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IoT simple as ABC

There is no doubt that the Internet of Things (IoT) can solve everyday challenges using technology, and with IDC predicting there being over 20 billion connected devices by 2020, we are seeing an emergence of more IoT technology, creating even more choice. However, when it comes to designing your own IoT solution, all this choice can be simplified.

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IoT is as simple as ABC…D. That is, Application + Backend + Connectivity + Device. This means to design an IoT solution is as simple as making four choices. Just on partners.sigfox.com alone, there are 71 applications (A), 99 backend platforms (B) and 524 devices (D)!

But what about connectivity (C)?

Recently, there have been several announcements around different network rollouts (C). How do you decide which network is most suited for you? According to Phathizwe Malinga, Managing Director of SqwidNet, deciding on the best network for your solution, like the other IoT elements, A, B and D, are dependent the problem you are trying to solve.

“There is space in the market for all different technologies,” he says. “We work with some great technology partners in the country and often when they are designing a solution, they use a combination of these technologies. For an IoT deployment to succeed, one must consider the challenge, context and the type of data that will be transmitted before deciding on the most suitable network, because each application is unique in its requirements.”

SqwidNet was launched in November 2016 as the Sigfox operator in South Africa. Sigfox today has a presence in 53 countries and covers over 1 billion people with its global network, allowing Sigfox Ready™ devices to roam at no extra cost. The SqwidNet network currently covers over 85% of the South African population, enabling millions of physical devices to be connected to the digital world.

“Each of the network technologies has their own advantages and disadvantages,” says Malinga. “Broadband, for example, is at the top end of the spectrum and it is used for communication that is data-intensive, such as sending video and images and making voice calls. The disadvantage of broadband is the high cost of data, and high data and power usage.” Just below that lies the LTE-M spectrum. It is used for powered devices like traffic lights, using less data and costs a little less, while still being high on power usage. “The mobile operators have then tried to go a little lower by creating narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT). Their focus here is strongly on connecting cities, and NB-IoT manages to get devices to use battery power, but the cost of connectivity isn’t significantly lowered.”

SqwidNet, on the other hand, operates a network that is a low-power wide area network (LP-WAN). There are currently two popular low power networks operating in this band in South Africa. “LoRA is a network that gives you the technology to deploy within a city, private residence or a mine, for example, and uses low power. The network, however, is usually run like a local area network (LAN) or Metropolitan Area Network (MAN),” he says. “Because LoRa is based on open-source principles, it means that there can be and are many connectivity providers. This means your LoRa device can only talk to the network that it’s signed up to. On the one hand, this is a nice security advantage because it means LoRa is well suited to stationary devices located in a remote town, like a mine. On the other hand, this means you cannot track assets-in-transit as soon as they leave that localised network.”

Sigfox sacrifices open-source and focuses on creating a shared economy business model. This means that ONE network provider runs a ultra wide area network across 53 countries! Malinga continues, “We operate in a very low band providing a low cost, low power network designed to extend the battery life of devices significantly, in some cases up to 15 years.”

Sigfox is an ultra-narrowband technology that operates in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical band. It is free to operate in that band, albeit sparingly, which is why it is more cost-effective.

But which is the best network to deploy IoT solutions on?

“The problem and the actual solution will determine which is the most suitable network to use,” says Malinga. “Take, for example, a self-driven car. In this case, you cannot afford to have any latency, so the most suitable technology would be 5G. The use case for a self-driving car is CONTROL. If, however, you are monitoring assets in remote areas with no access to electricity, then Sigfox would be a far more suitable and cost-effective option. The use case here is VISIBILITY.”

The IoT use cases that are out in the market vary across industries, with increasing demand in the retail, utilities, agriculture, and asset tracking fields, but essentially, they are all about control versus visibility. “The beauty of ultra-narrowband is that it extends the penetration of the signal significantly. Even when it is used in mine shafts, for example, you can use self-contained repeaters to extend the signal and ensure that any device tracking an asset is covered. This makes it much more suited to visibility,” he says. “Another key benefit of the Sigfox technology, particularly in the South African context, is that it is not jammable, so we are starting to see massive interest in the vehicle tracking space because of this feature. I do stress, however, that as your technology partner designs your IoT solution (choosing A+B+C+D), they will encounter the need for both use cases. We have seen some technology partners even mix the two use cases. An example of this is using Sigfox to detect movement, and then switching on a Wifi HD-Camera based on the alert received.”

Cars

“Hello BMW” – Now we’re talking

BMW brings impressive safety features and a built-in voice assistant to its 4th generation X5, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Marking 20 years since its release, the BMW X5 has been given a substantial redesign for its fourth generation. A major revamp of aesthetics and functionality affirms this luxury Sports Activity Vehicle’s (SAV) position in the market.

New safety features not only make it safer but also more comfortable to drive. The redesigned headlights utilise laser lighting, which eliminates glare on reflective objects like signboards in dark driving conditions. The laser lighting technology also extends the distance of bright lighting to about 500 meters, 200 meters further than the previous generation.

The Driving Assist Professional package, an option for the SAV, comprises a steering and lane control assistant as well as a lane keeping assistant. These assistants work closely with a smart collision evasion system, which helps avoid collisions with vehicles or pedestrians suddenly appearing in the driver’s path. As soon as an evasive manoeuvre is detected, the system assists the driver with steering inputs to direct the vehicle into a clear, adjacent lane.

