After cloud computing, IoT to revolutionise South African industry

Joe Svetlik

Thursday 15 February 2018

The Internet of Things is set to take South Africa by storm. But it’s not just homes that will get an upgrade – businesses stand to gain even more.

On cloud nine

Cloud computing in South Africa has exploded in recent years. According to Frost & Sullivan, the South African cloud computing market is now worth $140 million (€113 million) and growing, while Cisco estimates that the Middle East and Africa will have the highest cloud traffic growth rate (41 per cent compound annual growth rate) to the year 2021. Of the nations in this region, South Africa has the necessary data centre resources and connectivity for rapid cloud computing adoption in the corporate sector.

Businesses have adopted cloud computing in order to save money, increase performance and improve services. It’s also useful for addressing concerns surrounding security, connectivity and access.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s paving the way for an even bigger change: the rollout of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Taking the IoT to industry

Cloud computing is nigh-on ubiquitous in South Africa. While it brings businesses all of the benefits listed above, it also acts as the foundation for mass adoption of IoT services.

According to Gartner, there are currently around 8.4 billion connected IoT devices in use worldwide. This is estimated to grow to an incredible 20.4 billion by 2020. So it’s hardly surprising that the IoT has had a lot of coverage in recent years – though most of this coverage has focused on the consumer space.

It’s easy to see why. Consumers have been promised fully automated smart homes, with fridges that order produce to restock themselves, smart security cameras that send smartphone notifications to alert you to intruders, and smoke alarms, thermostats and washing machines that communicate with each other via your home Wi-Fi to seamlessly digitise the home environment. The IoT has been sold as a shortcut to Jetsons-style living. But its effect on business could be even more seismic – especially in South Africa, where it has the potential to disrupt all kinds of industries.

Energy, health and taxis: Three areas for the IoT

Smart meters allow energy and water providers to monitor and carry out maintenance remotely, which greatly reduces their costs, especially when it comes to serving rural areas. Sensors installed on rural water pumps can report back on the number of broken pumps in an area at any given time, while load-limiting smart meters can warn South African residents of imminent outages. Households with these smart meters will receive a text alert if they’re using too much electricity. That way the households can reduce their bills, and the energy company (in this case Johannesburg-based City Power) can reduce the chance of outages. It’s win-win.

A South African startup is leading the charge when it comes to IoT-based healthcare. The Vitls platform allows healthcare providers to continuously and remotely monitor a patient’s vital signs using a wearable device – this tracks the patient’s pulse, respiration rate, body temperature, sleep and movement. The data is sent to the cloud, where the platform creates actionable insights that it communicates to medical staff.

Africa has the highest rate of road traffic fatalities in the world, but the IoT can help. SafeMotos is like Uber for Africa’s motorbike taxis. Using sensors, it records each bike’s acceleration, speed and braking, and only matches customers with drivers who reach a certain safety standard on a risk model. It started in Rwanda, but it’s looking to expand across the continent soon.

Potential roadblocks

Microsoft, Google, Amazon Web Services and Alibaba are battling for a head start in Africa’s cloud market. Because it has a more advanced infrastructure than neighbouring African nations, South Africa is perfectly poised to capitalise on the IoT boom. Most African users are using platforms hosted in Europe or the US, but Microsoft is deploying its first cloud data centre in Johannesburg, which will mean lower latency for local users.

While the IoT has enormous potential, it won’t be a smooth rollout. Business IT departments need convincing, just as they did for cloud computing. (Inevitably, security is a major issue – but AI should offer a solution.) But once they see the personalised level of data that comes with the IoT – think shops delivering digital vouchers based on past purchases, or hospitals guiding patients to their beds through a smartphone app – they should be sold.

Then there’s the cost. This encompasses not only the implementation, but maintenance, integration with legacy technology and ensuring network security – though these pale compared to the benefits of IoT.

Too often there has been a focus on the ‘things’ (i.e. devices) in the Internet of Things instead of the data they produce – which is where the real value lies. Once the data has been analysed in the cloud, it gives actionable insights that improve efficiency for businesses of all kinds.

Now that cloud computing has achieved mass adoption in South Africa, the time is right for the IoT to follow. The companies that get on board early are the ones that will reap the biggest rewards.