IoT.nxt develops solution to manage social distancing for retailers, offices

CoVision Laptop

ITWeb May 2020

Many South African businesses are getting ready to restart operations from next week as a new level of lockdown regulations come into effect. But it will not be business as usual. Several requirements to adhere to guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 will be in place.

A key requirement for many businesses – from retail to office parks and other places of business – is the management of people in facilities and maintaining distancing requirements. Leading Internet of things (IOT) solutions provider, IoT.nxt, has developed a product, known as Covision, that will make it possible for companies to use technology, as opposed to manual processes, to manage social distancing and control the number of people at a facility in real-time.

“Since the introduction of social distancing requirements for varied facilities all around the world, many companies have experienced challenges with the management of this. In South Africa, a leading retailer in Cape Town was ordered to close in April as it failed to comply with lockdown regulations – notably distancing requirements – implemented by the SA government since late March this year. Most retailers have implemented a manual process, with mixed success. With Covision a retailer will know exactly what the situation is inside a store, in real-time, and manage it efficiently,” Nico Steyn, IoT.nxt CEO, explains.

Read the full article via ITWeb.

The difficult assessment of IIoT platforms

The difficult assessment of IoT platforms

By Gaétan Raoul, LeMagIT March 2020

This comparative analysis of the Magic Quadrant and Forrester Wave devoted to IIoT platforms, attempts to shed light on the selection criteria of Gartner and Forrester.

In its Forrester Wave dedicated to IIoT software platforms, the research firm considers that C3.AI, Microsoft, PTC and Siemens are the leaders in this market. IBM and Software AG lead the “Strong Performers” category. However, Microsoft, AWS (a “strong performer”) and ABB (a “contender”) benefit from the strongest presence on the market ahead of IBM.

On the contrary, in June 2019, Gartner saw neither challengers nor leaders, but visionaries and niche players. In order of importance, Software AG, PTC and Hitachi are the three visionaries of this magic square. Accenture leads the challengers, on the border between the niche player and the visionary.

GE Digital, Oracle, IBM, Hitachi, PTC and Software AG appear as the actors common to both tables. However, they do not occupy the same place at all. Forrester mentions Bosch, Siemens, and Samsung SDS in the ranking. Gartner chooses Eurotech, Atos, RootCLOUD, Altizon, Exosite, QiO, Davra, Flutura, and Litmus Automation’s IIoT niche platforms. In his special mentions, he includes solutions from ABB, Alibaba, AWS, Huawei, IoT.nxt, Microsoft, Schneider Electric and Siemens. Gartner excludes SAP Leonardo from its Magic Quadrant.

Forrester perceives an established market, Gartner highlights lack of competitiveness

Thus, Gartner does not identify leaders and considers that the market for IIoT platforms, although there is no shortage of participants, is not yet sufficiently competitive. Most of the publishers mentioned are considered to be niche players. If products evolve quickly, manufacturers are barely starting their connected adventure.

To explain this difference in treatment, it must be understood that Gartner and Forrester are not based exactly on the same criteria. The two firms analyze the feedback from their clients, two slightly different audiences. For its part, Gartner only considers standalone software solutions, independent of components offered by several suppliers, equipment manufacturers or publishers. For example, Siemens was excluded from Magic Quadrant 2019 because it builds on the device management layer of Software AG.

Gartner believes that a publisher of an IIoT platform must offer in a single offer analytical capability, device management, integration tools, IoT data management, means of creating and orchestrating applications, as well as a security layer. Everything must be available on site and in the cloud.

Forrester does not specify in its methodology the choice of choosing all-in-one solutions, although it mentions the same technical evaluation criteria. In addition, the firm performs its analysis in the fourth quarter of 2019 and publishes it in November 2019 while Gartner offers it in June of the same year.

Significant differences between the “leaders”

In addition to these differences, it is interesting to consider the remarks and comments justifying the choices of analysts concerning the actors at the top of the two rankings. In general, Forrester tries above all to present the advantages and functionalities of each of the products. Gartner takes a more critical look with his famous positive and negative points.

Let us first take the example of PTC, an editor highlighted by the two firms. Forrester discusses all the capabilities offered by the PLM expert in its Thingworx platform. This solution, available on the cloud or on site, benefits from a combination of IoT and augmented reality capabilities while being compatible with a large number of industrial equipment thanks to Kepware. PTC relies on an ecosystem of established partners. The strategic alliance with Rockwell Automation is a good example.

In essence, Gartner takes up the same arguments and even considers Thingworx to be “one of the best-known platforms” on the market. It would support nearly 40,000 developers. The firm points out the limits of the analytical tools integrated into Thingworx, reminds that the digital twin functionality is not fully compatible with industrial machines and that its prices are “20 to 50% higher” than those of its competitors.
Software AG, the German publisher of the Cumulocity IoT platform, would offer all of the functionality needed to conduct IIoT projects, according to Gartner. The suite includes Cumulocity IoT Core and Cumulocity IoT Edge. Forrester also highlights the capabilities of edge computing, data management and real-time analytics, and machine learning.

