While consumer applications of the Internet of Things seem to be increasing, industrial examples are not always as visible, yet one region seems set to be among the breakthrough innovators in the field. Latin America has found a range of industrial uses for the technology. RCR Wireless News highlighted an interesting project that uses a wireless sensor network to monitor plantain crops in the west-central Colombian region of Santa Rosa de Cabal. The smart farming project uses Waspmote Plug & Sense! to monitor the crops against specific metrics such as digital humidity and temperature, soil moisture, soil temperature, trunk diameter and fruit diameter, among others. These two examples highlight the potential uses in the region.
Latin America’s interest in IoT innovation, in general, seems high. A recent Evans Data Corporation survey found that close to half (44%) of developers in the EMEA region had no interest in starting IoT projects, with only 17% of respondents actively engaged in any project of that kind. By contrast, the survey found that “South America looks to be ramping up its Internet of Things investments, with 60% of developers in that region planning to begin projects related to the internet of things and 22% already doing so”.
Adriana E. Torres Nava, Country head for Tata Consultancy Services in Mexico, says that Latin America has seen uptake in IoT in general terms. According to the findings of the TCS 2015 IoT trend report, companies in Latin America are investing an average of $54.7 million on IoT initiatives. In addition, almost half (45%) of companies in the region track customers through their mobile devices and are using IoT in their production or distribution operations.
Nava points out that, at the global level, among the manufacturing companies surveyed in the study, seven percent were from Brazil, a country in the region where Industrial IoT is gaining strength. In general, the study found that manufacturers are devoting most of their IoT budget to product monitoring (35.5%), followed by supply chain monitoring (25.7%).
For the year 2020, manufacturers are expected to allocate most of their IoT budget for product monitoring. In terms of general budget plans for 2018, manufacturers are expected to spend 11% more on IoT initiatives.
This seems to spell good news for innovation in the region. Raul Colcher, an IEEE Life Senior Member who is Head of Technology Courses at FGV (Getúlio Vargas Foundation), CEO of Questera Consulting, a Board of Directors member at WITSA (World Information Technology & Services Alliance) and Vice-Chairman of ASSESPRO (Brazilian association of software & IT service companies), says that despite this, IoT in LatAm is still in its infancy stage, both in terms of implementations and innovation.
Colcher stresses that there is a great deal of interest. For South America, Brazil seems to be leading, in his view, in terms of academic research, startup developments and actual M2M operational solutions. He cites recent examples such as a sophisticated asset management system for Caterpillar in Brazil, based on electronics embedded in the equipment in the field, with functionalities for tracking, remote data gathering, and predictive maintenance.
“Another interesting example comes from a Sao Paulo based startup that designed a system to provide drivers in big cities, via smartphone app, with automatic information related to available parking spots in downtown crowded areas in their vicinity. There are systems being deployed in the health industry, oil and gas and many other areas,” he says.
In order to capitalise on this initial industrial IoT push, companies and governments across the region need to make IoT in all its forms more of a priority. Guilherme Gonçalves, IoT Latin America manager at Real Alliance Brazil, which hosts the IoT Latin America conference, emphasises that it is essential to disseminate information and knowledge about what is available in the market and what the trends are in order to induce the training of professionals. He adds that a massive investment in infrastructure is also essential.
“It was precisely why the idea was born [at] IoT Latin America, whose latest iteration was held in September in São Paulo – the next one will be on 12 and 13 September 2017. The intention is to encourage further debate, discuss with professionals the resources necessary for the implementation of this new technological level in order to boost work efficiency, increased productivity and competitiveness. In this technological race, those who stay behind may disappear,” he says.
Nava of Tata says, for Latin America, key challenges for the adoption of Industrial IoT, resonate with the challenges for IoT adoption in general. “In our survey, companies in Latin America were found to be less likely to place sensors in products, something that undermines the appropriate use of data that IoT provides.” Another challenge, Nava notes, will be to get managers and staff to change their thinking and the way they look at the customer thanks to the insights provided by IoT. “It will be crucial to adopt IoT as part of the general strategy and embed it into the company culture,” she says.
For Gonçalves, in addition to paradigm changes, the implementation of IoT in industries is hindered by obstacles such as high costs, lack of available technologies, lack of government incentives and even the lack of mobilisation by leaders of companies to support area initiatives. “If the chief executive does not buy the idea, nothing happens. These are challenges that require attention of all stakeholders: industry, suppliers of solutions in products and services, research and development centres and government officials, among others.”
While challenges remain, it is clear that Latin America has already grabbed at opportunities to innovate in the area of industrial IoT and can offer interesting examples which other countries can learn from. As Nava notes: “With technologies such as IoT becoming an integral part of business, there is an opportunity for the Latin America IT sector to continue to develop and provide innovative solutions for local customers based on their needs.”
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond