It’s already obvious that the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to be the next big thing, and companies that embrace the technologies that make up IoT – and start to add value – will be the ones that succeed in 2017 and beyond.
By Kathy Gibson
Acer Africa’s Glenn du Toit believes this is especially true for IT vendors, “If you look at the global landscape many non-traditional IT companies are actively launching IoT solutions and if we don’t make active strides to capitalise on our expertise and experience in the IT industries we will simply be left behind. In fact as a multi-national IT company our biggest competitor in the IoT field is not another global brand, but the independent IT entrepreneur with the flexibility to identify a need, design and launch a prototype within a few weeks, if not days. Academics call this period in time the Fourth Industrial Revolution”
“If you look at Acer: we are traditionally a prominent player as a hardware company. As technology has advanced the saturation of traditional IT products is fast approaching. Moore’s Law has be proven over and over that products today are far more advanced than those of a year or two ago. With this, we have seen the industry become commoditised to the point where you have to diversify in order to offer your customers something different. Acer’s core is and always will be our vast range of Computers and Large Format display units, our IoT solutions will simply form an extension to the core business.”
Analysts speak a lot about IoT, and how literally billions of devices are going to be connected soon. Du Toit argues that the value of IoT goes way beyond this. “IoT is about so much more than connecting a single deice to the Internet or even connecting a machine to machine via the Internet, IoT is not simply connect and collect,” he says. “Up to now, the market has been predominantly driven by consumer devices, especially in South Africa, and there are few industrial devices that are operating effectively.
“We are in a time in history where the development of technology is increasing exponentially, technology has more and more powerful and increasingly cheaper to access. As a result many of the solutions that are on offer globally are taken to market by the independent IT entrepreneurs who had the vision to take the first steps.”
However, he believes this is changing, and Acer is leading the charge in terms of where traditional hardware vendors are headed.
“A key catalyst to any revolution can usually be traced back to a single event. In the case of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution the key catalyst is the innovation of cloud technology, Acer first moved into offering cloud solutions as early as 2012 with the initial launch of the AcerCloud application, in 2014 we launched the Acer Build Your Own Cloud (BYOC) abApps solution. This solution allowed consumers that ability to interconnect and share various applications across numerous devices through a cloud solution. No longer limited to a single storage device music, videos and documents could be stored and accessed through a single cloud storage solution added.”
Du Toit adds: “As the business evolved, and we constantly relooked at our understanding of IoT we realised that it is so much more than connect and collect. For Acer, IoT needs to be a solution that offers intelligence that enhances not just consumers lives but provides solutions for businesses too.”
Since 2014, Acer has gone on a development and investment drive to help it achieve its IoT vision and has is now bringing a family of IoT solutions, called BeingWare, to market.
“BeingWare ties in to Acer’s internal concept of combining hardware, software and cloud in a manner that provides solutions,” Du Toit explains. “It goes beyond the singular device or machine to machine connectivity: once you have collected the data from connected devices. The data must be transformed into information that can be used to enhance life or assist a business to increase profitability.”
The company is developing BeingWare solutions in four vertical markets: BeingWare Auto which will cover the automotive industry; BeingWare Business that provides digital business intelligence; BeingWare Life that will cover healthcare; and BeingWare Innovation which focuses on enhancing Acer Education offerings.
“Possibly the most exciting of the verticals, and where a number of innovations we will be launching in 2017 seen in the education and business fields, we cannot wait to launch these offerings,” Du Toit says.
BeingWare Education – Cloud Professor
“As IoT is going to be the next big thing – not only for IT but for business as a whole – it makes sense that we want to start developing the skills and resources that will be needed to make it a reality,” Du Toit says. “We have already alluded to the fact that one of the most exciting areas of IoT is the entrepreneurial element that it brings to the global IT market.
“Disruptive technologies sit more with students and entrepreneurs than ever before. Enter Acer’s Cloud Professor, a toolkit for educators and students that teaches them how to code and build integrated apps into a coherent IoT solution. It’s a IoT starter kit in a box.”
Cloud Professor includes the sensors and processors needed to build a mini-IoT system and guides learners through the process of programming the robotics, communications and user apps creating a real, working IoT system.
Cloud Professor will be offered to educational facilities, and is suitable for learners of all ages: from primary school to tertiary level.
“Because learners build their own system, the complexity level depends on the age and skill of the learners,” Du Toit explains. “In the test phases Cloud Professor is being used by primary school learners, but it’s extremely flexible with multiple modules that will be made available Cloud Professor be useful for learners and students across the board. The system you build depends on who is building it and what outcomes they want.
“Using Acer proprietary OS specifically designed for IoT and based on Acers open platform, the Acer Could Professor will allow students to tailor their experiences and not be confined to the limitations of their peers” says Du Toit. “We are talking about a teaching environment, so it could change daily as new classes come on board.”