BMW Operating System 7.0, the latest version of the car’s software, focuses on customisability. This means that more aspects of the vehicle can be set up in a way that is most comfortable for the driver. For example, the 12.3” infotainment panel features a home screen which uses a three-tile layout, where one can have one large tile and two smaller tiles. These tiles can be swapped around and configured to the point where drivers no longer have to search through menus to get what they would need, as their favourites sit on a customised home screen.

The X5 gets a voice assistant with the BMW Assistant Professional. “Hello BMW” will wake the onboard voice assistant for voice commands. These voice commands could be anything from “Play rock music” to “Is my tyre pressure okay?”. Renaming the voice assistant’s wake prompt is also possible if the driver has named their car something other than BMW.

Keeping in line with the latest technology, the X5 features options for a wireless charging tray in the front and two additional USB Type-C ports. Other features include an adaptive navigation system, a hard-drive-based multimedia system with 20 GB of memory, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.

BMW’s attention to minor details goes a long way with massage seats and thermo-cupholders. Electrically adjustable and heated sports seats are fitted standard. Additional options include seat massage functionality and ventilated seats. The thermo-cupholder option allows a driver to keep a beverage heated or cooled during a drive.

Unlocking the X5 with a smartphone will soon be a reality with a planned update to the BMW Connected Drive app, in the second quarter of 2019. BMW Digital Key brings functionality to lock and unlock the car with a smartphone’s NFC chip, which eliminates the need for a traditional car key. The driver will simply hold the smartphone to the door’s handle and the car will unlock. Once the driver is inside, the smartphone can be placed on the built-in wireless charging tray, and the NFC chip will register again to verify the driver. From there, the engine can be started.

Overall, exciting technology features come with the new X5 and even more impressive features will come with software updates in 2019.

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ERP needs asset management

A single, integrated EAM and ERP solution can power an asset-intensive business into the future, says MOHAMED CASSOOJEE, MD and Country Manager, IFS South Africa and Africa.

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Most Enterprise Resource Planning software originated in the manufacturing sector as materials resource planning (MRP) solutions for organisations that needed to manage a lot of inventory. From there, they were rapidly developed into solutions for every industry imaginable.

But these roots mean that most standalone ERP software isn’t quite enough on its own to address the needs of organisations in asset-intensive industries such as metal foundries, mining, oil and gas, pulp and paper, energy and utilities, and construction and engineering.

Companies in these sectors are not managing inventory as much as they are managing the capacity of a fixed asset over its lifecycle as well as handling large-scale infrastructure projects with long planning cycles. This is where enterprise asset management (EAM) comes into play, offering capabilities that are not found in typical ERP systems.

EAM systems are built to help organisations manage assets such as plants, heavy machinery, pipelines and industrial-class vehicles. These solutions enable organisations to track the location and status of assets and asset objects in real time, schedule work orders to maintain and fix the assets, and manage the storage of spare parts required to service them.

As Africa’s governments, state-owned enterprises and private sector step up infrastructure investment, EAM has a vital role to play in ensuring that organisations drive the highest possible value from their new assets, whether these are telecoms networks, railway systems, ports or power plants.

According to the World Bank, Africa needs to spend around $93 billion a year over the next decade to address its infrastructure backlogs — about one-third of that cost is for maintenance. In 2008, World Bank found that about 30% of the infrastructure assets of a typical African country needed rehabilitation.

These numbers point to the urgent need for organisations across the continent to take a more proactive and preventative outlook towards maintenance of their key infrastructure and assets. Implementation of EAM can enable organisations to better track, manage and maintain assets to prolong their lifespan and enhance return on investment.

From asset planning to construction to operation to decommissioning and replacement, EAM allows organisations to maintain, manage and optimise assets over the entire asset lifecycle. By helping companies to increase asset productivity and availability – while reducing total cost of ownership – EAM can have a direct impact on profitability and financial sustainability.

Good EAM solutions can also be paired with corporate performance management and analytics tools to let organisations analyse operation disruptions and determine and address the causes, such as maintenance issues, inadequate training, or design faults.

Technological advances, along with the associated price drop for smart products being developed for the Internet of Things (IoT), now make it possible to monitor almost any asset in real-time from nearly any location across the globe. This further boosts the power and usefulness of an EAM solution. It is imperative that the EAM solutions that are implemented are built on robust, newer technologies that can easily support IOT, AI and smart bots.

EAM and ERP: a critical partnership

To sum up, ERP manages business operations, while the EAM system manages all the monitoring and operations of the asset. That means for most companies it isn’t an either-or choice because they need both EAM and ERP to drive optimal business performance.

Some organisations opt for so-called ‘best of breed’ EAM and ERP solutions from different providers. Yet integration can be a headache. The challenges include master data synchronisation and transaction integration. The company may also need to consider whether the ERP or EAM system is the better fit for a particular transaction or asset type.

However, for most organisations in asset-intensive industries, the ideal solution is an ERP system with extensive EAM capabilities: a system built from the ground up to manage not only basic business functions but also assets and their maintenance. Such a solution provides one complete solution spanning key processes and data.

This approach enables the organisation to truly manage and maximise value over asset lifecycles. It also empowers the enterprise to organise operations around the assets and individual asset objects it uses to create value for stakeholders, customers and the community.

For most asset-intensive companies, delivering EAM capabilities as part and parcel of an integrated ERP solution, simplifies their business systems landscape, giving them a single source of truth. The same arguments apply to project management and workforce management systems.

Organisations seeking to transform their business by standardising processes and leveraging reliable, real-time data will benefit from an ERP system with all of these capabilities, setting them up to adopt IoT, artificial intelligence, or whatever other new technologies are coming up next.

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