Unlimit is an independent unit of Reliance Group, providing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for the Indian market. Launched in 2016, it is grown from a single employee to an organisation that promises complete stack of IoT solutions thanks to a 400-plus partner network. Their CEO, Juergen Hase, who was the first employee of Unlimit and coined the name of the firm, shared his thoughts on India’s IoT industry and its prospects, in a conversation with Rahul Chopra.
Q. How do you see the Indian IoT ecosystem evolving?
It is growing fast – very, very fast. There’s a lot of work happening around the digital world – at universities, start-ups, and the government sector. Most of the solutions that start-ups are coming up now-a-days are connecting to IoT in one way or the other.
Q. In terms of business, are you seeing the growth?
For IoT-related business to achieve its full potential, it will take time. Many believe that IoT is a low-hanging fruit which is not the reality. You have to work hard and go step-by-step to make it happen. There’s a lot of innovation coming in from young organisations, but their challenge is how to go-to-market with these solutions. How to make their products suitable for their customers, which can include prototypes or field tests. And, this is where you need the combination of these young organisations and deep-pocket experienced players like Unlimit, Tatas etc. Only then there will be an opportunity for them to ramp up and survive.
Q. We often get the feedback that the frequency of proof of concepts (PoCs) are much higher in India as compared to the final orders?
People want to have a touch and feel experience for implementation of IoT. This is why, we are doing PoCs. PoCs typically help customers to realise the different stages of digitisation, the investments involved, and the benefits expected on the bottom-line. And, the good thing is, these are not prototypes – they are PoCs. My impression is 95 per cent of our PoCs will be going ahead to the next stage.
Q. How would you define Unlimit, is it a system integrator solution provider?
We are the only dedicated IoT unit that’s serving IoT needs, end-to-end. Whatever you need in the industrial verticals, we have it. We can offer you from the onboard unit upto Wi-Fi in a car, insurance services, analytics – whatever you need. And, we can deploy solutions for automotive, connected vehicles, transport and logistics, and industry 4.0.
In short, we simplify things for the customers – and make it simple for them to deploy IoT. For example, if you’re are a manufacturer and want to deploy IIoT, which door will you knock? Unlimit can satisfy all your needs and provide a complete solution in terms of adopting industrial 4.0 – be it a device, connectivity or analytical platform. We do not just provide system integration, we have off-the-shelf services and projects as well. We have 400-plus certified partners, and the best network of specialised partners in India.
Q. Earlier you mentioned that partners can also mean revenues – can you explain how?
Sure, let me explain with examples. Most of our partners are part of the value chain of IoT. Let’s take an example of a firm that provides vending machines. But they may not have the scale to do a big project—they will need end-to-end support in terms of deploying the full stack for a large customer. In such a case, they bring in Unlimit. We work with them to fill in the gaps to deploy a complete solution. They know the customer, they know the customers’ pain points, and we become their partner in enabling them to solve the complete problem, rather than just the one they have expertise in. It’s win-win for all. The customer does not need to knock on multiple doors, the partner gets to expand the scope of his project, and Unlimit gets one more project.
Q. Are you also looking at offering the whole thing as service rather than investing in the capital?
We are looking at Opex-model. We can deploy the solution as a service too.
Q. Out of the various verticals where IoT is being deployed, which one are you seeing the highest?
High volume is coming from the automotive, specially the connected cars. Second area is industry 4.0 and many smaller projects are coming from transport and logistics as well, such as fleet management or asset management.
In the automotive, we are serving different needs. Primary is where the Indian customer wants our solutions for the Indian market. Second, we are offering service to Indian customers who have foot-print outside the country like the Middle East, Indonesia, South Africa – so we are following Indian customers to outside markets too.
We are also playing as a gateway to India for big OEMs of cars, coming to India. OEMs are targeting China and India, where automotive industry is growing. But they find difficulty in figuring out the regulations in India. Here, we play as a one-stop partner to them, for the Indian market.