The two analyst firms note the creation of a division dedicated to IoT activities, the partnership with Siemens around the Mindsphere suite and the creation of the ADAMOS joint venture. Gartner mentions that Software AG generates 50% of the revenues from Cumulocity IoT through 55 reseller partners. The publisher has also set up a center of excellence.

The solution has the advantage of supporting 150 pre-integrated devices, 350 protocols. Finally, it benefits from regular updates (every two weeks with a major addition every month). However, Gartner pointed out that Cumulocity IoT did not fully support the OPC UA protocol (which has been the case since December 2019) and Edge functionality, while code review techniques needed to be improved.

Siemens has named its Mindsphere platform. Designed on an open source core (Cloud Foundry), it allows interconnection with third-party applications and is itself composed of elements that do not belong to Siemens (Tableau, Software AG and hosting on AWS, Azure or Alibaba Cloud). This is what Gartner accuses him of, while Forrester sees this actor as a leader. German manufacturer expands equipment management beyond its own devices with Software AG solution.

If C3.AI is not among the candidates selected by Gartner, it is undoubtedly because this editor offers above all an analytical and data science platform. Forrester recalls that this PaaS compatible with Microsoft Azure, was formerly called C3 IoT.

Although the company maintains partnerships with equipment manufacturers, it does not offer a device management system per se but connects with systems allowing it to aggregate the data necessary for analyzes. It is therefore not an IIoT platform in the sense understood by Gartner.

Another element can play in the evaluation of different solutions. Publishers simply have to play the game of analysis. Hitachi declined to respond to Forrester’s request. The latter mentions it in his Forrester Wave based on his knowledge of the Lumada platform and information transmitted by his customers.

According to Gartner, Hitachi has endowed bricks essential to the conduct of IIoT projects. Lumada can integrate with offers from OEM suppliers in different industrial sectors. Customers surveyed see integration features as a definite advantage. Hitachi’s alliances, technological and industrial partnerships would place it in a good position to meet the needs of its customers. However, Lumada’s device management and digital twinning capabilities fell short of customer expectations, according to Gartner.

Cloud providers: IoT bricks versus end-to-end solutions

Regarding cloud providers AWS, Oracle Microsoft, and IBM, only Oracle and Big blue fully meet Gartner’s criteria. Watson IoT Platform has key functionalities, from equipment management to integration and security capabilities to access to analytics and machine learning tools (optional, but that both firms do not specify it).

Customers can rely on the Node Red programming language to build IIoT applications, however Watson IoT Platform support would not be as good as other IBM services, say Gartner analysts.

Oracle IoT Cloud has the merit of offering practically the same functionalities this time in SaaS mode on its own cloud or on private instances. The tool would integrate with third-party applications such as ERP, SCM and CX (Customer Experience) tools. In addition, the supplier offers Oracle IoT Cloud in a pack with its middleware and enterprise applications (MES) offers. However, this application-centric platform is subject to proprietary confinement generally practiced by this operator.

These players are above all partners of choice for all publishers specializing in the integration and analysis of data from connected equipment. Most market players offer their platform from the IaaS layers of these cloud giants.

If AWS could not previously offer a deployment of its solution on site, the availability of Outposts should change Gartner’s opinion regarding his exclusion from the Magic Quadrant. However, both AWS and Microsoft do not offer a platform as such, but managed services that must be added up to deploy use cases. The two players do not have direct connectors to industrial standards and integrate their solution at a gateway capable of communicating data via an MQTT protocol.

They rely on Edge functionality and are able to couple it with embedded machine learning functionality. Microsoft has a large footprint in the augmented reality market complementary to IoT, and partnerships with industry specialists like ABB and Schneider Electric. AWS claims to be the world’s largest IIoT project, Volkswagen’s, in partnership with Siemens.

A complex assessment

The reading grids offered by the two analysis firms are relevant for obtaining an initial opinion on the offers available on the market. They advise you to monitor their publications to fully assess these tools. In an industrial context, the adoption of a PaaS IIoT requires an evaluation of the standards, machines, and operational systems in place.

Consulting the documentation of each publisher is the best action to take to understand if a tool can meet your needs.

Depending on the scale of the project and the existing infrastructure, certain players will be better able to meet your constraints. However, fully connecting a factory is a particularly expensive and complex initiative. Most of these players will recommend that you start with a production line, then deploy step by step. It is also possible to rely on observability bricks to provide an analytical layer to existing systems.

A software suite, as powerful as it is, should not make us forget that the IoT brings together a good number of IT problems (network, storage, compatibility, data ingestion, processing and restitution, etc.) in a single point of attention.

This feature was published in French on www.lemagit.fr.

The agile will lead the world of business, post Covid-19

By Nico Steyn (Co-Founder and CEO of IoT.nxt)

Leading commentators, visionaries, consultants, business and political leaders have said that the world will be changed forever by COVID-19 and cautioned that any individual or company that expects life and business to return to what was before will be facing an uncertain future in unchartered waters.

