We increasingly use our smartphones and other smart mobile devices with screens to view the results of data gathered by Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including those connected to workflows.

By Jurgen de Jongh

The smartphones and their smart cousins are equally useful as IoT devices themselves with the growing range of sophisticated sensors, means of input and data capture, like cameras and microphones. Connected to workflows they become powerful allies in feeding the machine.

It’s this mobility and ease of access to meaningful information that helps us get our jobs done that makes IoT such an attractive opportunity in business processes, general workflows, and specifically document workflows.

Business processes have tended to be document-based in the past. Documents were by far the most reliable means for businesses to capture, store, share, and retrieve information in the past. But the arrival of a digitalised world has changed that. The smart mobile devices I mentioned mean we can easily view content, no matter what format it’s in, including video and audio, almost anywhere, even underwater.

That’s important because people seldom conduct business processes in isolation. People everywhere must collaborate, they must work together either simultaneously or in succession. The ability to automatically create, collect, share, and process information obviously offers enormous advantages to make people more productive, efficient, and quicker.

But connect IoT devices to activities in these now automated processes and your business can collect such a wealth of data that the advantages become exponential. Coupled to mining and analyses the data from simple or even complex devices can create compelling competitive advantages.

More revenues and more profitability are the two ultimate benefits of bringing a wealth of IoT devices into the document workflows that buoy businesses at this onset of the digital era. They plummet costs per rand of activity-based revenue and allow more activity per employee creating a double-win. The typical uptick in customer happiness also spurs more spend and less churn for another double-win. But there’s more.

The more we digitalise document workflows through smart application of simple IoT devices the more, the easier, and the better we can link the workflows one to another. And that’s where the real productivity gains can be unearthed.

Take local customer Interwaste, for example.

Interwaste is a waste management and environment services business. Its industry is highly regulated and vehicles visit many sites, including those of third parties where Interwaste has no direct control over IT systems. Yet the business still cut 180 000 sheets of paper from this process, largely manifests, tip tickets and the like, then linked digitalised documents (using smart pens and digitalised paper forms), fed back to the enterprise computing system through a scanning system capturing weighbridge, tip ticket, manifest and more data. That is consolidated into single invoices per customer, per billing period, resulting in a smoother, simpler and more effective billing process that had several, layered positive business effects from lower costs to happier customers and shorter debtor days.

Total South Africa, the oil, gas and chemical company, is transitioning to a completely paperless office environment and centralised records management in phases after rolling out a managed print services (MPS) project. The project coincided with a move from its Sandton office to a four-star green building in Rosebank as part of Total South Africa’s commitment to environmental responsibility.

The paperless programme with Ricoh SA reduces Total South Africa’s CO2 emissions beyond what the MPS project achieved by reducing paper use in the office. In the first phase Ricoh back-scanned five million paper documents used at the old office then stored at Metrofile.

The first phase of the project saw Ricoh SA back scan five million paper documents while the second phase extended the same programme to all remaining departments. Total South Africa is also investigating streamlining its processes into digital processes. This will impact more than 900 employees in total and dramatically extend the scope of environmental benefits.

Another example may be IoT sensors in bins as part of a smart city rollout. These sensors automatically alert a central system when bins are full or nearly full, automatically generate job tickets for refuse removal crews, linked to automated route planning systems, and once checked by human operators vehicles are despatched to empty only those bins that need it. It saves crew time, vehicle maintenance and running costs, generally makes the entire system more efficient, more optimised, smarter.

The IoT devices are then used on the vehicles despatched and linked back to job tickets so fleet managers can ascertain the crew’s handling of the equipment, highlight areas for training or personnel performance commendations, HR can analyse data to forecast employee requirements and remunerations, marketing can tap the data for public relations with citizens, and so on. Benefits are limited only by the software and analyses wrapped around the raw data.

IoT is also extensively used in managed print services (MPS), a service that essentially seeks to optimise and efficiently manage fleets of printers at organisations. The printer captures and transmits data about what’s printed, where, by whom, in what format, on what paper, with what percentage of black or colour ink use and much more data relevant to how people use the printers.

At its simplest, that information helps us to ensure that printers are always usable. If it breaks it tells us so we can send a technician to fix it. If toners run low we can send someone to replace it. If paper is running low we can alert someone in the office to refill the tray. Same goes for a service.

But when you extend the functionality of the data we can ascertain use patterns in various offices for various employees that leads to putting the right size and type of multifunction or standard printer in a particular spot in an office to meet the actual usage needs of people around it.

That optimises the cost of the thing so you don’t waste money on unnecessary toners, paper, or by forcing people to walk far to use another printer because one’s offline for some reason. And you don’t have hundreds of devices that must be maintained and serviced and repaired simply because some employees like having their own printer on their desk.

When you consider that an average office worker in the modern economy prints 10 000 A4 sheets a year, and consider the cost of ink, electricity, buying and maintaining the actual device too, then the costs can add up quickly even in a 100-user environment.

The IoT, coupled to our always-on lifestyles that’s bred a similarly new way of working, has been empowered not least by the smart devices in our pockets that, while they may be deeply personal items, are increasingly connecting us to our work – quite literally.


Jurgen de Jongh is head of pre-sales in Ricoh SA’s Enterprise Services Group