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Covid and the IoT
Private Networks for Innovation - 7 Dec 2021
Covid and the IoT: a Love Story

digitization is in a budding affair with physical reality - let’s not forget what happens in many love stories

Tim Marshall / Unsplash

In most areas of personal human life, the IoT has had little real impact on the texture of existence. Particularly in healthcare, the world still functions much as it did a hundred years ago.


As the second decade of the 21st century comes to a close, we find ourselves at the edge of a new reality. The first global pandemic in a hundred years is what brought us here—COVID-19, still killing record numbers of people every day as the first vaccines are being delivered. A year ago we didn’t know it existed. Today it has changed life for every human being on the planet.

And yet in another way—one that rings of poetic justice—COVID is also one of the things that’s pulling us across the chasm into the next world we’ll inhabit. We’ve been staring at that new world of the IoT for at least twenty years, as longtime readers of Harbor Research will know. Now suddenly it’s starting to come together. Necessity is still the mother of invention, and what human beings can do under duress is always astonishing.

But what we can do is confined to the realm of the doable. There’s nothing magical about our abilities. Arthur C. Clarke is famous for saying “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but note the operative phrase: “sufficiently advanced.”

Similar to the confined universe of the 64-square chessboard (where AI demonstrated its earliest triumphs), the IoT has brought enormous benefits to the complex (but closed and controlled) realms of the factory floor and the supply chain, and lately even to the wild and wooly (but still rules-bound) arena of the open highway.

By contrast, in most areas of personal human life there has been little real impact on the texture of existence. Particularly in healthcare, the world still functions much as it did a hundred years ago. Listen to Bond Capital’s April, 2020, letter to investors, which is essentially Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report for this year:

“Our healthcare delivery in the U.S. hasn’t changed as much as you would think since the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. Technology and innovation have had little impact on the primary care patient journey. … We are awash in data, but lacking connectivity and insight. … Despite decades of investments in electronic health records, there remain hundreds of dark, unconnected pools of healthcare data. Even when the data are available, providers are overwhelmed by the workload and the sheer volume of the data, and therefore are not getting the benefits you would expect from digitization.”


It’s possible to describe digitization as a budding love affair between technology innovation and the physical world. But let’s remember what happens in many love stories. Romeo and Juliet were in love, too. Their families wouldn’t let it happen. Alas, this is often the scenario with corporations and new technology.

The air cargo industry, for example, expects to play a key role in the cold-chain transport of billions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines. The problem is that air cargo has inadequate infrastructure for both transportation and storage of something that delicate.

According to the Air Transport Association, losses associated with temperature excursions in healthcare are a staggering USD $35 billion. For this reason, air freight is consistently losing market share to ocean freight:

Air freight losing Pharma to ocean freight

At present in the air freight industry:

  • 25% of vaccines reach their destination degraded because of incorrect shipping
  • 30% of scrapped pharmaceuticals can be attributed to logistics issues alone
  • 20% of temperature-sensitive products are damaged during transport due to a broken cold chain

Unless industry partners take steps to ensure quality service, air transportation may not be the choice of COVID-19 vaccine producers.

This post is an excerpt from Harbor’s paper “COVID-19 and the IoT: A Love Story.”

Fill out the form below to download the entire paper for free.

December 20, 2020

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