Evolution of the IoT Landscape

Vinod Krishnan, Chief Information Officer, Indus Towers

Indus Towers is one of India’s largest telecom tower companies with over 1,22,730 towers across 15 telecom circles. The company has the wide coverage in India and has already achieved 2,88,913 Tenancies, a first in the telecom tower industry globally.

Over the last couple of years, IoT has moved from being a mere buzzword to a tech­nology readily avail­able to companies. Several product companies (especially in the consum­er electronics and minor appliances space) have also moved on to the bandwagon of enabling their prod­ucts to be IoT- ready. Many compa­nies in the services and logistics space have also begun touting the benefits of transparency enabled by telemat­ics and IoT, essentially, monetizing their own investments in technology made for their internal processes and creating new products and models to increase business and revenue. Most companies in the manufac­turing space which had tradition­ally invested in machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and sophis­ticated control systems have also taken the logical step of investing in IoT technology.

"The data capturing, and acquisition front has seen an explosion of solutions, products and services, largely driven by competition among manufacturers to provide 'IoT ready' equipment"

The data capturing, and acqui­sition front has seen an explosion of solutions, products and services, largely driven by competition among manufacturers to provide ‘IoT ready’ equipment. Almost every equip­ment now comes in a default ‘smart’ mode enabled with on-board inter­faces to transmit key operating data of that equipment for management and analysis.

On the data storage and analytics front, several partners have rushed in to support the anticipated large vol­umes of data being collected from IoT-enabled devices. Almost all the major cloud providers have suites of products and services available to sanitize, sense-check and process data flowing in from devices as well as to apply analytical methods to it, both in flight and at rest.

There are no clear leaders in this space yet, perhaps because there are not enough transformational suc­cess stories of organizations that have traversed the curve from data capture to storage to analytics and further to market success. Many of the early successes have come in use of captured data to drive real-time response. Not many organizations have collected enough data for statis­tical validity and application of these newly developed tools.

However, several factors contin­ue to dog the landscape, effectively preventing this technology from de­livering the benefits it has promised for so long.

  1.    Proprietary Legacy Technology: Smart controllers are abundant, but very few of them are smart in the same way. There is a great degree of proprietary technology, often locked by OEMs trying to enter the services space as a revenue enabler, or simply because of complicated or legacy electronics that are not wide­spread enough to attract the interest of a more generic service provider in this space.

    2.  No Clear Winners: Multiple com­peting data storage and analytics stacks are touted with much the same technical underpinnings. Even their front-end development and user in­terface tools do not vary much. This results in a very fragmented land­scape with no clear winners or differ­entiators, causing hesitation for the enterprise buyers of this technology since they would not like to make significant investments and face the risk of backing the wrong partner.

    3. Difficulty in Data Acquisition: It is still very difficult and painstaking to program the data acquisition from the device or controller to the data­base, with very few skilled profes­sionals who understand the underly­ing hardware and technology stacks. Partners tend to be niche and the skill set is at a huge premium. Back­haul of data still presents difficulties and is still not fully reliable even in areas with excellent 3G/4G coverage.

    So, is it all doom and gloom in terms of value realization from in­vestments in IoT? Not really - but it is still an area where only the fearless or the foolhardy can enter with any degree of confidence.

    1.  Leadership teams still need to evaluate the benefits of IoT pro­grams carefully and drive strong change management to make use of the newly available information.

    2. Investments need to be made very judiciously and with full commitment to moving the entire legacy base (not just the newest or latest devices) to avoid data holes and completeness concerns which may be used to derail the initiatives.

    3. Potential for business model change and optimization needs to be recognized early and the prepared­ness of the rest of the environment (e.g. supplier contracts, manpower allocation) needs to be assessed and decisions taken on the eventual con­figuration of the business to make use of the information being received and the capabilities being added as a consequence of IoT implementation.

    The biggest challenges in IoT im­plementation, however, are cultural.

    1.  Long established channels of ser­vice and sales that have relied on per­sonal visits to customers or sites have huge inertia and present their own version of ‘channel conflict’ to derail a concerted attempt to engineer new models of sales and service which are enabled through IoT.

    2.  Not all organizations are ready for the level of internal (to their employ­ees) and external transparency (to their customers) that the newly ac­quired data provides. It is ironically much easier for a new company or organization to adopt and implement the technology than existing industry leaders with vast installed base of equipment and superior knowledge of the environment and customer.

    As several leading organizations start to move along the curve and success stories emerge which can be validated by market share and rev­enue, expect a huge spurt in invest­ment in and consumption of this technology. Clearly, the best days of IoT adoption are ahead of us!