SMEICC 2022 Extended Content

Creating measurable business outcomes with IoT: Process Automation

This exclusive extended content has been made available to further facilitate the discussion around technology that can aid in business digital transformation. This is an in-depth dive into the topic on IoT and process automation that was curated as part of the SME ICC 2022 technology track session.

Moderator:

Mr Daniel Ng

Mr Daniel Ng

Vice President of Marketing, Asia Pacific
Neo4j

Panellists:

Ms Susan Loh

Ms Susan Loh

VP, Marketing, Strategic Business Development and Customer Experience
SPTel

Mr Derek Tong

Mr Derek Tong

General Manager

Ratsense®

Mr Shawn Koh

Mr Shawn Koh

Founder

IoT Workz

Daniel:

Daniel:

Welcome back to the extended cut of our discussion with SPTel and partners Ratsense® and IoT Workz on the topic “Creating measurable business outcomes with IoT: Process Automation”. I am pleased to have this extra time to speak with the esteemed panellists and gain further insights on this important topic. I’d like to direct my first question to Derek and Shawn. How has the pandemic forced businesses to relook their processes and what is the play for IoT in the new normal?

Derek:

Derek:

I think during COVID 19 and our response to COVID 19, we saw the importance of having the right data at the right time to manage whether is it people traffic or cases of close contact. Coupled with the fact that there is a rising manpower crunch and businesses now need to be more productive with a smaller work force, you’ll need data to help you make better decisions. This will minimise your margin for error because you have a small team, getting it right the first time can mean a lot of time and cost savings down the road. If response times can be improved with automation or even predictive actions, that would be even better.

Shawn:

Shawn:

For me I see an increased emphasis on safety and hygiene as well as accountability. You want to ensure that your premises are comfortable for your customers and staff so that they are assured you are running a safe operation. This will help to build up that trust in coming back to work and to patronize your business. The next area is in accountability, as mentioned by Derek, manpower is going to be an ongoing issue, so how can we track and monitor more closely to make sure we can attribute accountability more accurately with the limited resources we have? This is where IoT can come in to provide you with better tracking and monitoring without leveraging too heavily on manpower or manual processes.

Daniel:

Daniel:

Both of you touched on some interesting areas, in your experience, could you share with us some examples where IoT has been deployed to address these issues and what are the outcomes/benefits that the end user saw?

Derek:

Derek:

Clients today are looking to lower reliance on manpower and to achieve certain productivity outcomes. Less is more. We need to achieve productivity with a focused treatment approach. That is why at RATSENSE®, we aim to provide data driven insights for sustainable and effective rodent management for any site, big or small. Our recent project with a Government body is one such example where we are helping them with smart rodent monitoring in hawker centers and malls to reduce the incidences of rat infestations. Instead of a fixed schedule, they can now send in exterminators when and where they are needed. With additional data points we can even draw correlations for example a dip in hygiene standards that may lead to increased rodent activity. With multiple sensor readings and data points we can draw better inferences to predict and pre-empt issues. This is where we see technology integration and convergence becoming more important.

Shawn:

Shawn:

I have a use case to share and that relates to asset tracking. In this instance it’s related to healthcare, but it can be similarly deployed in other situations as well where such monitoring is required. This was for KTPH, where they had needed a solution for their wheelchair situation. As you know, the healthcare industry has been under severe stress and manpower shortage these past two years. Given that their focus is on providing optimum patient care, something as simple as ensuring there are enough wheelchairs at areas such as the arrival bay for example are critical aspects of care that are manpower heavy. With our asset tracking solution, they can now monitor where their wheelchairs are at and even identify which areas are low on wheelchairs. They can then send staff to the right locations to move the wheelchairs without needing to hunt the whole hospital for them.

 

But this can go beyond just a hospital use case. In a retail environment for example, it can extend to other areas like shopping cart tracking. For logistics it can apply to a warehouse situation where you need to monitor your assets within a fixed location. In manufacturing we can look explore tracking equipment or even employees to make sure they are not entering dangerous zones. We have another case where we supported the IoT needs of an aquaculture ecosystem farm. Our system monitors for them electrical power, water levels, air pumps etc. for their produce and facilities. The owner benefits from early alerts on abnormal readings and minimizes his need to have manpower to run on the farm 24 x 7. We also make it a point to meet budget requirements. Therefore, instead of using high precision laboratory sensors and equipment, we built sensors that could link wirelessly over long distances and leveraged SPTel’s IoT-a-a-S model to reduce high upfront set -up costs for the customers. With the available solutions, the possibilities are endless.

