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What happens to IoT connectivity if there is an outage?

As mobility businesses come to rely on the Internet to function, how should the industry at large think about system downtime? By Neil Miller

In today’s digital-first world, glitchy experiences can be bad in so many ways. If your food ordering app delays, or the conference call stalls, it’s certainly detrimental to the user experience, but there are broader implications to the vendor brand and bottom line as well. In the case of the transportation industry, glitchy connectivity can have even broader implications when it comes to the upkeep and performance of critical functionality.

IoT (Internet of Things) has changed the way we think about getting from point A to point B. User experience, planning, and logistics all stand to benefit thanks to increased digitisation and connectivity. IoT in transportation incorporates a wide network of embedded sensors, actuators, smart objects and other intelligent devices. This network collects data about the real-world scenario and transmits it over specialised software to transform that data into useful information.

At its core, IoT runs on Internet connectivity. But the Internet wasn’t built to sustain a global transportation industry and outages are not a matter of if but when. In an industry where safety and mission-critical performance are non-negotiable, outages and other disruptions can have far reaching consequences.

Businesses that rely on connected communications systems are at risk of becoming vulnerable when connectivity worsens

So, as transportation businesses come to rely on the Internet to function, how should the industry at large think about system downtime, and the level of unpredictability this new reliance brings with it? It starts with visibility, and with proactive management. New software technologies are enabling extended monitoring into the digital environments that sit beyond today’s IT perimeters, into the Internet networks that have become core to the tech stack. And by knowing how outages can occur and where, businesses in the transport sector can better arm themselves, reduce resolution times and improve customer communication.

Creating reliable travel experiences through visibility

IoT is at the heart of reshaping transportation to provide greater safety, more efficient travel, improved vehicle and aircraft maintenance, and more strategic traffic management. According to recent research from McKinsey, the total value created by connected-car use cases could reach more than US$550bn by 2030, much higher than the roughly US$64bn in 2020.

But one of the key challenges with increasing and expanding connectivity is tracking the performance of transportation endpoints. An endpoint is a device that connects to the computer network, so in the connected car example it is the vehicles themselves—the ships, aeroplanes, trains and more.  Dealing with these moving assets means that tracking the endpoints can be tricky to monitor.

A fleet of trucks, for example, travelling to different locations where drivers cannot check in with the central office because it is out of range or otherwise unavailable, causes complications for the operation teams monitoring the journeys. The unpredictable nature of the Internet also adds noise to the data these companies collect. So, the reliability and accuracy of asset location and status need to be closely examined, especially during times of high network latency or packet loss.

This need for visibility into connectivity and performance grows with each new device, or endpoint, added. In addition to internal systems working together, transportation companies are reliant on the Internet and the cloud to power IoT devices, adding a further layer of complexity to the digital supply chain. With all these factors at play, it’s imperative to ensure high quality networking across multiple networks, including the Internet.

Without the right technology in place, these issues can result in outages for transportation companies. Downtime in certain areas of the transportation sector can be a safety issue and expensive, resulting in steep regulatory fees and labour costs. 2022 saw multiple IT outages for airlines all over the world, including Southwest Airlines putting the pressure on to avoid another summer of travel chaos this year.

The Internet wasn’t built to sustain a global transportation industry and outages are not a matter of if but when

Wider digital supply chain issues can also be very time-consuming and costly. For example, when Google Maps went down on 9 August 2022 it took out several apps that rely on its API (Application Programming Interfaces) to deliver directions. For example, apps like Uber and Lyft rely on Google Maps data to provide real-time information about traffic conditions and other factors impacting drivers’ ability to pick up riders.

Innovation is the way forward

Businesses that rely on connected communications systems are at risk of becoming vulnerable when connectivity worsens. To receive reliable, real-time data from sensors in vehicles and to support connections to moving assets, end-to-end visibility of the networks relaying this information is required. Tools such as software agents can provide this visibility into potential impacts through insights and provide in-depth analysis to operation teams on how much downtime it is experiencing and where exactly the issue is occurring. With this data, transportation organisations can make better decisions about where to invest in upgrades like sensors, readers, software, and other IoT tools, to improve reliability and performance management.

This telemetry data can go a step further to support proactive maintenance, helping businesses track and understand patterns to reduce time of or prevent outages altogether. This is already being done with applications throughout the industry, but it’s particularly useful for fleet managers.

A team can use telemetry scanners to track such parameters at fuel level or engine temperature and thus receive information about the fleet’s health in real time. This way, organisations can decrease the need for routine mechanical inspections and examine only those vehicles that have already demonstrated some technical issues. Fleet management telemetry can also include other variables, of course. Directly tracking speed and driver behaviour can provide important information.

Telemetry can also help operators understand the conditions in which the fleet travels to produce better estimates for needs and expectations. Not to mention that the future of connected technology will help companies save money on shipping by enabling drivers to access information about weather conditions, rest stops, and parking lots. This level of contextual telemetry forecasts fuel consumption based on driving distance and road conditions to find better lanes and modes.

But for these maintenance systems to work and be reliable, end-to-end visibility is required of the networks relaying that information. Businesses are coming to the undeniable realisation that as connectivity becomes borderless, so too do they need to adopt new infrastructure strategies that can manage these borderless environments. Reliable visibility is one of these strategies. Reliability means ensuring you have access to real-time data from sensors in vehicles and readers on tracks and roads, so you can monitor performance and act if problems arise.

Overall, this capability helps improve uptime while reducing expenses stemming from unplanned repair work and hauling costs.

Utilising visibility for future developments

The Internet is a critical component of transportation and logistics. As transportation companies are seeing more and more services connected, the quality of the network is becoming more essential than ever. With the vast amount of data available, it is easy to see how it can help companies in the transportation sector do better capacity planning for fleets and solve problems proactively with support from alerts and fault codes.

The level of innovation that is coming out of the automotive industry is undeniable. Hybrid work, online shopping, and telehealth are all examples of major transformational shifts in recent years where connectivity is critical, making cloud and Internet networks crucial to the new technology stack, powering functionality and user experience. While digitisation is happening in all facets of life, its manifestation in transportation is perhaps one of the more visceral ones. Electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and the ever-growing volume of dashboard apps, make the driving and passenger experience one that more and more resembles that of the mobile office or living room—it’s both exciting and impressive.

So, as the innovation continues and new opportunities abound, so too are the software technologies that optimise the digital experience becoming ubiquitous. End-to-end visibility across cloud and Internet networks, using tools via telemetry and software agents, can uncover blind spots in the transportation industry. In turn, IoT connectivity will perform with full availability and at capacity, ensuring  that the process is running as smoothly as possible for now and into the future.

About the author: Neil Miller is Director, Solutions Engineering at Cisco ThousandEyes

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