The business and economic disruption caused by COVID-19 is immense and universal. Governments around the globe implemented strategies and introduced regulations to protect citizens against infection, slow down the rate of infection, provide treatment and set up infrastructure to prevent people from dying, and do whatever possible to ensure there is no overload at medical facilities.

The economic fall-out of the regulatory measures was swift and, in many countries, severe. Businesses large and small experienced drastic falls in business activity and in certain industries like tourism, fashion and apparel, hospitality, leisure travel, personal services, and more, sales fell to zero as people were required to stay at home.

US data service Yelp reported that the economic changes from the first quarter of 2020 were unlike anything they have ever seen. “In a period of about 15 days as the nation (US) reacted to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy transformed as much as it had in Yelp’s prior 15 years of operation, combined.”

Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, said in article for the Wall Street Journal that while the assault on human health will—hopefully—be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations.

This unparalleled shift in global business has presented an opportunity for agile businesses that are able to adapt to the new normal and to those that introduced and adopted the technologies of the future before COVID-19 struck.

IoT.nxt is fortunate to be in the latter group. We built our business on the principle of agility, focused on adaptability to what the market demands since launch and, very importantly, considered attracting the best team possible a key factor to drive the company.

Although our operations all around the globe were and continue to be affected by the impacts of COVID-19 and strategies nations developed around it, IoT.nxt has experienced one of its best quarters since the establishment of the company (in late 2015) and interest in our solution has accelerated since mid-March.

This is how we achieved it:

1. Invest in our people

To be considered world-leading and innovative companies must attract the best talent. And look after them. The company had 6 employees and one office in South Africa in March 2016. We now have 250+ team members in five offices around the globe (SA, The Netherlands, UK, two in the USA). The tech industry globally is known to attract young people and it is no different at IoT.nxt.

They bring an energy, fearlessness and enthusiasm that inspire the entire workforce. This is balanced with the more experienced in our team to provide a blend that drives our company culture and ultimately our success. Every employee is encouraged to think about and suggest new ways of doing things, new products, new avenues to pursue.

Management supports this with learning and development opportunities and commensurate reward for performance. Couple this with a team spirit of support and fun – largely driven by a company-wide love for everything Star Wars. We call our team members Troopers and have designed an office with a Star Wars theme that maintains an atmosphere of fun but always with an eye on the future.

We implemented a comprehensive employee wellness plan, beyond strategies already in place, to manage the changed working environment in a business world changed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We added a wellness team to our operations to focus on activities to support our employees. We also added the services of a trained therapist, to be available should any employee struggle with the challenges of remote work and not being in an office environment.

Regular broadcasts talking to the entire team were introduced as a critical element of our overall business strategy and to communicate business and operational news. And to provide the team opportunity to interact.

Protocols to protect the team were added and whatever equipment or consumables required were provided at offices.

2. Innovate

As the impact of COVID-19 on economies, businesses, communities, and individuals became evident we stepped up our already inherent focus on innovation was stepped up. A new way of doing business unfolded which for us, as a technology company, presented exceptional opportunities. We rolled out a challenge to our team to come up with any innovative ideas that will make use of our solutions to solve business challenges created by the impact of COVID-19.

Our team did not disappoint and withing days new products, that can be brought to market in a short space of time, were devised and rolled out for testing. This includes the groundbreaking ‘Covision’ product, a solution that will help retailers and office parks manage distancing requirements and thus the number of people in a facility at any moment. Covision makes data available in real-time without requiring significant outlay for equipment. The team that developed this innovative idea is already working on other applications using the same principles.

Many businesses in diverse industries realised that there are new ways of improving their business operations and drive efficiencies, which our technology can deliver.

3. Be ahead with the use of technology

The fourth industrial revolution is truly in full swing now. Companies embracing this and introducing new technologies to update their operations to be ready for the future needs of markets in a post-COVID-19 world are the ones who will bounce back fastest once the impacts start to slow down and business activity picks up.

In our own business, we always look ahead and actively collaborate with partners, which include several of the leading global technology leaders, to seek new solutions and make new technologies part of our strategies.

4. Listen to our customers and develop solutions for their business challenges

Even now, months after the first COVID-19 infection was reported, so much of what continues to unfold in businesses and economies is unexpected and unprecedented. This has required new thinking from business leaders and they now demand new thinking and solutions or challenges they did not envision at the end of last year. For us, this is the most exciting part of doing business in this changed world and drives our teams to think beyond today.

5. Adapt processes and procedures

So much is new, but so much needs to remain structured and organized. We have introduced changes to workstreams, communication channels, meeting protocols, travel arrangements to adapt our business to remain robust and agile in a changed business environment. The effort and energy we put into people management made this manageable.
 
Digital solutions will be the differentiator in a post COVID-19 world. Business will need agility to adapt, continue to focus on building strong teams and looking after their well-being. The global business disruption we are experiencing now delivered immense challenges, but also an opportunity to look at technologies of the future and utilize those to build strong companies. The agile and innovative will thrive.