Creativity, and how to harness the Internet of Things
At the invitation of a friend, I recently visited a vineyard in the Rift Valley. What was meant to be a leisurely drive to see what this new cash crop can offer to Kenyans turned out to be a technology lesson.
The farm is fully automated, such that the manager can run things on the farm from his mobile phone from anywhere on the globe.
Every gadget and section of the farm has a unique address akin to what in communication technology is referred to as Internet of Things (IoT).
Cisco, which is at the cutting edge of new innovations, defines IoT as ways of bringing together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before, turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals and countries.
Use of IoT is made possible by the increasing connectivity in the country. We are not alone. Africa, just like many parts of the world, is getting connected, but many Africans only attribute connectivity to mobile telephony and, to some extent, the Internet.
Many studies, especially from the World Bank, link connectivity to greater economic growth. However, the economic impact of IoT, The Economist says, is yet to be determined, and related innovations such as smart manufacturing may instead challenge employment in both developed and developing nations.
Fortunately, we can learn from the past, when computer and Internet technology were first brought to Kenya. In 1982 the government issued a policy statement banning the use of computers in government offices. It was feared that computers would take jobs from the lower cadres in the civil service.
Many governments indeed feared that the Internet may bring revolutions, but as it stands today computers and the Internet have greatly enhanced productivity in both the public and private sectors.
As such, IoT is likely to deepen productivity improvements in the workplaces and possibly help create more jobs just like the Internet has created.
The problem lies with our own apprehension in adapting to new technologies, often sitting back to wait for useful innovations to come from other parts of the world. The wealth of nations is created through innovations and the determination to continuously take risks to stay ahead of the game.
We had a chance to take the driver’s seat on mobile money innovations but somehow we are applying the brakes and behaving like doubters of our own capabilities. The benefits of a cashless economy do not belong to foreigners.
It should be our own way of creating traceability and the leverage to fight corruption.
Whilst grand corruption hurts the economy, petty theft that is common in workplaces undermines organisational growth and the potential to employ more people. It is for this reason — and I stand to be corrected — that IoT will indeed be the panacea to creating more wealth and employment.
Take, for example, the transport sector in Kenya, where employee theft accounts for almost 50 per cent of the revenue. This theft has forced the sector to be more of a subsistence enterprise and a non-contributor to national tax revenues.
SAFE AND TRANSPARENT
This can be changed around through use of embedded technologies such that if employees stole a gearbox, the gearbox could be traced easily.
Further, vehicle owners will have the capability to know how many passengers travelled in the bus and the distance travelled to enable them to estimate the revenues collected, almost to the shilling.
These technologies along with electronic revenue collection, are likely to give tax authorities more visibility in tax collection. Greater tax collection leads to more revenue and potentially the likelihood of lower tax rates that benefit all.
Sensors in public service vehicles can determine the ability of the driver to drive the vehicle. If she or he is not capable, through IoT, the vehicle can be disabled to save the lives of the passengers.
Our tech-savvy youth can do all this and help build our confidence in innovation leadership.
There are numerous ways of applying IoT, even for a developing country like ours. Steffen Schenkluhn of Bosch Software Innovations says we expect there to be approximately 14 billion connected devices worldwide by the end of 2022, from a starting point of more than 2 billion at the end of 2013.
Another figure that should not be underestimated is the IoT’s revenue potential by 2022, which we consider to be around 596 billion euros spread across all players of the ecosystem. Approximately 176 billion euros and 213 billion euros would come from automotive and intelligent buildings, respectively.
MANY MORE DEVICES
The big question is, how can we get a slice of these billions? Schenkluhn says more than 90 per cent of all connected devices will be related to smart metering applications.
But even application areas with comparably low numbers of connected devices might provide huge opportunities for developing new solutions and enjoying greater success in the marketplace.
In smaller application areas, the number of competitors and the competitive pressure will likely be lower.
The effect that efficiency or revenue have on new solutions is not necessarily linked to the number of connected devices.
The potential to create greater wealth and employment through connectivity has been demonstrated. What remains is how each and every person on the globe can be part of this connectivity.
The Alliance for Affordable Internet has researched good practices and is working hand in hand with county governments to produce solutions tailored to local realities, using the resources and influence of its members to make change happen faster.
The Economist noted that Facebook too has launched initiatives to increase Internet access in poorer countries and the effect could be dramatic.
WE’VE SEEN THE FUTURE
But, the best technologies in the world can’t drive progress if they are held back by regulation and policy.
Time and again, though, we see that by creating the conditions for an open, competitive and innovative broadband market — as we did here in Kenya — regulatory and policy reform can drive very large increases in internet access.
To succeed, these policies must focus on enhancing supply of the Internet and creating demand for it.
It is my contention that we have seen the future but we must not wait for someone to interpret it for us on their own terms. We must begin to go through the learning process. We must take measured risks to secure the future of our citizens and never reverse the progress we have made thus far.
As Bill Gates said, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s Business School and a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications. Twitter: @bantigito