The Internet of Things gets legs

 

The installation of soil sensors into farmers’ fields may not sound like a revolution in agriculture, but such seemingly innocuous devices are flipping farmers’ centuries-old reliance on experience and intuition on its head.

These small devices are improving crop yields, a welcome development in a world where agricultural land is shrinking fast. The sensors, developed for, Australian company The Yield, make it possible for farmers to eliminate much of their usual guesswork and make better-informed decisions about when to plant, irrigated, feed, protect or harvest crops. The sensors monitor a field’s micro-climate and feedback data to an app via a communications gateway, which provides the farmer with real time information about their microclimate growing conditions.

Sensor and software solutions such as these are but a very small part of the Internet of Things (IOT) explosion. One of the most remarkable features of 2017 – from an IT standpoint, at least – is how quickly IOT is taking off. Forecasts over the past few years had suggested it wouldn’t accelerate until the early 2020s, but it’s already crystallising into genuine solutions, viable platforms and products, as the soil sensors prove. Millions of internet-connected physical devices are being embedded into everyday items, machinery and technology in order to collect and exchange data. The Yield, for example, has hardware not only in fields across Australia, but underwater too, in aquaculture farms.

While data scientists and engineers are busily devising exciting IOT solutions that will bring untold benefits, their innovations raise some fundamental questions: how do IOT devices get to fields or other locations in the first place? And can IOT companies be confident that their hardware is being installed, calibrated and working correctly across multiple locations? It’s one thing to devise, test and launch an IOT innovation; it’s quite another to get the essential hardware onsite and working properly at scale.

Understandably, the logistics of getting IOT hardware into place is not a priority for companies developing solutions driven by data science and software. But as IOT companies sell their products on the basis of the quality of the data that their devices collect, the weakest link in their product delivery is not software or coding issues, but the physical installation of devices.

We can hardly begin to imagine the many ways in which our lives and businesses will be enriched by the creative solutions being devised by IOT businesses. Right now, however, IOT companies need to go beyond imagining what their solution will deliver, and begin thinking very seriously how best to get their devices in place quickly and correctly.

IOT products and services are low margin. Their financial success relies on their being scalable and reliable. Proper installation is therefore absolutely crucial to avoid cost blow outs and diminishing returns. No one wants to have to re-install IOT devices, with all the costs this involves in return for monthly subscription revenue that pays its way only when it achieves scale.

Installing IOT hardware is no simple task, though; it needs a sympathetic installation. Correct installation requires the sophisticated knowledge and experience of engineers who must be physically on site, as well as thorough logistics to get all the correct equipment to the installation location. Typically, an IOT installation kit will have 20 to 30 items.

IOT companies have a choice when it comes to this last mile: put their valuable hardware into the hands of a series of local IT technicians, each of which has to be coordinated and managed, or choose a single provider that can provide a scalable, repeatable solution in any location. For product certainty and business security, IOT providers need to make the right choice.

BEST Technology Services welcomes your thoughts and comments. To discuss any of the commentary in this article, contact John McVicker. For more on how Best Technology Services’ field services capability can support your outsourcing, go to www.best-ts.com.au.

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