The Internet of Things (IoT) can transform business and create innovative new revenue streams. While the demand for IoT is certainly growing, most providers are still far too focused on the technology and not communicating the business value proposition to their clients.
This means that they are not translating IoT solutions into tangible business value for their clients, and that is slowing down adoption rates in South Africa. This is the view of Peter Shaw, engineer at Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS).
“Many people, when they speak about IoT, use the example of the fridge that is going to order the product that you are about to run out of automatically and it will just get delivered to your door. That is probably the worst example of IoT making a real difference in lives. That is not only what IoT is about,” he says.
IoT must fulfil certain criteria. IoT must take information from the real physical world and pull that information through to a platform to create an interface with the real world. “When you think about IoT, you first need to decide whether it is something real that you would like to get information from, whether the information gathered would be of value and whether that information could make a difference to the business or to an individual. Only then is it a true IoT solution,” says Shaw.
He believes the real value of IoT lies in being able to solve real problems today. “IoT is practical. You want to know how much water is in your soil which provides an indication as to whether additional water is required by your crops. You want to see how many people come in through your mall and how best you can accommodate them.
“Take any industry, like manufacturing or mining and you want to know when a machine is starting to fail. You want to be able to put preventative maintenance measures in place to ensure that you limit downtime and your business continues running. It eliminates ‘what ifs’ and allows you to spend money on maintenance when it is required and before a breakdown occurs.”
Shaw says that if organisations want to harness the value of IoT, they need to know what they are looking for.
“For organisations anywhere to adopt IoT effectively, IoT providers must ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the client’s requirements, the data they are looking to harvest, how it will improve their business and only then look at the technical requirements. For example, in the maintenance industry you can gather information from the field and then optimise your maintenance and equipment lifecycle to do preventative maintenance when required. It is also possible to identify equipment that is about to reach the end of its lifecycle so that it can be replaced with minimum to no service disruption.”
The true value in IoT lies in understanding the client first and then identifying the most suitable technology solution to meet that need.
“Take a bee farmer, for example,” he says. “If they do not understand the dynamics of their hives at any given moment in time, they are unable to manage their honey producing bee population effectively.” When a new queen is introduced or born into a hive, it results in the hive splitting, which means that the hive loses potential honey producing worker bees.
“By using IoT to monitor the environment within the different hives, the bee keeper would be able to predict when the environment within the beehive changes, allowing the bee keeper to intervene by moving one of the queens and some of the honey producing bees to a new hive, creating another honey producing population. Is that not the perfect application of IoT?”
The productive and pervasive use of IoT will only become a reality once the conversation shifts from technology to business value, and when the client’s challenges are at the heart of the recommended IoT solution and business case. “IoT solution providers need to stop getting caught up in the hype and start looking critically at their clients’ biggest challenges, so that they can develop IoT solutions that drive true business value,” says Shaw.