Alok Bardiya, head, Internet of Things (Business Unit), Tata Communications, in an exclusive conversation with ProfitFromIoT.com (PiT) shed light on how Tata Communications functions in the IoT domain. Apart from sharing what IoT entrepreneurs should focus on, he also pointed towards the need of having a standard model that can be integrated with different IoT solutions, to guarantee interoperability, connectivity, and security.
“When we speak of IoT, the adoption of consumer products has received a good response. However, the business sector has seen some of the most exciting IoT innovations, including the amalgamation of complex analytical algorithms and sensor data. As enterprises focus on streamlining business processes and increasing productivity, we see an increased demand for solutions that enhance asset management, improve energy management and consumption, and devices that regularly monitor end-to-end employee health and safety. In fact, 98 per cent organisations have already included enterprise IoT in their strategic road maps.,” highlighted AB.
In May 2019, Tata Communications launched Internet of Things (IoT) Marketplace – a first-of-its-kind initiative in India to strengthen and accelerate the country’s growing IoT ecosystem. The IoT Marketplace aims at bringing together IoT practitioners and enterprise customers on a single platform, setting the ground for customers to tailor their IoT solutions and drive innovation within their business, while enabling vendors and partners on the platform to discover new market opportunities.
Here are some more interesting excerpts from this conversation.
Q. Do you think IoT has reached the level of adoption as much as its popularity among tech enthusiasts?
A. The potential for IoT in India is huge and players across the value chain are transforming their business models. However, the level of adoption is rather slow in comparison with the actual IoT market opportunity. There are some inherent challenges that need to be addressed for IoT to gain its popularity in India in comparison with the western markets.
Lack of awareness on the benefits of the technology, cost, privacy and connectivity are some of the core challenges that need to be ironed out. India’s Smart Cities mission is a good case in point though amongst other use-cases which showcase the adoption of IoT technology in India.
The increasing number of tech-savvy consumers will further drive IoT applications in the India market. At Tata Communications, our efforts are dedicated towards building an IoT ecosystem in India, one that provides end-to-end IoT solutions to a diverse set of customers – enterprises, government sectors and start-ups.
Q. How does your IoT business model work? Do you do business with B2B private companies or mainly public/government projects?
A. We want to see ourselves as an end-to-end service provider. When the customer looks up to us, he should have sufficient confidence. We’re not talking about offering them just one product as that is networking. We talk to them and let them know that we can provide complete end-to-end solutions. We not only offer a network but devices as well.
We manage the devices through the network, take up application management, provide information about the deployment of IoT, and help with devices that are there on the network and analytical support too. Hence, a complete end to end offering.
Today, we are working with enterprises, the Government of India and start-ups as well. For instance, we are working closely with the Government of India, helping realise its Smart Cities mission, focusing on sectors such as street lighting, energy and also managing utilities such as gas, water and electricity and much more. On the other hand, start-ups, both Indian as well as global, are using our asset tracking devices, and there is work going on with temperature control devices and application development as well.
Q. Which application areas in IoT in India are the most prevalent right now – and which will become prevalent in the next couple of years?
A. When we speak of IoT, the adoption of consumer products has received a good response. However, the business sector has seen some of the most exciting IoT innovations, including the amalgamation of complex analytical algorithms and sensor data.
Further, as enterprises focus on streamlining business processes and increasing productivity we see an increased demand for solutions that enhance asset management, improve energy management and consumption, and devices that regularly monitor end-to-end employee health and safety. In fact, 98 percent organisations have already included enterprise IoT in their strategic road maps.
Q. Explain in brief Tata Communication’s role in the IoT landscape. What are your main offerings?
A. Tata Communications Internet of Things (IoT) is at the core of the Indian B2B market and we play a pivotal role in the business transformation of varying enterprises, across sectors. In the Indian market, we see a clear path to massive adoption in worker solutions, smart street lighting and asset tracking. We offer a range of products in these domains.
Next, our asset tracking solutions help enterprises know the status of their assets and where they are. For telecom companies the deployment could be router assets and for power companies it could be for transformer assets.
For instance, we worked with Tata Power to launch its IoT based, asset tracking, automation solution in Mumbai – this state-of-the-art IoT solution supports various features, such as asset trace log on a periodic basis, Geo Fence breach alerts and conversion of information into actionable insights in real-time, which in turn helps drive operational efficiencies.
We are now gearing to provide customers with complete end-to-end solutions, beyond just the network, cutting across the device, application and platform segments.
Q. Can you share some IoT success stories of Tata Communications specifically in India?
A. In the last few years, Tata Communications’ IoT business has transformed from an internally incubated idea to an independent business unit that works with varied stakeholders such as large enterprises, the Government of India, start-ups and device manufactures amongst others.
We have already executed projects across segments such as customer services, lighting and asset management. We are leading the way for smart streetlights and have installed 300 smart streetlights for Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Co. Ltd. (JUSCO) enabling a reduction in environmental footprint, and we are increasing this to 15,000 lights in the next five years.
We also partnered with Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) and Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), two of India’s leading natural gas distribution companies to roll out 5,000 smart gas meters in Mumbai and Rewari, respectively and are seeing initial success in both cases.