Q. Within the Reliance empire, are there any case studies happening from Unlimit?
Yes, for sure. We are implementing enterprise solutions. Reliance is a huge organisation. We are doing UBI services, fresh form of monitoring, more PoCs. There are UNLIMITED opportunities.
Q. You seemed to have missed out one important vertical, the smart city. Any particular reason?
We are doing vertical by vertical. For example, street lighting, waste management, traffic management, etc. – individually. But unlike other players in the market, we are not pitching them as an umbrella solution of ‘smart city’.
Another problem with smart city is many of the projects are initiated by the government – but at a later stage, it is not clear who is going to pay for these services? Will the citizens pay? Will the government continue to pay? For example, smart parking – who’ll pay? And this is an issue faced across all nations, just not India. There are many wonderful use cases of smart city, but the problem is nobody is willing to pay for it, especially in India.
Q. One interesting phenomenon we are seeing is that business consulting organisations (like McKinsey or Hitachi) have also jumped into the ‘digital transformation’ space. How do you see the competition scenario?
First of all, we don’t see them as competitors. We are much faster. What we have achieved in the last two years, nobody has achieved around the world. We are not worried about competition as the market is too big. Competition may come after 10 years, not now.
Q. What about the competition at the partners end? Is there a non-compete if they signed up with you?
There is no exclusivity contract in IoT space. I have not come across any such case. It is a new business arena, if you want to use multiple channels you are allowed.
Q. For those partners who have not yet tied up with Unlimit, what would be your message and what is the route to explore partnership?
Everyone is welcome, contact us or contact me via LinkedIn or Unlimit. We will talk about what are your offerings and what is our expectations, and the role we can play. I would be more than happy to have much deeper discussion on it.
Q. In the manufacturing sector, who is the main person to talk to? And, how does the discussion go?
That’s the reason why we start with consulting – to present the business model. You can simplify IoT for industry into two main streams: first is SAVE MONEY and then MAKE MONEY. Save money is efficiency and workflow. But if you want to implement IoT as a full stack into a factory, then you have to do it in the form of PPT (people, process, technology). Technology comes last.
To begin the IoT journey with the customers, we have to listen to what they are really doing, what are their pain points, and then make suggestions like from where they can start, and where they can go in the future. The trigger happens from both sides, it’s a pull and push. We are explaining to many people – what is possible and what are the opportunities in the market. At the same time, a lot of customers reach out to us – how can you help?
Q. The name ‘Unlimit’ came first or you?
I came first. I started in July and the announcement of the name came in November. We don’t want to call it IoT reliance unit, so came up with the name Unlimit, after a brief internal brainstorming.
Q. Any story behind the name? How did it come up?
It came up on the basis of IoT technology, which has unlimited applications. But you cannot trademark unlimited as it’s a generic word, and so the name ‘Unlimit’.
Q. Is talent a challenge in this segment?
Yes, all the time. It (IoT) sound easy but it’s complex to implement it. You have to simplify it in front of the customers. You should know what you are doing. For this you need experts in connectivity, analytics, data scientists and so on.
Plus, we need both segment experts and technology expert. You need a combination of both young hungry people and old-fashioned people and strike a balance.
Q. What’s the team size at Unlimit?
We have about 70-75 people right now. We will grow up to 150-200 people by the end of next year. Two years ago, we had one employee – only me.
Q. The hiring that you do, is it based on top colleges or a hackathon kind of environment?
It is a mixture. We are hiring both junior and senior people. We have a good number of women too – it’s almost 50:50. In the beginning, we had more international personnel, but now there are 95 per cent national people. This is because, specially at the sales side, you need people with national experience who can speak the same language.
Q. Is there an international ambition – is it something like be the biggest in India first and then go global?
It’s a mix again. India is our priority, but we are gradually trying to reach the global market, making both go in parallel. We are now developing some edge products through investments in R&D.
Q. Can you shed some light on the future roadmap for Unlimit?
Yes, we have four strategic initiatives. The first is the launch of the ‘Made in India’ product – an edge device. The second solution is linked to data strategy, the third is linked to data analytics; and the last is growing global.