How the Internet of Things shakes up jobs, improves efficiency

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After the town of Cary, N.C., installed a water meter system that automatically radios water usage to the public works department, it eliminated 10 meter-reading positions. The water resources group operates today with a smaller staff, thanks to the Internet of Things.

Workers used to check some 60,000 water meters once a month. Now the new meters record water usage each hour and transmit that usage data by radio four times per day.

Knowing hourly water usage lets the department rapidly identify abnormal conditions. Instead of having to field questions from testy customers surprised by high bills, the water department now proactively contacts customers to alert them to the possibility of a running toilet or garden hose. It's a revolutionary change.

"What we're doing is preventing anyone from ever getting a high bill," says Karen Mills, the town's finance director. The water meters have been "absolutely transformational," she says. The project cost about $18 million but is expected to save $28 million over the 17-year life of the meters, in part because of reductions in staff.

Cary's water-metering system has all the elements of an Internet of Things (IoT) project. It uses wireless networks, sensors to collect data and cloud computing to process this data, and it analyzes data using SAS business analytics tools.

The system also accomplishes what economists say all types of systems can achieve with the IoT: Make systems more efficient and productive, reduce waste and consequently, help the environment.

There is ongoing debate about whether the IoT, robotics and artificial intelligence eliminate more jobs than they create. This verdict is still out, but there is clear evidence that IoT projects need people with specific types of skills.

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