Another key project for us is our partnership with Tata Power, India’s largest integrated power company where we launched an IoT based, Smart Consumer Sub Station (CSS), which provides an excellent power experience to its customers and enables the team with an overview of CSS spread across different zones to monitor its Distribution Substations.
In May 2019, Tata Communications also launched Internet of Things (IoT) Marketplace – a first-of-its-kind initiative in India to strengthen and accelerate the country’s growing IoT ecosystem. The IoT Marketplace aims at bringing together IoT practitioners and enterprise customers on a single platform, setting the ground for customers to tailor their IoT solutions and drive innovation within their business, while enabling vendors and partners on the platform to discover new market opportunities.
Q. You have been working very actively in the employee safety domain. Can you share some insights into the technology and application?
A. An increasing awareness of environmental health and safety has led many organisations to develop well-defined safety programs globally. At Tata Communications our primary focus is on the enterprise business and several pilot as well as large-scale projects have already been executed across segments like safety – including factory workers on shop floors, energy monitoring, asset protection etc. that are now in the stages of scaling.
Our IoT enabled wearable devices for worker safety is a game changer in the emerging market landscape. It tracks employees/workers and detects any abnormal health conditions and their location and immediately sends an alert for the same.
For e.g. Real-time info about the location of workers with automated alerts in case of proximity to hazardous or unauthorised areas or information about fitness of workers with automated alerts in case of anomalies. Such real time information helps improve worker productivity; there is a quicker emergency response and reduced operational costs and overall employee satisfaction.
Q. What other areas have you been working on when it comes to IoT?
A. The guiding strategy we follow for areas to focus on are first and foremost those that have a demonstrable ROI for the customer. Our IoT experience & expertise enables us to make the highest value-add when these use-cases also require the management of many end-devices / sensors. As an example, we are working with new age companies in the ride sharing market who are using our innovative IoT solutions to improve operational efficiencies and in turn improving the customer experience too. As such, it is helping them expand and extend their operations across India.
Going forward, we will continue to explore partnership with such progressive start-ups, to fully exploit IoT’s potential across different business models. Just to add, sometime last year, we also conducted a 3-month long hackathon called, ‘The Grand India IoT Innovation Challenge’ in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for engineering students from over 26 colleges across India. The idea was to encourage young students develop digital solutions, empower them to innovate in the area of IoT and take a significant step towards bridging the skill gap by giving direct access to Indian youth and businesses.
Q. What is your view on the standardisation and regularised IoT protocols? How far has it been shaped? Is it making IoT adoption any easier?
A. We know that the IoT industry today has exploded with large amounts of funding being infused, and the constant innovation that is taking place in this space. India being a unique and diverse market, has its own set of challenges when it comes to IoT deployment.
One of the key problems that we are facing right now, as you correctly asked in your question is standardisation. What is happening on-ground is, there is momentum on proof of concept (Poc) stage in the industry to commercial development but what is lacking is the full-blown impact. The result is a fragmented market choked with bottlenecks across the businesses.
What the industry is looking for is a standard model that will seamlessly integrate different IoT solutions, and guarantee interoperability, connectivity, and security which is lacking presently. There also needs to be a change in how the ecosystem handles this pertinent issue; which includes almost everybody right from the Government of India, enterprises, and start-ups. Even though there have been several recommendations from industry bodies, they haven’t been implemented, thus weakening India’s position globally.
Q. What are your top three suggestions for IoT entrepreneurs?
A. IoT as a sector has really matured in the last few years and there is a huge interest from new entrants, who are using this technology to solve societal issues. There are IoT based start-ups that tackle issues like open defecation, water, and energy conservation. There is brilliant innovation happening on-ground. However, there are some common issues every entrepreneur faces while building and establishing a start-up.
The first being scalability, which if not taken seriously can pose operational and financial implications on the business. New entrants with two to three years’ experience, need to start from a small pilot project and understand the viability of their model. They also need to consider two key parameters, first from an operations perspective – ask if the project is working fine? And second from a finances standpoint, they need to evaluate investment against ROI. Once they arrive at the required validation, it is essential to have a plan for accomplishing the goal in the decided timeline.
The second concern is security, which is a very crucial conversation in the industry right now. Last year, McAfee’s threats report displayed a 73 percent increase in malware targeting IoT devices globally. This averages to nearly 480 threats every minute. Even though organisations and leaders are aware of the evolving sophisticated threat attacks, there needs to be concrete changes in the overall strategy. A change of attitude is required in the top brass as security continues to be an after-thought and is not built-in right from the onset. What entrepreneurs need to keep in mind is to invest in the right cybersecurity team. It is becoming increasingly important to carefully choose vendors, who have deep experience in protecting the IoT solution through its entire life cycle and executing end-to-end security capabilities.
Third and the most important concern is the current skill gap in the industry, which requires complete focus of the entrepreneurs. There is a need for an expert, who has a good command of machine learning, AI, IP networking and hardware interfacing, and can deal with the complexities of IoT technology at every stage. The entrants should focus not only on technological capabilities but also invest in a workforce that can seamlessly bring technology to life and offer an integrated solution.