Rise Of The Connected Ecosystem

"Interdevice connectivity and seamless data flow are ushering in an era of infonomics with focus on cost, efficiency and user experience," says Balesh Sharma, CEO of Vodafone Idea.

Illustration by Ajay Thakuri Illustration by Ajay Thakuri

The unmatched footprint of cellular technology is getting better with every iteration. Dizzying speed and low latency now permit the grid to connect 'things' with other 'things'. We inhabit a world that is increasingly moving towards a connected ecosystem, a new age where machines intelligently 'sense', 'transceive' (transmit and receive) and 'function' independently.

Interestingly, for a machine to function independently, it needs to be 'connected' to other systems. That mandates the need for sensors to 'sense', edge computing to provide intelligence at the device level, a secure and reliable communication backbone to transmit the data and an application to decode that data.

From governments to various pure-play service providers, the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a subject of great attention. But its success hinges on various components of the ecosystem, where every component needs to work seamlessly and in tandem, failing which the system will run aground. The use case of IoT differs from domain to domain, and this effectively brings in nuances in implementation for different solutions. In other words, implementation demands expertise of other services for the system to work, and the manner in which the system comes together to deliver a service/application differs across industries.

IoT is the X factor, the modern-day Midas touch, transforming every industry with the touch of connectivity. You have IoT everywhere, from connected cars, machinery, optimised power grid, farm equipment, pest control - well, almost every facet of life.

Innovative use cases are causing a flutter in traditional businesses, with new use cases regularly surfacing across the globe. IoT solutions can help unlock new revenue streams, improve efficiency, and increase customer engagement and loyalty. So, it is not surprising that 85 per cent of the companies participating in the annual Vodafone IoT Barometer Survey agree that IoT will be critical for the future success of any organisation in their sector, with 82 per cent of the adopters saying their IoT projects are no longer standalone and integrated with each other and into their businesses.

Businesses are changing

As an IoT pioneer, our organisation has seen its evolution from state-of-the-art technology to an impactful force multiplier, helping businesses slash operating costs and improve efficiency, matching and surpassing their competitors. It would have been hard to imagine 'tyres as a service', but IoT is making that possible as tyre manufacturers are finding greater traction in offering smart tyres for greater safety, improved fuel efficiency and durability.

Water is now a commodity and its global market is expected to touch $914 billion by 2023. The World Economic Forum estimates two-thirds of the world's population to be facing water scarcity. This has prompted the need to address the demand-supply imbalance through low-cost solutions without upfront investments. It means we require water systems, which yield the desired quantity as per specifications at contracted costs. Remote water treatment management options are now IoT-enabled, offering a secure system that digitally checks water treatment conditions in real time, at any place, thus slashing operating costs with automatic analysis and linking of data.

The explosive sharing economy, best exemplified by Uber, owes its spectacular success to IoT. Without telematics, it is hard to imagine ride-hailing services or usage-based lease of automobiles to succeed as a concept. In fact, 50 per cent of the businesses with whom we have engaged are using IoT to increase revenue through new business models.

User experience, efficiency in focus

Pure-play services are increasingly embracing IoT and innovative concepts are coming to life. We now have Google Car, conducting public trials of self-driving cars, while elsewhere we have Amazon, Google, Apple and Tesla all working in tandem in the new age of delivery. A video of a real-life delivery in suburban London on September 7, 2018, shows an Amazon delivery at a home in the absence of the occupant, coordinated through an exciting interplay between Amazon, Google, iPhone and a Tesla Model X. This is a shining example of how first-world problems can be solved through technology that is overarching and connected.

The known and most touted benefits of IoT are reductions in cost and time, apart from value addition. But it is the underlying operational efficiency that drives them. The supply chain gets optimised, speed and safety improve, and productivity increases to elevated levels. From Domino's pizza delivery to mobile asset tracking, ready-to-go services automate visibility of assets, permitting multiple geofencing to trigger alerts and display/monitor asset movements.

According to a recent UN report, 68 per cent of the world's population will reside in cities with India, China and Nigeria accounting for 35 per cent of the explosive urban population growth. This makes smart cities more of an imperative and less of choice. Managing these agglomerations will turn chaotic if infrastructure expansion is not dovetailed with a connected ecosystem. Citizen governance, traffic decongestion, waste management, e-challans, utilities, public transport, energy-efficient buildings and sensor-driven public security systems are just some of the needs of smart cities. To put it quite simply, IoT is the heart of a smart city.

My favourite example is the McLaren Line in toothpaste manufacturing. GlaxoSmithKline took a leaf out of the Formula One racing team McLaren to slash the changeover time and reset production lines to meet the evolving and dynamic expectations of buyers. Clearly, innovation and adoption are the game changers, and the ability to improve operational efficiency is without boundaries.

Emergence of a new economy

The last decade has signalled the importance of a relationship-based economy. Rather than selling a product, businesses are veering towards selling a service. And this has brought in the numbers - Uber, Ola, Airbnb are some of the more common and popular examples. For a relationship-based economy to work, it is absolutely necessary for customer service to go beyond commonly accepted benchmarks. Now customer service is all about servicing customers' needs behind the scenes, by understanding preferences, combining data from browsing/purchase history and transmitting the same to a retail outlet the moment he/she enters the store, thereby offering retailers a better chance of closing sales by targeting the recognised needs of the prospect.

Or take, for instance, the over-the-air fix of Tesla, where car owners received a software update over the air to fix an identified problem. Car owners were not required to drive their vehicles to service centres. This is the new age of service and predictive maintenance where event-based triggers send information about components, enabling manufacturers and service providers to respond quickly. And it has been made possible by the IoT that bridges 'everything' in an overarching manner for seamlessly connected devices which lie at the heart of a digitally transformed future.

The use cases outlined above have all sprung from the same ecosystem play - any IoT application that is deployed comprises multiple entities working in tandem, leveraging individual competencies to deliver powerful solutions. All components are vital cogs in the IoT wheel, working in unison to meet technical and business goals of the application.

The writer is the CEO of Vodafone Idea