[Column] Chris Boshoff: Connecting the digital backbone
The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t new, but it has simmered on the edges of innovation and transformation for years and now it has, as the World Economic Forum puts it, ‘quietly arrived’. In China, there are more connected things than there are people, and globally, IoT solutions have slipped seamlessly into industrial, manufacturing, logistics and infrastructure gaps, providing the digital capabilities that the holes in society need. But, says Chris Boshoff, Senior Product Manager at Vox, IoT needs a backbone of connectivity and this, particularly in South Africa, remains critical to ensuring that local experiences the true depth of IoT potential.
“IoT is in a predicament here because of the limitations and complexities that surround connectivity,” Boshoff adds. “Whether using wireless or LTE or 5G (private or public), loadshedding is damaging batteries and inhibiting reliable service delivery.”
This unreliability also impacts the business. Those companies that have invested in IoT-powered security systems will suddenly be hit by unnecessary alarms and failures because the connectivity has been cut due to a fault or loadshedding or anything in between. The risk of losing the functionality of IoT thanks to poor connectivity is fundamentally inhibiting uptake and innovation in the country.
Or is it?
“Before writing off IoT completely, pause and look at its potential,” says Boshoff. “If solutions were built on the right foundations with a stable and reliable connectivity backbone then they would deliver precisely what the business wants and needs for IoT. And this is reflected in a slow but steady uptick in IoT adoption in the country. There are plenty of opportunities here, and the market is hungry for options that operate effectively in spite of loadshedding and infrastructure challenges.”
According to the Internet of Things Industry Council (IOTIC), IoT is gaining traction in South Africa now that companies have realised the long-term benefits of cost-savings, maintenance, automation and operational intelligence. Yes, there is still some reticence and many organisations remain uncertain as to how IoT can deliver what it promises, or even uncertain as to how IoT would even fit within their environments. There is a lack of understanding of the technology and the benefits that it brings to the business.
“IoT has numerous intelligent applications across different industries, not just in the self-driving car or intelligent fridge scenarios so often raised in IoT discussions,” says Boshoff. “In logistics, it can provide exceptionally intelligent functionality around the monitoring of freight, yellow vehicles, cold storage, and so much more. It has the ability to monitor items at specific temperatures and to provide alerts to stakeholders if the temperatures change or if there are delivery delays. And this high-end visibility that leverages data and sensors across multiple touchpoints can have a huge impact on costs, last-mile delivery, theft and so much more.”
The technology has applications in manufacturing, providing companies with the ability to track products, implement predictive and proactive maintenance schedules, and ensure worker safety. In healthcare, it is also transforming patient care across time zones and geographic locations. Healthcare practitioners can use IoT-enabled devices to perform operations on patients in different countries, diagnose patients in rural areas, and monitor the health of high-risk individuals from remote systems and devices. These applications can be extended into building management, personnel monitoring – a particularly relevant application for high-risk environments – and even power management in offices and homes.
“One of the true value-adds of IoT is its ubiquity and how it can seamlessly shift into both the consumer and business spaces,” says Boshoff. “This means that everyone can benefit from the value it offers, and ingenuity will win the day when it comes to leveraging the capabilities of IoT to delight customers or redefine industry challenges or transform rural healthcare. And to add to the pile of benefits, the technology has proven cost-saving benefits thanks to its ability to automate, streamline and refine processes.”
IoT does come across as a complicated technology, particularly in a country that’s battling with connectivity and power reliability, but the solutions evolving around it have a low barrier to entry and are proving invaluable in saving costs and improving processes and productivity. The applications are limitless, and the only caveat to success is simple – ensure that the business has a trusted and capable connectivity backbone in place.