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Whirlpool CIO tackles ERP overhaul and IoT-powered appliances

Clint Boulton | March 1, 2016
CIO Mike Heim is replacing Whirlpool’s aging SAP ERP systems with the vendor's HANA software, and is working closely with IBM on its Internet of Things predictive analytics platform.

This multi-year ERP project is well underway in Europe and Latin America -- where Whirlpool took Hana HANA live earlier this month -- and will extend to the U.S. by 2017. He says it's too soon to say what sort of insights the company is getting from HANA. "Until you get to critical mass, the analytics are going to be less important," Heim says.

Even as Whirlpool's global ERP overhaul is well down its path, Heim is also trying to derive value from the gradual, yet highly anticipated rise of connected machines. To that end, he is working closely with IBM on a predictive analytics platform that uses machine learning algorithms to optimize the performance and longevity of its appliances.

Connected appliances promise improved products

The software, which IBM hosts, pulls data from sensors built into the machines, informing Whirlpool in real-time about the state of machines in the field and consumers' usage patterns. In lab tests, Whirlpool has learned that colors fade and fabrics grow coarser for certain high-end garments in as few as five washes. Such information can help Whirlpool improve product quality, create custom wash cycles for each user and extend clothing life.

Sensor data, logging how many times a refrigerator door has been opened, can help Whirlpool learn when the hinges weaken to the point of breaking. Whirlpool may then use the information to strengthen the part in the manufacturing process. "You want to reduce maintenance and warranty costs, but most importantly you create a higher quality product and you have a happier consumer," Heim says.

Whirlpool has a lot of company in the market for using IoT to predict machine failure and enhance products or services. Some four billion connected things will be in use in the consumer sector in 2016, with the number potentially topping 13.5 billion by 2020, according to Gartner.

Yet Heim admits the adoption of connected appliance remains low, as Whirlpool and its rivals haven't yet to put many products in the market. For one thing, some people are reluctant to embrace new technologies in their household appliances, preferring to stick to with traditional machines. And those machines tend to last several years. "It's a long tough slog to get those connected products in the marketplace," Heim says.


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