dealers to deliver when the tanks are as low as 15 to 20 percent full, thus saving a couple of deliveries per tank a year,” Dannecker says. Thanks to this insight, a fuel company that might have 10,000 to 15,000 tanks to service can save $1 million to $1.5 million a year simply in delivery costs.

“I think the big win for everybody using IoT is going to be a solid ROI. Companies will be able to make fact-based decisions as opposed to the way many, many business do it today, which is often based on guessing or algorithms that try to project what they should be doing as opposed to knowing what they should be doing,” Dannecker remarks. “A good example of this is predictive maintenance on equipment as opposed to preventive maintenance. When I’m using predictive maintenance, I only go out into the field when something needs to be fixed, not in preparation for it. In most cases, you can measure the performance of equipment and when you see degradations, you fix them. People have shown that this saves the overall cost of service by about 30 to 35 percent, which is a pretty substantial ROI. By using sensors, you’re really understanding current conditions and not relying on historical data.”

Based on Senet’s experience and that of other companies, it’s clear IoT isn’t flash-in-the-pan tech jargon. With so many sensors in the world—including not just in oil and propane tanks, but also in equipment of many different types—smarter and quicker decisions can be made than in the past, helping save companies in nearly every industry massive amounts of time, energy and money.