A Lot of Innovations will Evolve in Vertical IoT Solutions

“If the government can help in innovatively financing initial large-scale deployments, this can go a long way in IoT adoption,” says Amarjeet Singh, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Zenatix Pvt Ltd – a leading provider of IoT-based energy monitoring and control products.

In an interaction with EFY bureau, he also talks about the IoT deployment in India, role of the government in IoT deployment, evolution of IoT in coming times, Zenatix IoT business & solutions and much more.

Excerpts:

Q. Many opine that IoT is just a buzzword that industry Gurus have coined to create hype? Do you agree with that line of thought? Or do you feel that IoT is opening an entirely new market?

Amarjeet Singh, CTO, Zenatix Pvt Ltd

In my opinion, IoT is an enabler, a technology means and not an end technology by itself. By connecting devices which were previously offline, IoT enables large scale collection of previously unseen ‘dark data’. Overall, utility of such connectivity depends on how the collected data is exploited to derive meaningful outcomes that can have significant business impact. So, it is important to close the sense-analyse-act loop, i.e, use IoT to collect data, analyse data to derive meaningful outcomes and provide technology for easily (and if possible, automatically) translating these analytical outcomes into actions that deliver business value.

With the advent of low-cost Wi-Fi modules and a plethora of IoT platforms, sensing is largely becoming a commodity (and very easy). However, it is non-trivial to derive meaningful business outcomes and it is even more difficult to ensure that those outcomes are being easily (or automatically) acted upon. This is where the innovation lies. I believe it is a matter of time – the way sensing has become a commodity. More data will push people to derive meaningful insights and the overall competitive landscape will push such insights into actions.

Q. In your opinion, is the Government of India (GoI) playing any significant role in expanding the IoT market right now? If yes – how?

I don’t think any new technology should rely on support from the government. By definition, a democratic government will move slow while a cutting-edge technology must move very fast for wide-scale adoption and hence impact. The government is doing its part by bringing in some regulations, pushing ‘Make in India’ and incentivising efficiencies but none of these are at a scale that they play a significant role. I believe that it will be private adoption that will bring forth the success stories and the government as usual will be a late adopter.

Q. What are your expectations from the GoI in terms of the initiatives they should take to make India an IoT-super power?

If I must choose one thing that can possibly lead to large scale impact on IoT, it will be innovative financing strategies. Since much of the existing devices are disconnected, it will be very expensive to replace them with new connected devices. There are a lot of innovations happening around retrofitting existing devices/infrastructure with connectivity. However, it still involves some upfront capital expenditure.

Currently, since we are in the early stages of adoption, it is not clear on many fronts, how this data will translate into business decisions and hence, the real return on investment (RoI) calculations are difficult to do. If the government can help in innovatively financing such initial large-scale deployments, this can go a long way in IoT adoption.

Some concrete thoughts to this effect, without impacting any cash flow from the government (or expecting any subsidies) are:

  • Allow companies to spend part of their CSR funds on IoT adoption.
  • Different MSME financing schemes can reserve a portion for funding IoT adoption projects.
  • Apportion a budget towards IoT-enabled strategies in different projects being adopted around Digital India.

Q. Are you satisfied at the rate of deployment of IoT solutions in India?

I think it’s not just in India but globally that the rate of deployment of IoT solutions is slow because of unclear value propositions. It gets particularly slow in India because this is a very price sensitive market, obsessed with clear value proposition. While the developed economies may adopt many of these technologies for incentives such as sustainability or being green, in India one has to have a clear impact on top line or the bottom line for any adoption to happen.

Q. How do you see the IoT market evolving in the next 2-3 years?

Connectivity is becoming a commodity now. Chinese players will dominate the hardware module connectivity side. Large players like Amazon and Microsoft will dominate the IoT platform story. However, both these aspects have a horizontal play. I believe a lot of innovations will evolve in vertical IoT solutions around smart mobility, smart buildings, smart cities, etc. Real value propositions will emerge in several spaces leading to wider adoption of IoT in the enterprise space. Voice interfaces like Alexa will lead to greater adoption of smart devices in the consumer space. The market, especially in India, will continue to remain price sensitive.

