Even though it is generating a lot of interest, the Internet of Things (IOT) simply describes the rapid consolidation of information for decision-making through business process and automation, using the cloud as a platform. But how does the typical South African business approach this?
When the cloud was in a similar stage of business interest, it started illustrating its benefits with specific use cases. So too will IOT be successful when companies can see the value to be derived from it.
If one looks at the IT value chain in this regard, a company needs devices, networks, and platforms to integrate smoothly. However, the market is currently heavily fragmented across all those components. The service providers that will differentiate themselves will be the ones to do this as effectively as possible through partnerships and adopting rapid development environments to scale and develop IOT applications quickly and cost-effectively.
The scale of innovation taking place in IOT right now is phenomenal. New devices are coming out all the time, meaning solutions providers must adapt faster than ever. Moreover, the need to work with customers to solve specific business problems becomes even more evident. It is now less about being an IOT provider than becoming a true consulting partner highlighting where the technology can be used to improve decision-making.
Addressing business pain points
Already, businesses and consumers are used to consuming services on the internet. IOT, for its part, is just another service that needs to be built. It is taking information, representing it in a graphical way, and improving workflow through rules for connected devices. For example, a measuring solution having to run at a specific temperature or a tracking solution that must be activated during specific business hours.
The immediate future will see IOT largely driven by the need to increase productivity, production, and business efficiency. Even so, it is about businesses identifying their pain point and partners working with them to address it through IOT solutions. Already, the nature of IOT is evolving.
An example of this is a rental company tracking the location of its units. What was basic tracking a few years ago has seen increased sophistication in how the rules-based approach can be applied.
The company can have alerts triggered if an asset leaves its yard outside of normal business hours to curb employees from taking those assets home with them.
Furthermore, devices are becoming smarter and form factors smaller. Many IOT devices can be customised on the fly. This makes them ideal for businesses who want to gradually adopt an IOT-centric strategy. So, what started as a tamper device can then evolve into one focused on asset tracking or ultimately something that performs automated maintenance - all by flashing its operating system remotely.
Already, smaller form factors are benefitting industries like agriculture. For example, a farmer does not have to put a tracking device on every sheep. Considering that these could number in the thousands, it is not a cost-effective solution. Instead, sheep typically congregate in flocks of 20. This means only one out of every 20 need an active tracking device while the rest can carry dummy ones to mitigate against the risk of theft.
This is certainly making for an interesting business journey for organisations. However, it will always be critical to find applications that make commercial sense irrespective of whether it is for an enterprise or from a consumer perspective.
Making better decisions
It is all about creating practical solutions to business problems. Another critical component is adapting to the demands of an influx of new IOT devices that are catering for an ever-changing business environment.
Over the next five years devices will become even cheaper as manufacturing is likely to migrate from Europe to China. IOT will become ubiquitous in many environments, empowering people to make better decisions through automated processes designed to get the best value and insights out of data.
In IOT, the indispensable application is the one that is simple with an easy identifiable value proposition. The most critical piece of advice to give any business interested in embracing IOT is to not try and do it on their own. Rather work with specialists who have learnt the hard lessons and can provide best practice to the unique problems organisations face.
* By Craig Freer, executive head of cloud and managed services at Vox.