Daniel:

Daniel:

These are indeed interesting uses for IoT in the business context. However, while it all sounds well and good, I am inclined to ask, are there any challenges when it comes to deploying IoT? Maybe I’ll let Susan kick this off first?

Susan:

Susan:

In a “typical” deployment journey for IoT there are quite a few challenges to overcome.


Firstly, there is the need to manage multiple vendors for sensors, the IoT gateway, device management platform, compute resource and connectivity. Sometimes, multiple sensors may be needed to achieve an outcome that you desire, and this may not all work on the same device management platform. We see many cases whereby end users need to do some Research and Development (R&D) of their own for integration. This lack of a one-stop shop for IoT deployment acts as a deterrent not just for deployment but in scalability as well.


That is why we believe a common platform, such as SPTel’s IoT-a-a-S, to enable end-to-end IoT deployment is crucial. It needs to be multi-protocol so different types of sensors can work with the platform and the device manager can then collate data from all sensors instead of having multiple systems working in silo. This will enable a more holistic view of data for better insights. If more sensors are needed in future, simply connect them up and start collecting new data sets.


The next consideration would be compute resources. Mission critical applications may require heightened responsiveness and end users will need to either sacrifice some performance by hosting in the cloud or incur additional resources to plan for on-premise servers for example.

With solutions like edge cloud, it can support responsive computing without the need to invest in owned resources. Best of all it can scale as your needs increase more flexibly than on-premise solutions.

With these in place, the end user only needs to focus on getting their sensors, connect it up to the platform and then they can start their deployment without having to spend time and money to invest in building their own or starting from scratch.

Derek:

Derek:

Fully agree that there are many considerations when it comes to IoT deployment. As an IoT solution provider we are always looking at how we can enhance the performance of our sensors and devices for the end user. We need to explore ways to lower the cost barrier and make such technology more accessible. That is where solutions such as SPTel’s LoRaWAN and IoT-a-a-S platform come in. LoRaWAN being a type of Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN).

 

Instead of having to find power points to power connectivity for our sensors, we can leverage on LoRaWAN, reducing our hardware and cabling requirements by 50 – 70% and translating that into cost savings for the end user requesting the deployment. Scaling up the solution is easier as well because we just need to connect any additional devices as needed to the IoT-a-a-S platform. This is especially useful for mass outdoor deployment or large built-up premises. Overall, we see that working with a partner like SPTel helps us reduce the hardware investment needed and the time spent on maintaining and managing the connectivity. We just focus on helping the customer work out how to utilise the sensors to get the best results.

Shawn:

Shawn:

Adding on to what Derek said, I would say that my focus is the same as his. I want to make sure that I can get reliable connectivity for my sensors to provide the best results for my customers. This means ensuring minimal disruption and reducing back-end integration that needs to be done later. This will lower the time needed for us to get the solution ready for our customers. In the KTPH case that I mentioned, we used SPTel’s LoRaWAN and IoT-a-a-S platform to connect the solution quickly because we could create mesh networks in certain areas of the hospital and then connect these up with the LoRaWAN solution, to effectively deploy across the entire hospital. This greatly sped up the lead time for our end user. Going with this solution helped us to save cost as well as we did not need to source for many power points, put in additional cabling etc. and could use just a few gateways to complete the solutioning. With a common IoT platform such as IoT-a-a-S, I can also onboard more sensors in future, even for different applications for the hospital without worrying about either myself of the customer having to maintain and manage the device management platform.

Susan:

Susan:

I think what Shawn and Derek mentioned are exactly the key things we wanted our platform to support in terms of IoT deployment. By making it easier for IoT service providers like themselves to deploy their solutions for end users, the end customer benefits from time and cost savings without the hassle of managing a lot of additional technology that comes with deployment. Ultimately, we are not the sensor experts, we leave that up to them. We are just the platform provider to enable them. In a way, we each take care of what we are good at to develop a holistic solution for the customer. With more IoT partners like IoT Workz and Ratsense® coming onboard, we are also able to offer a marketplace or ecosystem for IoT solutioning. This way, if end users do not know where to start, they can speak with us, and we can connect them to a host of ready solutions for their consideration.

