Internet of Things, Mango Pickles And You!


At a recent seminar on Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and Digital Technologies, I had a stimulating conversation with the CIO of a large diversified foods company on the role of IoT in the Indian business landscape. During the discussion, he commented, “I have my doubts on the efficacy of IOT in the Indian manufacturing context, especially in an environment where you have limited control over abundant variables and inputs that impact sourcing, supply chain, production. IoT does seem to be a compelling proposition for manufacturing domains like automobiles. But how can IoT add value to a large scale manufacturing industry such as mine, which manufactures & markets more than 300 products.”

This discussion set me thinking on the how this technology has gradually evolved from its earlier avatars, such as M2M (machine-to-machine communications). Let us examine what are the key drivers of IoT today that are driving its wide scale adoption.

1. Maturing Sensor Technology and Lower Cost of Sensors

Today’s highly advanced sensors, actuators and edge devices can undertake sensing-decision making at a local level or Fog level. This, combined with the drastic fall in costs of sensors over the past decade, has led the number of sensors manufactured to increase more than five times to 22 billion in the past three years.

2. Expansion of Low Power Wide Area Wireless Networks

Existing terrestrial communication networks such as 4G LTE, NFC, VPN, Wi-Fi, and the rapid expansion of emerging Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) wireless networks, such as Sigfox, 6LoPan, and Bluetooth Low Energy  allow a large number of diverse devices in disparate locations to be integrated in an enterprise network. These technologies do not choke bandwidth, consuming only a fraction of energy in comparison.  The advent of heterogeneous networks and micro satellites will allow for more unified connectivity between multiple types of nodes using different protocols.

3. Hyperscale Computing

Third is the availability of hyperscale computing and data storage infrastructure through Public and Private Clouds. This has significantly reduced costs and made it easier to manage Big Data programs.

4. Advanced Analytics

Fourth is the advancement in Data Science and Analytics. Today capabilities like math and statistical modelling, machine and deep learning have propagated in a healthy measure to impact the enterprise segment.  

Role of IoT in transforming large-scale industries

All these factors have brought in an explosion in the use of IoT managed devices across a diverse range of industries, including large scale and consumer facing sectors. Let us look at few such scenarios where this technology can play a transformational role.

Hyper Local market: This booming sector is an apt example where IoT enables a multitude of services- from  dispensing machines, E-PoS systems, to helping customer research and demand forecasting. Retail level data revolutionizes load forecasting by providing granular point-of-consumption data. This data is useful for building forecasts in a variety of contexts - from studying demography, consumer behaviour to monitoring effectiveness of specific marketing content or offers. The same data also helps determine supply on specific channels of the distribution infrastructure and enable dynamic pricing.

Supply Chain Optimisation: Smart data is also being used to improve distribution network planning. Traditionally, production controllers and marketers err on measure of overcapacity. Telematics and precision agriculture data from individual farms and mandis (markets) can be aggregated into zones and regions. This enables a composite picture from farm-to-production-to-consumption (B2B2C), and when combined with other information sources, can yield tremendous insights.

Crop quality optimization: Reactive readings from smart sensors and meters can be captured and analyzed to measure crop quality from germination, or in this case photo sensors can pick up flowering pattern, and based on soil, rain, humidity, temperature, nutrient readings, the farmer can determine the right nutrient, pesticide intervention required, thus increase efficiency, soil and water conservation, and provide a higher quality product to customers.

Key among its multitude of benefits is IoT’s ability to significantly improve efficiency in manufacturing systems and processes, such as shorter production cycles and more timely responses to supplier orders. It leads to interruption-free management of the physical production line, aggregates and monitor inventory on a real time basis. This real-time inventory management helps control costs and thus lower prices.

Coming back to our friend, I hope most of his concerns would have been addressed by the above.  To alleviate any concerns, consider this - sensors in ageing containers (used for maturing pickles) can read the air quality, check for certain gas emissions and prevent bacterial and fungal contamination.

Effective use of these technologies can lead to a model farm-to-fork scenario, wherein the company’s contract farms, farmers, procurement team, production, supply chain, sales & marketing, retail channels, and most importantly your end-consumers could be connected seamlessly through a digital information grid, all of them engaging in relevant conversations in real time, providing vital actionable insights in a context rich environment, each partaking as a proactive stakeholder.