Early Problem Detection with IoT

Gone are the days when technology was used primarily to manage internal administrative functions. Think Excel spreadsheets. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) many businesses’ operations are supported through technology in many ways, transforming them into fully integrated computing environments. One of the more common ways IoT technology supports business operations is through the use of data-gathering sensors that provide early identification of issues affecting operations.

To optimize use sensor data, there needs to be a strong link between relevant data collection, problem identification and resolution. In supply chain operations, for example, sensors can be used to:

  • Track issues with assembly line operations
  • Track the location of delivery vehicles and packages
  • Sense tampering of a product and/or package prior to arrival
  • Predict demand and scheduling requirements based on real time orders

Using IoT sensors for early problem detection in a normal operation begins with understanding what “normal” operation looks like, and then identifying the data points that indicate a variation from normal so that steps can be taken to mitigate possible risk.  IoT sensors are ideal for early problem detection.  Operational data can be collected and analyzed and then predictive analytics applied that enable systems to generate alerts or trigger an automated routine that restores normal operation.

The following activities (illustrated above ) use IoT sensors and predictive analytics to manage an operation.


  1. Locate and configure appropriate IoT sensors. The sensors collect the data required for specific processes. For example, using IoT sensors for early detection that can improve a supply chain, consider tracking the timeframe for a critical few processes such as picking items with robotics, packaging, loading orders via an assembly line and delivering them. Collect the data over a period of normal and non-normal conditions and operations.
  2. Create a value stream journey map. Using the data collected and knowledgeable personnel, create a value stream journey map for the selected process. First map each step of the process being addressed, indicate the normal ranges for each step and identify the sensor(s) involved for collecting data.
  3. Use predictive analytics. To be able to use predictive analytics, review the data, identify variations from normal operation and the part of the process where each variation occurred. It is necessary to research the causes of the variation, the fix for each root cause, and resolution procedures.
  4. Set triggers and responses. The IoT sensors can trigger an automated response to variation or an alert mechanism that triggers a manual response by operational personnel.
  5. Use a run book. A run book documents these procedures defining each automated response and the responses that require manual support. It provides a clear, systematic roadmap for the use of IoT sensors for early detection.

Once in operation, there’s a simple trigger-response operational flow. When the IoT sensor identifies a potential issue, automation is triggered by the sensor and recovery steps are taken with an automated response that addresses the issue or an alert to operational staff who can apply a fix.

The business value of early problem detection

This use of IoT sensors can move an organization from reactive management of a failure to being able to prevent failures. With IoT sensors, mitigation can begin as soon as certain factors begin to vary from the norm, but before failure actually occurs. If the fix is applied early, variation is minimized and failure avoided. This approach to proactive problem management develops a history and knowledge of a situation, enabling recovery or awareness that can bring a process back to normal quickly with minimal resources. This can translate into greater revenue through cost savings, improved output, better quality and greater customer satisfaction.


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Kepner-Tregoe is an industry leader in problem solving and continuous-improvement methodologies. For more than 60 years, the experts at KT have been providing training, consulting and mentoring to leading companies and organizations around the globe, helping them respond to problems and put the processes and mindsets in place to prepare for the future.