The past two years have put organisations under immense pressure to meet expectations, deadlines and commitments. However, they have had to juggle the complexities introduced by the pandemic, social unrest and economic uncertainty while handling disrupted work.
For many, the focus was on keeping core operations online and the ship afloat. But this too had ramifications – companies focusing on the basics were limited in their scope when it came to the innovation, testing and deployment of new technologies.
They were also limited by the global chip shortage, supply chain challenges and global hardware logistics.
In short, it has been a tumultuous time. And yet, says Roger Hislop, executive member of the IoT Industry Council of South Africa (IOTIC), this diversity has brought with it an opportunity, particularly concerning the Internet of Things.
“The pandemic has inspired a surge in IoT solutions within the healthcare environment that are designed to transform patient and practitioner care,” he says. “These innovations include anything from fitness bands for wellness monitoring to thermal imaging for no-touch access control to using cameras to monitor social distancing.
“In addition, the need for distance during the pandemic has seen an increase in telemedicine and remote healthcare solutions that have allowed for practitioners to serve patients from multiple environments and locations.”
Added to its application in healthcare, IoT has also been demonstrating remarkable value in the transition to remote working – IoT systems have seen accelerated adoption in building security technology (remote operation of door locks, presence detection and more), and is changing how we operate office buildings.
It turns out most buildings (even those with some measure of building management technology) are wildly inefficient and expensive to operate – in New York City, the storied Empire State Building, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world, only says its energy usage drop by 28%, despite being almost empty for months during that city’s hard lockdown under a massive Covid wave.
“For businesses, the Covid lockdowns and continuing disruptions have driven uptake of technology innovations,” Hislop says. “IoT and advanced technologies at the network edge have become firm business friends, connecting to create solutions that are more efficient and powerful than ever before.”
“On the Commercial & Industrial front, IoT remains stalwart in supporting operations teams as they wrestle with fewer hands to do more work,” he adds. “The C&I sector adopted IoT from the outset, recognising its value in shifting blockages and improving revenue and speed to market.
“Now, IoT has significant implications for how goods are manufactured and services are provided. When combined with Machine Learning (ML) and robot process automation (RPA), it is one of the foundations of increasingly automated factories, smart plants and intelligent logistics.
“The availability of smart devices provided under clever new business models where this tech can be delivered as ‘IoT-as-a-Service’ means that companies of all sizes can take advantage of what IoT can offer in 2022.”
In South Africa, IoT adoption trends have started to coalesce around smart water and energy management, particularly in commercial office space, mining, Agri and manufacturing gaining a very firm foothold. The first step for many companies was to start measuring and monitoring more effectively – many were reluctant to go very far with the technology.
But measurement and monitoring systems quickly proved their worth – most businesses were hopelessly optimistic in their estimations of how well they were managing costs around utilities (water, electricity) and internal logistics.
Now that IoT technology has shown that it can easily pay for itself just by reducing costs, companies are starting to move into basic automation, operational intelligence and proactive or predictive maintenance applications.
“IoT is gaining traction in the agricultural sector, particularly around water, electricity and farm operations management, and many local solutions are finding a global market,” concludes Hislop. “In addition, with the spectrum crisis abating, 2022 will likely see accelerated growth for 5G and NB-IoT based IoT solutions, and new low-orbit global satellite connectivity providers are slowly entering the market.”
As IoT continues to grow in both stature and capability, 2022 looks set to be the proving ground for companies that want to gain a foothold and a competitive advantage. While the technology by itself is not a magic bullet, it is an increasingly reliable and stable foundation on which South African businesses can build a better future.