ROI from IoT projects in Africa depends on connectivity

When comes to the successful implementation of an IoT roadmap in Africa and related projects, the dependency remains on connectivity.

This is according to Keith Fenner, Vice-President, Enterprise Africa & Middle East at Sage, who attended the Gartner Symposium 2017 in Cape Town this week.

Fenner said, "When you're in your own environment and you've got solid WiFi connectivity to start linking sensors together and actuators and all the other components of the IoT network, and then you need to bind your security to that of course, and there's different transfer protocols these days. I think they call it MQTT, is the latest greatest one that everyone's loving because it is designed for IoT – so its small packets, nice and secure users, small amounts of data."

The reason Fenner mentions this is because of the need to consider data costs. "When you start to look at data costs, which is still expensive whether I am in the Middle East or in Africa, its expensive, so you need to use transfer protocols that uses little data packets."

IoT is becoming increasingly relevant to Africa and Fenner cites smart farms and sensor-based technology within irrigation. "That could be a very quick-win project for anyone."

Whereas traditionally there have been many large-scale IoT projects implemented (in aviation, for example) there is now a need to bring it to a cost point and vendors are now starting to embed sensors in their own kit.

"The challenge is that of course creates data in their own cloud and if you have multiple machines, now you've got multiple clouds... and you can imagine to try and make sense of that data becomes quite tricky. So what we are starting to see now are vendors emerging that are taking that complexity away by providing a single connection to the edge – the edge being the sensors – and then allowing almost like an orchestration layer to decide what you want to do with those datas and collection points once you have the data," Fenner explained.

"You need something to make either make that decision or to push information to make a decision ... so to push it into an ERP system or maybe a CRM system, or possibly into an analytics layer for reporting," he added.

Fenner said these two pieces are quite complex and vendors are now looking to simplify the journey. Once this is simplified and sensors are disconnected from machines, a cost point is then established to work in Africa – assuming reliable connectivity is available.

"That's the point. If you start talking about smart farming and you are talking about drone spraying and stuff like that, I mean it's all very real, but there is a cost to all this data collection. So if you don't have that data being collected, your realtime reporting is gone and then what was the benefit in the IoT project?" he continued.

Sage's advice to clients is to try to package the IoT projects in 6-to-8 week segments. "So let's look for one or two things, let's sort of hammer out a little bit of an ROI, almost pilot projects that are being grown when they're successful and then you can start to see good returns on that."

Fenner believes a lot of businesses in Africa are beginners at this and are apprehensive about cost and feel like IoT is a complete reinvention of what they do. "And it is not, it's a transformation of a business process to make you more efficient, to drive a better customer experience... it's not wholesale change. It may lead to a new business model, may lead to monetising something differently, but that's digital mastery."