The smart city concept is growing more as connected technologies emerge. Among other ideas, the term allows municipalities to measure and manage services in real-time. But, is South Africa ready to become smart, asks PAUL DIVALL of the Jasco Group.
The concept of the ‘smart city’ is growing in popularity as more and more connected technologies emerge. The term has many definitions, however, at its most basic level, a smart city is one in which the municipal authority is able to properly measure and manage the various services they are delivering within their environment, in real time, and with a high level of accuracy. Utilising technology such as smart metering for electricity and water, for example, can help to facilitate this and enable the beginnings of a smart city. As municipalities all over the world examine how they can apply such solutions, the question remains, is South Africa ready for smart cities? While technology forms an integral component of the smart city concept, it is the integration of the various technology components and solutions that deliver real value and transforms a city into a smart city. The corporate sector can play an instrumental role in assisting local Government to fast track these initiatives with their integration skills and expertise.
Smart cities have the potential to deliver multiple benefits, not only to municipalities but to citizens as well. Enhancing the efficiency and management of utilities such as electricity and water could translate into improved service delivery, which means that more citizens will be able to access basic services. However, economic challenges such as the ability of citizens to afford basic services can prove to be a significant barrier to the implementation of smart cities. Prepaid meters, the precursor to smart metering solutions, are an essential technology component which is already available in many areas, but must be implemented and integrated correctly in order to be effective.
Further to smart meters or other smart devices, the additional technology components required are a communication system to connect all of these devices to various applications in the cloud – in other words broadband connectivity. While this has proven to be a challenge in the past, the reality is that broadband is more readily available today in many locations, either through fibre or mobile offerings. The technology and infrastructure already exist for the implementation of the basics of smart cities in South Africa. Integrating the technologies is crucial for the success of this. However, integration requires specialist skills and expertise. Corporates and local Government must collaborate in order to achieve the integration that unpins smart city initiatives.
Municipalities must also demonstrate to citizens the benefits of improved service delivery through smart solutions. For example, a smart metering solution will allow municipalities to offer basic services at different rates to different population segments, for example those subsisting on a government pension can be given electricity at a reduced rate compares to a citizen living in a large house in a wealthy suburb. Municipalities will be able to differentiate tariffs across different economic groups depending on their ability to afford the service. For consumers, this also provides a greater level of transparency, as they will be able to see exactly what they are paying for which level of service.
For municipalities, smart solutions offer a number of benefits. Prepaid meters can vastly improve revenue collection, as they ensure citizens pay for their services up front rather than in arrears. This also enables municipalities to detect revenue leakage throughout the system – local governments can easily see how much electricity they are purchasing, how much is being used, and how much is being paid for. The same can be done for water. In addition, smart technology can be extended to include things like flow meters, which will be able to detect physical leaks on the pipes.
Armed with the information provided by smart metering solutions, municipalities will also be able to conduct analytics to identify trends. Accurate data on service utilisation enables local governments to better plan for future demand and improve the delivery of basic services. Demand for electricity can be predicted ahead of time to minimise disruption, the need for water infrastructure upgrading can be proactively determined, transport services can be planned better and many more benefits can be accrued. This benefit is then passed down to the citizen in the form of more effective service delivery.
Smart cities are the future, and they offer numerous benefits for all parties concerned. However, ultimately it is a combination of integrating the many disparate solutions and creating a communication platform that will determine the success of any initiative. Corporates that have the necessary integration skills can assist greatly in successful smart city initiatives. In addition, without buy-in from the citizens, any venture will inevitably fail. The challenge in South Africa is not the technology, but finding the right way to implement it and integrate with the right partner and to ensure citizens realise and understand the benefits it provides.
* Paul Divall, Managing Director of Intelligent Technologies at the Jasco Group
IoT at starting gate
South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).
Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.
There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.
Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.
In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation. Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.
This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.
It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.
Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?
In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning. Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.
The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.
If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.
What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.
ERP underpins food tracking
The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP
Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.
As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.
Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.
Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.
ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.
With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.
So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.
Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.
In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.
This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.
Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.