Cloud Professor is Acer’s latest offering in the education field, where is already has a very strong footprint. “We will be launching Cloud Professor in 2017 and are excited to contribute to the advancement of our learners in South Africa. We cannot wait to see learners graduating in the technology field knowing the role Acer played in building their foundations,” Du Toit says. “We want to help learners develop a passion for not just consuming technology, but developing and deploying it in South Africa too.
“IoT is the ultimate democratisation of technology: it is inexpensive and is on an open platform. With IoT we can expect to see the emergence of a new class of technology entrepreneurs and Cloud Professor has a key role to play in this, helping young people to bridge the gap and gain a firm understand of the technology.”
BeingWare Business – Acer’s BeingRetail
Retail solutions are a dime a dozen in this day and age. Some solutions send messages to customers passing a display to try lure them into the latest promotions; or a simple heat map shows whether customers are turning left or right. These are usually the so called IoT retail solutions that are highlighted when anyone talks about retail IoT – and for good reason, because the potential for massive returns in the retail sector is huge.
However, Du Toit feels many of the IoT solutions envisaged for the retail environment fall short of creating the right level of value.
“Acer’s BeingRetail is possibly our flagship product for the retail sector,” he says. “But it goes beyond simple connectivity. BeingRetail is a full business intelligence system; a one-stop solution for the retail market. Just imagine the impact on the conversion rate of a store if the retailer can not only measure how many people visit a particular rack, but understand the age, gender and how much time they spend at a display. And this can be done across numerous sites from a central location through cloud access.”
The information that could be harvested includes the time customers spend in the store or at a display, where hotspots are in the store, and how customers move around the floor.
“We can then use this information to start enhancing the offering to customers and touching them where they are. Retailers can optimise their floorplan and even start commoditising it.”
Going one step further than simple IoT will add significant value to businesses, Du Toit believes. “For us, IoT is about taking dark data, capturing it, processing this new data and mapping it against pre-programmed assumptions, and then provide accurate feedback to the point where it can initiate an action.
“All of this has to be able to happen instantaneously, and automatically. The business needs to know what is happening, as it happens, giving access to relevant information and making decisions faster. For us, IoT is about completing the loop and BeingRetail offers just that.”
But it doesn’t stop there, Du Toit adds: “Now link the active data to Acer’s second module in the BeingRetail platform, the marketing content management system and your instore marketing is taken to a new level.”
Through the integration of Acer’s large format displays linked to the content management system the BeingRetail solution can remotely realign the content on the advertising LFD’s to target the specific customers in-store at a specific point in time.
“As we progress on the evolution it’s not if but rather when the Acer BeingRetail™ solution will become automated to offer the full alignment of the two modules. There is so much that the technology can do, and it constantly improves Acer’s BeingRetail solution will become better and even more accurate.”
Acer will be launching BeingRetail™ as a turnkey solution that will include all the required hardware, Acer software, cloud solution, installation, support and even a financing option, in early 2017.
BeingWare Life: Healthcare – GrandPad
Healtcare is another area where IoT is playing huge role in helping to offer better care. Acer will soon be launching its GrandPad product in Europe, catering to users above the age of 75.
“It would be a mistake to see GrandPad as a tablet,” Du Toit said. “It’s a full lifestyle solution for the elderly and their families.”
Boasting a proprietary unique GrandPad operating system with easy to use preloaded apps, the GrandPad™ provides connectivity for the individuals who do not and possibly will never fully adapt to the new technology life we live in 2016 and beyond.”
As the GrandPad is not a rudimentary tablet device and requires an advanced healthcare support structure Du Toit advises that a launch date for South Africa is yet to be confirmed. “When launching a solution like the GrandPad we need to ensure we have all the necessary components in place, to bring the device into the country is simple, but again this is not a single device, it’s a solution.”
The channel opportunity
With regards to the channel opportunities Du Toit stresses: “The IoT solutions we bring into the African market have to be relevant to local needs and conditions.
“The key to IoT is that you have to be fast, and you have to offer a stable solution. IoT isn’t going to wait for you to catch up: people will latch on to ideas and develop solutions quickly. Acer is taking the market opportunity very seriously,” he adds.
The company is looking to add value while providing solutions that make sense to people. “Acer’s strategy is to come to the market with solutions, and the devices are almost becoming a secondary consideration. Our feeling is that, unless we are providing a full solution, we shouldn’t be offering it.”
Asked how this would affect current daily operations, Du Toit says: “In the IoT field we will no longer be talking about moving boxes, but about providing solutions, To do this, we need to partner with businesses who understand IoT, and understand how the solutions fit in; the business of IoT and BeingWare is a service solution. In this context, we are not interested in a once-off sale.
“This philosophy means that there is an extended opportunity for our partners to travel this exciting journey with us.”