2016 looks to be the year that the Internet of Things hits the market big time. But, says NEIL SHOLAY, Head of Oracle Digital for EMEA, in order for it to live up to its promise, it is essential that developers can can create innovative applications.
2016 looks set to be the year that the Internet of Things (IoT) hits the big time. We’ve already seen a range of new IoT services come to market. Take Samsung’s smart fridge, which launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; this connected cooler allows people to check in on the contents of their fridge via their smartphones, and even helps them to plan healthier eating regimes for their families. Connected cars were also a big theme at CES, with the likes of Bosch launching new sensors and devices to help enable automated driving. As anyone following Google knows, soon we’ll see completely driverless cars on the road, which use the IoT to help them navigate and avoid collisions.
IoT matters to consumers and it matters – or at least it should matter – to businesses. IoT can help brands build stronger customer relationships so mere products are elevated to compelling experiences. As pointed out in this article, the genius thing about Samsung’s smart fridge, for example, is not so much the fridge itself, but that it interacts with Samsung’s phone – building a wider brand awareness and relationship with the customer. In the digital age, IoT is absolutely essential to delivering expecptional customer experiences. This is a critical time for IoT, one where the technology is poised to take a central role in our home and work lives.
As such, it’s important to keep in mind the key factor in its success: application innovation. IoT isn’t just about adding ‘intelligence’ and sensors to devices; it’s about creating innovative applications that make use of this technology to deliver value. Businesses must therefore be able to experiment with IoT applications in a low-cost, low risk environment. After all, you can have all the embedded sensors in the world, but they’re useless without value-add applications that integrate IoT data with all relevant enterprise systems.
There’s only one way of addressing this need and that’s through the cloud; specifically: Cloud Platforms. A Cloud Platform enables application developers to rapidly build and test IoT applications in the cloud. This approach greatly lowers the cost and time associated with developing such applications, as developers can use the pre-configured development tools delivered through the platform. Costs are further lowered, as developers need only use the database, storage and compute resources sufficient to their requirements; whereas in the past, developers would need to build a unique development environment for each and every application – a time consuming and costly process.
The result of all this, is that developers are free to experiment; they can try out IoT applications within the cloud to see if they generate real value – whether that is through improving business efficiency or creating a new service for customers. If the applications prove successful, then the Cloud Platform allows them to immediately scale it up by increasing the resources dedicated to the application, or, if more appropriate, by moving the application to the businesses’ on-premises systems.
Cloud Platforms therefore enable businesses to be more agile with their application development, and this will prove crucial in helping them develop truly innovative IoT applications that deliver a competitive edge. One of the reasons that Cloud Platforms are so successful in this regard is that it enables complete data integration across the business. Through Cloud Platforms, businesses can take all their new IoT data, as well as any other relevant data from existing sources (CRM, Sales and Marketing systems for example, or even unstructured data from social media platforms) bring it together and make it available to the enterprise applications that need it. In this respect it’s the glue that binds enterprise data together, and helps turn mere IoT sensor data into something that can be used by an application to add value.
For example, energy providers are increasingly installing smart meters into people’s homes to monitor how they use energy. Now this data on its own is fairly useless, but when combined with other sources of data from within the enterprise it enables a variety of value-add services: customer smartphone apps for example, that can use the data to show them how to save energy; energy suppliers meanwhile can aggregate the data with that of other customers to show them where their network pinch points are; the utility can use the data to launch new tariff plans to help them manage demand on the network; the list could go on…
As we move into the new IoT-enabled world it is clear that businesses need to innovate and integrate to succeed. If you would like to find out more on how Cloud Platforms can help your business meet these goals, you can download our PaaS guide.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.