There are several sectors in South Africa that are already taking fast, bottom line-growing advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT). These sectors have pulled on the capabilities of cheap sensors, easy connectivity, and powerful data analytics to translate inefficiencies into solutions, and resolve ongoing logistical complexities.

According to Roger Hislop, Chairperson of the IOT Industry Council of South Africa (IOTIC), private utilities, agriculture, conservation, and manufacturing are leading the way when it comes to IoT application and innovation.

“Large sectional title developments or private villages, where water and electricity are distributed to individual houses from a single municipal or Eskom point of supply, have been leveraging the capabilities of smart meters for granular metering and control to give residents better information on their real-time consumption and improve arbitrage between time-of-use supply tariffs and fixed tariffs re-charged to residents,” he adds. “But while private utilities are moving the fastest in the smart meter space, local and national utilities are also rolling out these systems as they combat lost revenue and an inability to plan effectively.”

In the agriculture and conservation sectors, there are also numerous success stories. IoT is suited to rural applications as generally large distances are involved, and there are plenty of practical limitations around operations visibility. Using low-cost, low-power, long-range technologies such as LoRa and Sigfox, agri-businesses and farmers can quickly implement solutions that allow for improved communication and access while solving some of the most common automation challenges.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in driving numerous new IoT use cases,” says Hislop. “Ranging from simple solutions where IoT tech is used to enhance staff screening, to more elaborate long-term mitigation strategies. IoT is being used to manage the sheer volumes of people needing to be managed, and to help sharing key information quickly.

“Companies like Kaizen IOT have implemented low-cost staff screening systems at mines, helping them overcome the challenges of worker numbers being screened during shift changes. Any bottlenecks can have huge production implications so its vital to streamline the process while ensuring that mines maintain their duty of care to staff.”

The Kaizen solution uses Wi-Fi-enabled tablets with a screening application that sends data to AWS for analytics and detailed reports. The solution ensures that mines maintain a steady hand on the monitoring tiller, minimising the risk of outbreaks and cutting back on bottlenecks. Another IOT champion, Nashua, has also taken a high-tech approach to the pandemic using thermographic cameras as part of its security installations to detect if anyone enters a premises with an elevated temperature. The integration with the security platform ensures that the right processes are adhered to.

Thingstream, an IOT connectivity provider, has worked with a local medical technology company, Ergosense, to connect its high-tech sensors to the Cloud to improve the monitoring of indoor air quality. The solution measures anything from humidity to temperature to particulate matter, offering a granular level of control over environmental factors to minimise the spread of the virus indoors.

“It’s also worth mentioning the innovation that’s been shaping the manufacturing sector with regards to IoT,” says Hislop. “The low-cost and flexible deployment possibilities inherent in IoT technology allows businesses to put sensors on older machines, which then widens monitoring and management capabilities without having to invest in expensive new equipment. It extends the longevity of the existing equipment while ensuring worker safety and system reliability – and opens the door to new automations of processes.”

Office environments are also adopting flexible, next-generation IoT technologies, albeit a little slowly. This lag behind other industries is partly due to existing IoT-like applications that are already embedded within larger office Building Management Systems (BMS), which do provide some value, albeit limited and often through a “lock-in” to traditional proprietary systems.

There is still limited understanding of modern, open standards-based, Cloud-connected IOT tech in the facilities management market. However, this is changing as organisations recognise the value of sharing data between smart systems to do more with it.

A simple example: facilities managers are starting to realise how easy it is to install wireless, battery-powered occupancy sensors into meeting rooms that integrate with the standard mail servers and streamline room bookings and optimise space usage; and then integrate with a central HVAC control system to reduce electricity consumption (the AC only needs to be on if the room is in use!).

This is just one example of how IoT can transform the office environment by easily allowing facilities managers to collaborate with their colleagues in IT systems management. There are many other applications that are easy to implement, including improving air quality, better access management, safety systems, occupational health controls, and so many more.

“South African companies have long been somewhat conservative in their adoption of new technologies,” concludes Hislop. “This has been further complicated by the economic slump caused by the pandemic and the need for organisations to be as cost conscious as possible.

“However, as load-shedding returns and lockdowns continue, companies are recognising the value of “fast innovation” where they can use IoT technologies to improve efficiencies and cut costs quickly. Things are changing, and our country’s can-do attitude and strong technical capabilities will continue to shape IoT innovation not just in Africa, but globally as well.”

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