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Internet of Things: Here Is what non-Tech Businesses Should Know

A chat with Creative Software's IoT experts Chathuranga Chandraseka (CC) and Tharindu Thundeniya (TT)

According to the latest reports from the likes of Business Insider, Internet of Things (IoT) is yet to boom and transform businesses as well as households. Experts predict a surge in IoT devices from 9 billion in 2017 to >55 billion in 2025 with IoT investment totalling USD 15 trillion over these eight years.

In Sri Lanka, the trend is picking up the pace as well. Leading software companies like Creative Software are developing innovative IoT systems to streamline processes for companies in various sectors: Telecommunications, Healthcare, Hospitality – to name a few.

In this interview, Creative Software’s IoT experts Chaturanga Chandrasekara (CC) and Tharindu Thudeniya (TT) discuss IoT, its applications and potential in the local market.

Can you define IoT for the less tech savvy readers and explain why it has become so popular?

CC: IoT is a multitude of devices connected via the Internet and interacting without direct human interference. They can collect data and send commands to one another.

A good IoT example are the FitBit bracelets. This device tracks your daily physical activity, temperature, pulse and even sleeping patterns, and it automatically feeds this information to a web service. The service then analyses the trends and provides advice on your mobile app on how to attain your pre-set goals.

So here, the FitBit device interacts directly with your mobile or desktop device to collect, interpret and store data about your physical activity and wellbeing.

TT: FitBit is a relatively small-scale application of IoT. This technology is also largely used in heavy industries and huge projects conducted by power plants, oil refineries, factories and weather stations – to name a few.

The reason why IoT has become such a buzzword is because it can streamline a vast variety of processes. IoT can yield huge cost and time savings in terms of energy consumption, equipment maintenance and productivity.

How well has this trend caught on in Sri Lanka? Which industries has it impacted the most?

CC: In Sri Lanka, we are mostly seeing Smart Home IoT devices which branch into two categories: security and safety. Security devices are used for protection from intruders, while the safety ones are used for protection from fire, indoor flood and similar. Our leading telco companies are already investing heavily in developing Smart Home devices.

Some of our more modern factories also use IoT to monitor the state of their machines, which is another category of IoT devices.

TT: There are also some very interesting projects coming up in the fields of transportation, healthcare and energy. We [Creative Software] are working on some of these at the moment and we look forward to our clients presenting them to the public soon.

Which companies should invest in developing an IoT system?

CC: I believe almost any organisation could benefit from IoT.

TT: Exactly. This technology is broadly applicable and the benefits it can provide are varied.

Hotels and large companies can reduce their energy consumption significantly; Restaurant chains and supermarkets can effectively monitor the state of their perishable goods and improve overall supply logistics; Heavy industries can optimise the performance and longevity of their machines; Agriculture businesses can track the quality of the soil in real-time, etc.

In a nutshell: almost any company looking to streamline their processes can benefit from IoT.

What are some specific benefits IoT systems can provide?

CC: Firstly, IoT can reduce HR costs as it can automate numerous and various tasks traditionally performed by multiple staff members.

Secondly, IoT can provide some incredible and invaluable data. Going back to the FitBit example, that seemingly simple bracelet records your activity, blood pressure, temperature, etc. every second of the day for as long as you wear it. Can you imagine the amount of data that simple device can gather?

IoT devices can also interpret this data to provide insights into trends and help users make smarter decisions.

These are just a few of the benefits that come to mind. The benefits IoT systems provide are as varied as the companies using them.

Is developing IoT systems expensive? What factors into the cost?

CC: It depends entirely on the scope of your project, but I would say that it is way less expensive than most people think. Sure, big scale projects will command a big price tag, but even that is not expensive considering the benefits.

If you want a simple temperature sensor, it [the sensor] will cost you half a dollar; if you need a highly sophisticated sensor, it can cost you several thousands of dollars.

To determine the cost of an IoT project, you must look at the cost of each sensor device multiplied by the amount of devices you need, the cost of the connectivity medium (method of connecting devices, the number of the media and geographical spread) and the cost of development including IoT hardware and software developer fees.

What are some other misconceptions about IoT?

CC: Cost is definitely one of the biggest misconceptions. Another misconception is that IoT is difficult to implement which – for experienced IoT developers - it isn’t.

Some tend to think that IoT is field or sector-exclusive, that only specific organisations can benefit from it which is not true. IoT is very broadly applicable.

And I also get the impression that many Sri Lankans are averse to electronic systems. We seem to refuse to delegate tasks to technology because we believe it is unreliable. However, through careful design and implementation, IoT can be incredibly reliable.

What is the advice you’d give any company looking for a development partner for an IoT project?

CC: Every company has its unique requirements and every company has its budget - these will play a role in their selection of a partner.

But if there is one piece of advice I’d give any company looking to invest in IoT it is to look for experienced development partners. Experience in this field is invaluable, and can be diffciult to come by as the fileld is relatively new.

IoT hardware components you will use are very specific and often require modifications. If your development partner has no or little experience, they might not be able to best advise you on the device and modifications necessary for your requirement.

Find a partner you can trust and do not be afraid to experiment with this technology. Good luck!

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