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Tuesday, 12 October 2021 16:25

IoT – Not just a buzzword, but a foundation of value.

By Gareth Whitaker, Director: Solutions and Innovation at Software AG.

The world of business technology is awash with buzzwords. Data, analytics, machine learning, process automation, artificial intelligence are all floating around the ether of corporate lexicon, but the truth is they are too often just that... buzzwords relegated to the confines of the IT department, their true potential lost to misunderstanding and old-school siloing.

One particular 'buzzword' that has spent a lot of time in the technical landscape, but struggles to find itself properly considered in the boardrooms of enterprise is one of the strongest business value delivering technologies – the Internet of Things (IoT).

In this data-driven economy, the ability to measure, process and capitalise on every inch of your operations is crucial in the endless race to win competitive advantage. At every touch point there is likely a bespoke device that has been created for the purpose of measuring any and all activities within your value chain.

These devices are the heartbeat of any organisation and generate the data that either proves or disproves the efficiencies a business has put in place to ensure optimal value generation.

Simply put, IoT describes the network of physical objects—"things"—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet (or even a local intranet).

According to information and communications technology market research firm IDC, IoT in South Africa is expected to grow by 14% year-on-year from 2020 to 2025.

In my experience across numerous industries, and in meetings with some of the largest enterprises in South Africa, there is a significant lack of understanding about the true value that IoT can bring to an organisation – but only if it is the right solution and not just a technical checkbox. There are several challenges impacting comprehensive adoption.

In Africa, IoT is playing an increasingly significant role in sectors like agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, and more. The last year or two, however, has seen a massive drive towards the power and control that IoT can bring as businesses struggle to keep up with the pace of change and unexpected shifts in macroeconomic challenges (i.e. a global pandemic).

Remote maintenance, being able to control the organisation and have that view of the business while sitting at home has become crucial – an area where IoT (mixed with a bit of cloud) provides the perfect solution.

Luckily, this kind of tech is more affordable and accessible than it has ever been before. But that does not mean that one can suddenly adopt a complete IoT solution right from the word go. That can become a needlessly expensive process that does not allow for a natural learning curve within the business.

In fact, the key to IoT is to start small. Find that area of your business where you are facing a particular (albeit small) challenge and decide whether an IoT solution can help overcome this challenge.

By doing this, a business can begin a use case history for IoT without the need to move too hastily into costly and complicated systems integrations across the entire operation.

Basically, you need to identify the simplest problem that you have that can be addressed with IoT, and avoid going too far too fast. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

From there, most organisations can gain start squeezing additional value out of their IoT projects and scale upward from there. You don't need to buy the whole farm when all you need is a glass of milk.

If we are to truly enter into the next evolution of IoT efficiency in South Africa, we are going to need to convince more CEOs, COOs and CFOs to start thinking of IoT as a tool in their toolbox, rather than something technical that should be relegated to the head of IT (especially in the cases where CTOs and CIO are non-existent).

Although this goes for all tech-enabled solutions, more South African businesses need to start capitalising the tremendous business value the right IoT solution can offer. Do that, or your competitor will do it first.