You keep hearing about IoT and how wonderful it is but you can’t seem to figure out why. The good news is this article is going to cover everything you need to know about IoT, how it can benefit your business, how the technology works and how to get the tech inside your business.
What is IoT? Very simply it’s a device (thing) that is connected to the internet. What’s exciting for us is that you can get tiny devices that can be attached onto ordinary objects to allow you to “communicate with the object”.
What IoT can do for you because lets face it knowing what the tech is doesn’t help your business. Gaining information about any ordinary object can be good for business. Knowing when a machine is about to fail (before it does) because you detect more vibration than usual. Knowing when stock is running low or where that stock is provides a great deal of insight for a business.
IoT devices have a wonderful ability to enhance the value within a business. Saving time by using a device to do the work required. Saving money by improving business efficiency and even creating new products or services by supplying customers with tools to help them work with your business or value adds that give your business a competitive edge.
Data, big data and AI is a key technology with Internet of Things. The world is becoming more data orientated because data is valuable. If we look at a sales example from the past – if we want to make a sale we would search for the right contact person. Probably through networking or maybe phoning the reception and asking who we should be speaking to. Fast forward to the present – how we get hold of the right person has changed substantially. LinkedIN provides a great deal of data that can be useful in helping us find the correct person. Alternatively we can browse the internet to the about us page or maybe we ask a data analytics company to give us some of their data which exactly matches with our demographic target market. Still in sales, Google and Facebook provide us with extremely powerful marketing tools. We can extremely accurately target people who may be interested in our business through keywords or through an extremely well refined demographic list.
How this impacts IoT? Data enabled highly intuitive and valuable sales data. IoT is extremely good at data generation. Where previously it was hard to gather metrics on ordinary objects we can design a network of devices that talk to us and tell us everything we want to know about the objects in our business.
If we consider my example above with my machinery maintenance - I can place a small device in key areas of my manufacturing line. The device will be designed to measure vibration.
- I know when the machine is running there will be vibration so I can know exactly when my machines are running.
- I can keep track of how much vibration my machines produce. I can build a track record of what is an acceptable amount of vibration
- I can create an alert for when my machine exceeds this vibration threshold. It is an early sign that my machine is beginning to fatigue allowing me additional time to get my maintenance department to replace worn out parts.
We can also look at the above example from the perspective of the maintenance company. They can charge extra for a “SLA” where they constantly monitor the machinery. If they detect issues with the machinery early they can repair it before any major breakdowns. They will be perceived as offering a superior service and gain customers, their customers will be happier with them because when they do maintenance their machinery is more stable.
Once again IoT is an incredible data solution for ordinary objects. Devices can measure a vast quantity of metrics and report on it relatively inexpensively. Once you have that data you can get it to work for you.
- Reduction of resources
- Manageable allocation of resources
- Measure the previously unmeasurable
How it all works – some technicalities
Devices are the little things we place on ordinary objects. Most are relatively small and lightweight.
- Long battery life
- Cheap connectivity
- Minimalistic design
- Fit for a specific purpose
Key measurement options
- Water and moisture
- Air quality
- Movement of both the device and through sensors
Connectivity is an essential link with IoT devices. The most common form of connectivity is either through the cell network or through wifi. The fact that those are currently the most popular doesn’t mean they are the most important to IoT devices.
SigFox – operated by Sqwidnet in South Africa is a network designed for IoT devices as an extremely lightweight connectivity network. 10’s of thousands of devices can connect using only a few gig at most. The other major benefits of a SigFox network is the connectivity is cheap and the battery usage of the device to connect to the network is extremely low. Those are two very critical components of ensuring devices in businesses function the way they need to.
Sigfox isn’t the only form of connectivity. You can also connect using Bluetooth. Bluetooth 5 has a range of approximately 900 meters in ideal circumstances but can be meshed allowing for complete coverage in for example a warehouse.
LoRa is an open source technology similar to SigFox. You can deploy your own base stations and provide connectivity to each device. This is a useful technology if you have many devices operating within a short geographic area. I say short, but the range can be up to a few kilometers which is very practical for bigger installations like farms. However the cost considerations are important. You need enough devices to justify the cost and you need technical expertise to maintain the system. LoRa won’t work well with GPS technologies because it’s too easy to exceed it’s maximum range from base station.
I should note, that SigFox allows for the installation of “micro” base stations on a per application basis if coverage is lacking. Although the network currently covers all major highways and up to about 90% of the population so it’s a good choice.
This is where the brains of IoT live. Devices are designed for a singular purpose. The platform is where the magic happens. Data is received and processed into something useful by the platforms. For example the platform would allow a factory to set limitations for vibration on their devices. If the platform detects a device exceeding the limits it would send an alert.
If we simplify! The platform is very much like any business software system. Your accounting system receives data and processes it into an income statement and balance sheet. The major difference is that the data arrives autonomously and the platform can process the data without human intervention.
As a result IoT tends to be one of the most advanced technologies on the market but the link from device to platform simplifies it into one of the most simplistic.
A great example of this is the ability to track elderly people. We have a watch which is worn by an elderly person. The screen simply tells the time. Behind the scenes we have a GPS and accelerometer. We also have a panic button. The platform sets the location, if the device exits the geo-fenced location you can get an alert or the device simply reports on its location more frequently. The accelerometer will tell us if there is movement – no movement is bad and will therefore send an alert. A lot of movement or a very violent movement indicate a fall which is also bad – so we send another alert.
From the perspective of the elderly person they are wearing a watch. They don’t worry about what the technology is going. They just wear a watch. The family or caregivers don’t need to sit and monitor the data, they will get an alert when required.
So, as you can see IoT is an advanced technology that gets implemented extremely simply. This is a tremendous power of the technology allowing it to be deployed into some of the most challenging situations while simultaneously offering huge value.
How to develop a solution for your business?
The starting point is simple – in a way. What do you need to measure? Movement, location, water etc…
The best way to get a good list of what you need to measure is simply by looking at your operations and what gets done frequently – those areas will be your first big savers. Secondly, what areas of your business would you like to know more about or said differently where would you like to gain greater control over?
Once you have an idea of what you want to achieve the rest becomes a little easier. We need to decide on what devices are required and where they need to go. We also decide on what data we want out of those devices. Lastly we decide on what we want to do with that data.
To summarise: If you had data what would you use it for? How would you use it? Where are your most critical points
The next step is to design the platform and link it into your business processes to make the data valuable to you.
What does this all cost?
Devices average at a few thousand rand per device depending on the size and nature of device. Connectivity is about 150 to 300 per year depending on the options you take. Platform development is the most expensive component. Many device manufacturers offer a platform at a smaller monthly fee.
If you didn’t have a suitable device you can also develop your own. We are prepared to waive the development costs if enough units are purchased up front. We are also open to developing units based on a custom spec and billing out the development costs.
On the development side there are some items to note: There is very little hardware available off the shelf which drives costs up. Development costs will slowly come down. The platform on the other hand is very worth investing in heavily. Since it is a data processing system you will be able to change devices provided the info is the same. Essentially if it’s possible to use existing devices you will save money by using them and waiting for a larger company to develop the device you need.
In conclusion. IoT is a big deal. It will unlock value in businesses previously untapped at a very moderate cost. Designing networks of devices is relatively easy and once the platform is working for you will cover costs in no time. Deciding on the right network is critical but when all is said and done can be changed as your business changes – remember the platform just needs formatted data.
TechThrive is an IoT implementer. Our approach is always solutions orientated which focuses on the clients needs and then we design the solution. Contact us on 010 007 1717 and schedule a meeting to discuss your requirements.