Q. Which industry segments do you believe will be driving a larger chunk of demand? Why?

With my limited domain understanding across wide range of industries, this is a difficult question to answer. Broadly, I would say the industries that can derive real value from the data collected from the connected devices will be the ones driving the larger chunk of the demand.

Q. What’s your bigger challenge – acquiring customers or acquiring talent? What’s your strategy in resolving the same?

I think both are challenging and need innovative ways in addressing the challenges. For customers, we innovated with a mix of OpEx and CapEx driven models whereby those who are resistant to investing upfront can now still be the early adopters with the OpeX-driven pricing (where we absorb the cost of hardware and they pay over time by becoming net positive, due to the savings they achieve, from the very first day). We also continue to innovate and add new use cases in our solution, thus driving greater value over time.

For talent acquisition, we use new age platforms like Hirist. We also do blog posts, talks at events, etc., which demonstrate our cutting-edge work. For those who are in the team, we continue to explore new tools and platforms that others are building – this gives us both ideas on what and how to build our stack and keep everyone engaged in new tools and technologies. Such cutting-edge work helps in retaining the talent as well.

Q. What fraction of your overall business is the IoT-related business?

We are an IoT solution provider and 100 per cent of our revenue comes from IoT-related business.

Q. What’s your strategy to create a differentiation for your solutions vis-a-vis your competitors?

India offers very harsh environment for IoT deployments – poor power infrastructure (power failures, voltage fluctuations, etc.), intermittent network connectivity, dusty environment, people mishandling and trying to work around the solutions, etc. For anyone to scale, they must understand these problems in detail and ruggedize the system accordingly. With more than 2000 deployments across more than 200 cities and managing more than 25000 assets, we have seen all such variabilities and have continuously innovated on the hardware side to be well prepared for large-scale deployments that work despite such harsh environment. This is our first major differentiation.

We have a continuous focus on giving real value to the customers. This obsession leads us to continuously question what are the low hanging fruits that can really be productised and deployed at scale across large number of customers. Our innovations around modular and extensible edge, scalable cloud IoT platform, customisable dashboards and business analytics are all providing us with differentiation that allows us to deliver increasingly greater value every day. This is our second major differentiation.

Q. Any innovative strategy being planned or implemented by your team to create demand for your solutions amongst customers or channel partners?

We introduce an Opex pricing model, whereby the cost of hardware is absorbed and amortised over a period. This allows our customers to easily scale up without allocating specific budgets towards these new activities and pay for the solution from the savings that it delivers.

Q. Who is the key decision maker for you – the technology decision maker or the business decision maker? With whom do you start the conversation – and how do you balance the interests of both types of decision makers?

As a technology guy myself, one thing I have learned (and probably learned the hard way) is that technology is the easy part. The more difficult part is the business side – real value must be delivered. For us, the discussion always starts with demonstrating clear value proposition to the business side. We have strong belief in our technical expertise and have been able to always deliver on our promises with our technology innovation. Balancing the technology decision maker has been an easy task for us.

Q. Have you come across any successful deployment of IoT in India that’s worthy of being noticed by other decision makers? If yes, can you share details of the same?

We will call all our deployments as successful case studies of IoT. All our customers and different case studies are available on our website – www.zenatix.com. Beyond this, I believe there are a lot of successful innovations that have happened around mobility – Ola/Uber and other delivery companies are case studies for the same. Smart street lighting is an evolving area which shows a lot of promise. We already see many new tenders for street lighting coming up with connectivity as a core requirement.

Q. How would you describe your solutions to a non-technical decision maker at the clients’ end?

Our solution is primarily targeted towards retail chains and banks who have distributed infrastructure – 100s/1000s of stores spread across a large geography. Across such distributed infrastructure, manual operations (e.g. switching on/off air conditioner) leads to energy wastage. Since output from different assets like cold rooms and deep freezers are not being monitored, it leads to compliance issues and higher spoilage of material. Health of the assets is not being monitored leading to frequent breakdowns and reactive maintenance, which also at time leads to business loss. Our solution can connect all offline assets and help our customers manage them across their 100s/1000s of stores providing them with energy savings, better compliance, reduced spoilage, predictive/preventive maintenance and revenue/cost optimisations.

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