25 February 2015
Lee Hickin, Internet of Things Lead, Microsoft Australia
According to research launched today into the Internet of Things (IoT), 53% of organisations measuring ROI from IoT deployments are seeing an increase in productivity and efficiency.
Dental Corporation, part of Bupa, is one such company that is enjoying improved efficiency as a result of the Internet of Things. I caught up with Kellie King, General Manager at Dental Corp, and Nicki Page, the CEO of Breeze, a Microsoft Partner, to find out how seizing the IoT opportunity has improved the business.
Q: What was the catalyst for you beginning your IoT journey?
A: [Kellie King] First and foremost, we had a business problem to solve. With 220 offices, each with its own dental staff, admin staff and IT infrastructure, our reporting processes were manual, time-consuming and extremely inefficient. The process revolved around emailing and faxing reports monthly with 15 people at head office doing manual data entry in order to bring business insights to life. On the face of it, it seemed like we had a reporting issue but once we started looking at solutions we soon discovered that in actual fact it was an integration issue. It was a case of disparate data, disparate applications and disparate devices scattered all over the world. And it was really difficult for anyone to get any meaningful insights into the business.
We started the project by asking ourselves some simple questions. “How can we automate this?” or “How can we make that easier?” It all came down to integrating our people, processes and devices on a large scale. We kicked it off with a Proof of Concept (POC) and we didn’t have time or funding to buy servers and have them licensed so we started by connecting our practices via the Microsoft Azure cloud platform for expediency and minimal costs. We started the deployment with just our user acceptance testing (UAT) environment. We were able to put that environment in the cloud so everyone was able to continue working. Soon it became evident that connecting our practices was going to add value so we made the decision to roll it out on a larger scale.
We were able to put that environment in the cloud so everyone was able to continue working. Soon it became evident that connecting our practices was going to add value so we made the decision to roll it out on a larger scale.
Q: What are some of the benefits that this increased connectivity has brought to your business?
A: [Kellie King] One of the key measures of success for Dental Corporation was automating the process and connecting the practices in a meaningful and measurable way. Historically, the process of reporting for monthly P&Ls was a laborious task. It was a 75-step process. However, by thinking about how we could automate our processes and connect our practices in new ways we were able to cut this down to a five-step system. Now our reporting cycle basically consists of our finance team clicking a button, reviewing that data and automatically generating a P&L.
That automation has been a huge success; we’ve learnt a great deal about the way our practices run. For example, we identified that for some practices, the software that runs the business was processing transactions in ways that were not correct for accounting purposes. We’ve fixed that issue so already we’re recording better financial data, we’re spending less time doing it and we’re delivering better results.
[Nicki Page] We have also been able to manage the business better from an IT perspective as well. Working with Dental Corp, we have been able to develop digital dashboards which now allow us to see whether practices are offline, whether they have hardware challenges and diagnose other IT issues remotely. This allows us to be proactive from an IT support perspective as well. It sounds simple, but it wasn’t possible before. So there really are two prongs of benefits created by this project: we have the streamlining and automation created in terms of our financial and operational procedures but we’re also in a much better shape from an IoT perspective with a lot more visibility across the entire business.
Q: What phase of the implementation are you in?
A: [Kellie King] It’s always hard to say with the Internet of Things because we will perpetually be looking for new ways to connect the unconnected, to integrate our systems and to improve our business with insights garnered from a new level of connectivity. This isn’t a process that has a definitive end-point. That being said, we’re in a really good space now. We’re collecting real time data, we’re able to analyse the data now and we’re making incredible improvements on our business processes.
We’ve utilised the cloud to great effect on our Internet of Things journey; the scalability and flexibility that the cloud provides has really been one of the key drivers for this project. The cloud has truly enabled us to explore the Internet of Things, to test the waters and then scale up as needed. As I mentioned previously, we started this as way to solve a business problem. With the cloud we can start small, see the benefits of the increased connectivity and scale up, and on the flip side, we can scale down as required to save costs.
With the cloud we can start small, see the benefits of the increased connectivity and scale up, and on the flip side, we can scale down as required to save costs.
[Nicki Page] It can be overwhelming for a customer to embark on a strategy that sees everything in the company connected to everything else in the company. However, by starting small and addressing the business problem that needs solving first and then taking a step back and seeing how else it can be replicated in the business, organisations will quickly see just how strong of an impact the Internet of Things can have on their organisation.
Q: Not all Australian businesses are capitalising on the Internet of Things, what would your message be for them?
A: [Nicki Page] We are not specifically walking into businesses and talking about the Internet of Things. We are walking in and asking: “What problems can we solve for you and what can we connect to help address this?” We are seeing Australia start to embrace the concept, and Dental Corp is a brilliant example of a business that is already winning thanks to the Internet of Things. The most important message for organisations that are not already deploying IoT is that it’s not just a buzzword. The Internet of Things is about solving real business problems. It’s about taking the challenges of an organisation and using integration to help make a business better. It’s enabling companies to be more productive and gain fabulous data insights. In the long run, businesses who deploy an IoT strategy are likely to drive productivity and cost efficiencies as a result.
The most important message for organisations that are not already deploying IoT is that it’s not just a buzzword. The Internet of Things is about solving real business problems.
Q: So what’s next for Dental Corp?
A: [Kellie King] The true value of the Internet of Things is in the data it generates. But that data is worthless unless you can use it to understand your business better. So now we are doing a proof of concept with Power BI, Microsoft’s cloud-based business intelligence tool. We are in the early stages, but this is the really exciting part and the reason we are doing IoT in the first place. We can now access beautiful, rich, graphical interfaces of all the data we are collecting and we can now report back into the business to show the dentists and management the value of the Internet of Things
The next business problem I want to solve is how do we get more people into our practices, how do we get better recalls and how do we get better visibility of the services that we offer. It sounds simple, but to create a service that allows a patient to log-in with a postcode and be able to see all the nearby dentists and their availability would be ground-breaking in dentistry. This is the Internet of Things, but again it all comes back to solving a business problem by connecting the unconnected and increasing integration.
The cloud environment makes extending the Internet of Things to other aspects of the business easier to manage. We’re able to put our test environment in the cloud, to start with something safe that doesn’t have a huge impact on the business, which could enable us to get things done much faster. This ability to test and learn through cloud deployment is what is truly going to accelerate this Internet of Things journey.