Service efficiencies and the internet of things

Written by: Dr Stephen Wise and Richard Garfield | Published:
The ‘Uber’ model of services on demand is becoming viable for examples such as commercial waste collections.

Dr Stephen Wise and Richard Garfield from Amec Foster Wheeler take a look at how technology will impact the sector in years to come.

In the film Minority Report there is a scene where Tom Cruise is walking down the street and is connected to the infrastructure around him and provided with personalised information with respect to clothes, consumer goods, transport and other items.

Whilst our internet of things is not quite at this level it is rapidly developing. It’s all around us in an increasingly digital and interconnected world where I can enter my house without a key, turn on the heating, monitor the fridge and turn on the washing machine all with an app, enabled by the development of superfast, reliable wifi and smart phones.

As consumers, we are becoming increasingly empowered by technology. Across sectors we are hearing about ‘smart cities’ and the continued integration of technology. But what does this mean for the environmental services industry – a sector that has traditionally been slow to embrace and adopt new technology. How do we make sure we are not left behind? In a discussion with one of my colleagues we took a look at what may happen going into the future.

There is a continued requirement to deliver additional housing and infrastructure across the UK. Many of our new infrastructure developments are linked to unlocking new housing, retail and employment opportunities. We need to make sure that we are looking to the future and not the past when in how we design in future service requirements. We need to take into account not just how services are delivered today but how they may be delivered in the future.

For example, with a continued focus on improving air quality we are seeing a move away from traditional diesel and petrol especially in personal transportation. It may be that a number of cities ban certain vehicle types ahead of any national policy, such as the banning of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

What does this mean for environmental service vehicles such as Refuse Collection Vehicles? As a sector we have not been really joined up or forward looking into alternative fuel types such as electricity or biomethane. We need to start thinking and planning ahead now for the supporting infrastructure that this quantum move will require.

In designing new housing and other associated infrastructure developments engagement with the ‘end user’ through customer engagement needs to be undertaken to enable service providers to coordinate service delivery. For example, wifi enabled street furniture connected to an extended wifi network, can allow services to be delivered effectively to an output specification, maximising efficiencies and cost savings.

Live access to service availability keeps consumers informed and empowered, and ultimately more satisfied. We are starting to see this in the form of apps which benefit both existing and new customers by enabling convenient access to service information. Maybe this would help alleviate some of the collection issues raised by the ombudsman in the recent report on waste collection services.

The ‘Uber’ model of services on demand is becoming viable for examples such as commercial waste collections, supported by wifi enabled bin sensors taking the responsibility away from customers to report when a service is required. And we are starting to see service collaborations which are only possible thanks to digital technology.

For example, smart energy and water meters are being read by equipment deployed on passing RCVs, and potholes are being recorded in a similar fashion. These take advantage of the regular rounds of collection vehicles, and demonstrate how efficiencies can be gained by working together across services.

Smart city principles must be considered in future service development and delivery. By doing this the associated technology will start to make its way from the city environment to become commonplace in all areas (regardless of current communication blackspots).

Community engagement and sustainability will become more closely linked and personal through increased connectivity. This can be achieved through greater coordination with technology as the interface between the different service requirements to help deliver improved efficiencies. By providing infrastructure that embraces and not marginalises the internet of things developments can start to support and not act as a barrier to improved innovative service delivery.

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