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“Applicability of IoT can be left to the imagination of the industry”

In conversation with Sustainability Outlook, Mr. Harry Plant, VP Social Sector at Aeris Communications and Dr. Rishi Bhatnagar, President (India) at Aeris Communications share their thoughts on the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) based solutions for industries, their potential and challenges in India. 

Mr. Harry Plant Dr. Rishi Bhatnagar

What do you think is the present state of Industrial IoT solutions in India?

Harry: It’s still very early stage for industrial IoT and it is likely to take many years to play out completely. I think in the IOT space, the solutions will grow at a significant rate but the adoption won’t happen overnight, because of all the significant integration issues. It also depends mostly on the willingness of people to try solutions, to have them work and make them better. Right now it is a world of experimentation. 

Rishi: There are a number of companies which have been able come up with smart factories, specifically for cost optimisation. They are not thinking about revenue generation, but importantly how to optimize the cost, how to operate a smart factory to take better decisions. A new company/industry will definitely have all the latest technologies. But we are in a country where there are a lot of brownfield factories, using old technologies. Implementing the new processes and technologies in them is a big people management change which is a much more difficult challenge. Our problems are different. We are not a country with high labour costs, not an ageing country, we have more people to do the jobs, and our government’s vision is to generate more jobs rather than to reduce the jobs. 


What are the key drivers for IoT in your opinion?

One of the key drivers for IoT is cost optimization, the second one is user demand

Harry: I think efficiency is the biggest driver. Efficiency means that you can do more with less and deliver products and solutions to people that couldn't afford them. In the rural villages of the developing world you have pumps to bring water. Big pumps bring water from deep wells, cost around USD10,000-15,000. In lots of parts in the developing world, these pumps run very inefficiently. They break and no body fixes them and so they operate at efficiencies as low as 25% as they don’t work for three quarters of the year. By adding a sensor to measure the flow of water you add connectivity to it. If it doesn't flow you send a message out to somebody that says ' Hey! the pump is not working'. By just doing that, you can increase the efficiency from 20-25% to 80%. So now you have a water pump delivering water to a rural village not three months a year but eight to nine months a year. Vaccine delivery is another example. In the poorest parts of the world, 75% of the vaccines become ineffective due to exposure to heat by the time they reach the intended users. So installing a sensor on the refrigerator that indicates whether the vaccines are at the right temperature enables one to know how many vaccines are effective. Such things turn lifesaving critical devices, technologies, products into effective ones.

Rishi: One of the key drivers for IoT is cost optimization, the second one is user demand, and then there will be a possibility where people will start using these technologies for revenue generation. Once you start thinking about your end customer and the customer needs, it will start driving the end products.  


What are the biggest barriers to proliferation of IoT solutions?

Harry: Lack of standards and interoperability of the systems are seemingly the biggest barriers to industrial IoT solutions right now. If you don't have systems that can talk to each other, the solution is not going to work really well. Also, cost is still a barrier, but its likely to come down eventually. The unwillingness of people to move out of their comfort zone is another challenge. New technologies always tend to do two things - they create new opportunities for some and they put people who were doing the things in the old way out of the job. So that transition takes time. Today in India and globally you have people who understand manufacturing; people who understand communication, and people who understand IT and a domain. You require these four skills in one person for an industrial IoT solution. 

The promise of IoT, machine learning, data analytics is that from a sensor device to connectivity to cloud storage, anyone can have access to analytics and machine learning and thereby the ability to run more efficiently, the ability to find needles in haystacks, to possess tools that will tell you how to make your machine more efficient


Within the industrial domain what are the applicability areas for IoT based solutions?

Harry: In any industrial facility, there are all sorts of machines that are working and running and making things. The promise of IoT, machine learning, data analytics is that from a sensor device to connectivity to cloud storage, anyone can have access to analytics and machine learning and thereby the ability to run more efficiently, the ability to find needles in haystacks, to possess tools that will tell you how to make your machine more efficient. Even if you have a haystack worth of data, tools exist to find that one piece. That is the promise of technology, increasing power and decreasing costs. As long as software is catching up, it’s left to the limits of the imagination of the people. 


When we look at IoT technologies, there is a huge concern always over data security. How big a barrier is it?

Rishi:  I don't think that data security is a big barrier. When cloud technologies were emerging, everyone had their doubts. Definitely there are some norms and standards required which we have to look at. When we think about the IoT, it is a combination of four industries- : (i) the Manufacturing industry which manufactures devices and sensors; (ii) the Communications industry providing the network connectivity; (iii) the system integrators or the IT service providers which help integrate the applications; and, (iv) the vertical domain specialist which can be a manufacturer of a car, a healthcare doctor or an energy provider. We are trying to combine the four of these together. As a result, there is a need to change our policies, procedures, standards and guidelines. You have norms for healthcare industry. But we don't have norms that address a B2B or B2C service resulting from the combination of healthcare industry plus IT plus communication plus manufacturing. What will be the combined solution and who will be legally responsible for anything going wrong? A thorough understanding of these nuances is required. Security is a concern but not to a level that will hinder it.


What’s your outlook for the Industrial IoT sector in India? 

The trend of technology is to give people the ability to do things that are up the stack, that require more brain power and remove them from manual tasks.

Rishi: Policy will definitely be a very huge accelerator for the IoT domain in India. The government is the largest enterprise in any country and if they make a policy decision that would really help in the acceleration of technology implementation. 

Harry: We increasingly live in a connected world. People are inherently fallible. Connectivity in devices can help address that in ways that make people better. The trend of technology is to give people the ability to do things that are up the stack, that require more brain power and remove them from manual tasks. We think there are lots of opportunities, even in the early stages of things that are connected. Smart solutions should gather data, turn data into information and use that information to make lives better. 

Author: sustainabilityoutlook