Daniel:

Daniel:

Thanks for sharing that, everyone. I would now like to speak a little more with Susan, as a connectivity provider, I’m sure you’ll also be able to shed some light on the connectivity requirements for IoT deployment. We have talked about LoRaWAN, but what about other connectivity options? Would you say that WiFi and 4G or in future 5G would be the way to go for IoT?

Susan:

Susan:

That’s a very interesting question. While we may think of WiFi and mobile networks when it comes to IoT deployment it may not always be the most feasible connectivity option.


Using 4G/5G would be good for mobile use cases for IoT however it is overkill for a lot of the sensors that are monitoring environmental changes such as Utilities, Rodent sensing etc. This is because it is relatively more expensive to deploy and saps battery life faster which means you need to keep going back to replace the batteries of your sensors


For mass use cases of IoT you typically want to leave the sensor there to collect data instead of constantly having to keep checking on it.


Let’s now look at connecting using WiFi. If you connect everything with WiFi you’ll face another problem which is you run out of power points for your gateways. This means your deployment becomes difficult and more costly to execute.


That is why we see a surge of interest in LoRaWAN technology which is great for mass IoT deployment use cases that are transmitting small data packets. At SPTel we believe LoRaWAN will be an important part of the IOT landscape in future because transmitted data can be encrypted and it has a long range, being able to connect sensors up to 2KM away with just 1 gateway, making it very efficient for deployment. As a low power solution, batteries can last up to 10 years before needing to be changed which makes sensor management easier.

Daniel:

Daniel:

Thanks for that sharing. I would like to end of with a final question and this would be for all our panelists. What would you say would be key for a successful IoT deployment strategy?

Susan:

Susan:

We do see technology convergence being key in today’s world. Whereby one solution needs to support multiple functions or one platform being able to consolidate all kinds of data points. Therefore, I believe the keys to a successful IoT deployment strategy would be Integration, a protocol agnostic platform and a managed “as-a-Service” model which can help in terms of cost savings.


This will ensure scalability for your IoT deployment to allow you to start small and then add on more sensors or functionalities as your appetite or business needs grow. The major issue with solutions that are deployed as a standalone or bought from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) right now is that they all come with their own individual platforms. This means as you add on mores services your data becomes fragmented and you can’t have consolidated insights unless you engage someone to do integration for you. To make these data points more accessible and easier for your team to manage and make insightful decisions or even trigger automated workflows, a common IoT platform that is protocol agnostic should be implemented. So, it doesn’t matter what gateway is needed or who provides the sensor, all data is collected at a common dashboard. This allows for more flexibility as you scale and allows you to add on more IoT solutions along the way.


Finally, we are also looking at a fundamental business model change. Instead of owning and maintaining the necessary technology on your own, you can go on an “as-a-Service” model. This will reduce the barriers to entry in terms of upfront investment required. This helps you by outsourcing the management of the technology to the tech provider so you can focus on your core business objectives.

Shawn:

Shawn:

You need to find the right partners so you can focus on what you are strong at instead of trying to do everything yourself. You’ll find that there are solutions out there that can help give you a boost without you having to do everything from scratch. This can lower your upfront investment and lead time so you can quickly try and decide if you want to pursue or move on to something else.

Derek:

Derek:

“Without data, it is just an opinion.” Whether is it utilities, rodents, temperature etc., to decide you need data. Ensuring you have the right IoT sensor and accurate data will be key. Therefore, you’ll need to think of the power consumption of these devices and whether the network can support your requirements reliably. It’s about ensuring monitoring of data can be sustainable.

 

Besides this, you’ll need to look at how you plan for IoT to help your business. Start by thinking about the problem statements you need to solve then work with the right partners to figure out how IoT or technology can help. Instead of reinventing the wheel, look into what is available right now.

Daniel:

Daniel:

Thank you everyone for the insights and really appreciate your time to speak with me in this extended cut of the discussion.

Panelists: Thank you. It was our pleasure being here.