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How the Internet of Things Can Be Leveraged in Health Care, Retail, and Manufacturing

September 27, 2017, 12:58 PM UTC

Market researcher IDC expects that demand for hardware, software, and services that power what is known as the Internet of things will hit $1.4 trillion by 2021, up from an estimated $800 billion this year. And Zebra Technologies hopes to capture a big chunk of that market by pushing the use of its software that aggregates and analyses the data generated by those devices in real time.

Toward that end, Zebra (ZBRA) said Tuesday it is working with five companies—Baidu Cloud, Descartes Systems Group, Problem Solutions, Reflexis Systems, and StayLinked—to build applications in retail, manufacturing, transportation, and supply chain vertical industries. The partnership with Baidu (BIDU), the giant Chinese cloud computing company, also gives Zebra entry into that potentially huge market.

To recap, the Internet of things (or IoT) refers to the explosion of devices connected to each other and to users over the Internet. In the consumer realm they include Fitbit-like fitness devices, but in business nearly every gizmo on the factory floor or on warehouse shelves is being equipped with RFID tags or sensors that feed data into a system of some sort.

As part of its news, Zebra has branded its core software as Savanna. That software, in its unnamed form, is already used by Zebra customers in retail, manufacturing, and health care industries, but the Chicago-based company is now opening it up so third parties can build on top of it, the hope being that will result in more applications for those industries.

Existing Zebra customers include appliance manufacturer Whirlpool (WHR) and retail giant Target (TGT). In addition, UPS (UPS) personnel use Zebra technology to make sure the right boxes go on the right trucks.

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The overall goal is to make sure that data from RFID tags, scanners, sensors, mobile computers, and sales terminals is shared appropriately, to ensure products are in stock and can be found, and to send an associate to get it if a customer wants to buy it.

“Savanna enables a system that is able to sense something happening and act on it. Let me find the order, here’s the person to dispatch it, and make it happen in real time,” Tom Bianculli, chief technology officer of Chicago-based Zebra tells Fortune.

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The software can, for example, help retailers implement automated “wayfinding” systems—which guide customers who opt-in—around the store to get what’s on their shopping lists.

Zebra Savanna leverages one of the big three public clouds—Amazon (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT), or Google (GOOG)—although Bianculli would not disclose which.

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As already noted, the IoT is a huge market. General Electric and Hitachi Group’s new Vantara arm are chasing it on the industrial side. Microsoft is pushing Azure IoT Stack as a general purpose cloud foundation to many IoT apps.

That should lead to a raft of interesting competitive and cooperative engagements by these companies in the field. For example, GE and Zebra partner on health care where GE wants to optimize the workflow of clinicians and nurses, Bianculli says.

“Sometimes we deliver the whole service end-to-end, other times we’ll collect raw data and turn it over to a partner,” he says.