The coronavirus pandemic has changed the business landscape, and as we head into 2021 its impact will continue to be felt.
While remote work has become a necessity at many businesses (something that promises to be the case, well into the new year), there are those enterprises where that is not possible — where employees must congregate in the workplace, while at the same time observing social distancing protocols and other measures that will ensure their safety.
To be absolutely certain that is the case, employers are turning to an offshoot of the Internet of Things — the Internet of Behavior (IoB). Sometimes called the Internet of Behaviors, plural, it involves tracking human activity through interconnected devices. Gartner predicted in its “Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021” that it is poised for a breakout in 2021.
As examples, Gartner pointed to the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which enable employers to monitor whether employees are washing their hands enough, and computer vision to reveal whether they’re using masks. In addition, telematics could be used to track driver performance when using company vehicles.
Other organizations are equally bullish about the IoB’s potential. Forrester, in its forecast for the year ahead, sees environmental monitoring taking on greater importance than ever — that sensors will be used to not only maximize uses of lighting, power and energy, but also to identify congested office spaces so that modifications to the layout can be made to enable social distancing.
The IoB uptick was neatly summarized by Gartner research vice president Brian Burke during an organizational symposium, stating, “The unprecedented socioeconomic challenges of 2020 demand the organizational elasticity to transform and compose the future.”
Indeed, the pandemic has brought about a need for such elasticity — for adroitness, resourcefulness and the ability to adapt on the fly. As it was put in the Forrester report:
Behind the scenes, processes designed over years to ossify cost control, efficiency and predictability were replaced by those that emphasized flexibility and resilience. As they plan for 2021, manufacturers will learn the lessons of 2020, doubling down on technology-enabled strategies to deliver flexibility, resilience and innovation.
Mining behavioral data is a concept first explored by Gote Nyman, a retired psychology professor at the University of Helsinki, in 2012. He cautioned, however, that too much can be read into statistics compiled gleaned from the IoB. It has been left to Gartner researchers to dig deeper; and as the technology has improved, the insights have become more revealing.
Certainly the IoB also serves as a powerful marketing tool, giving businesses unprecedented insights into customer habits, which in turn can be used to anticipate future behavior.
There are, however, privacy concerns, concerns that conjure up memories of George Orwell’s ever-vigilant Big Brother, from the dystopian 1949 novel “1984.” Gartner estimates that by 2023, 40 percent of the global population — some three billion people — will be tracked. By 2025, half of the world will be subject to one IoB program or another.
So that’s concerning, and bears are watching. But in the short term, the IoB offers promise for companies and investors alike.