“IoT is here to stay and, in fact, will expand with every passing day”

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Mohandas U, director, Sparr Electronics Ltd

Sparr Electronics Ltd, an embedded electronics hardware manufacturer, is betting big on the IoT, based on the significant demand for connected technologies among customers. However, Mohandas U., the firm’s director, believes that for successful IoT adoption, Indian customers need to shed their traditional problem-solving mindset and adopt IoT because of its predictive capabilities. In a conversation with Baishakhi Dutta, he shares his views on the current IoT landscape and his company’s strategies to succeed in this space.

EB: Many feel that IoT is just a buzzword that industry gurus have coined to create hype? Do you agree with that line of thought?
No. I think it is just taking a little more time for people to understand IoT properly, in order to use it for their own benefit. Customers need to really understand the technology in order to apply it appropriately. IoT is not one single solution. It encompasses the use of many new technologies like AI, and soon adoption of this technology will become more and more widespread.

EB: Talking about your products and offerings, have any new developments or investments taken place recently?
A lot of technology developments have happened, though this may not be in terms of investments, as such. We’re basically a MSME (micro small and medium enterprise). Over the past 30 years, we have continuously developed new products. Now our focus is on connectivity and IoT solutions. We are revamping all our products to offer solutions with which anybody can connect to the cloud very easily, and start using it to its full potential.

EB: Have you come up with any new products in this space?
We are in the process of fine tuning our current product range to match the requirements of the IoT. We offered connectivity even before IoT became a buzzword. Now that these new IoT providers are there, we are trying to fine tune our products to easily connect to them.

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EB: How do you see the IoT market evolving in the next two to three years?
IoT is going to stay and, in fact, expand with every passing day. It will not remain the IoT as we understand it today. With AI and ML coming in, IoT will become more and more complex. IoT is simply connectivity, which we had even earlier, though it was not referred to by this name. With the emergence of AI and all the other new technologies, this connectivity is becoming more and more widely accepted and adopted. So, yes, it is definitely going to be around for a long time.

EB: Though we have seen a lot of solutions providers in the IoT space, we rarely hear of any success stories. So, where do you think the problem lies?
Let’s take the example of elevators. The IoT can provide preventive maintenance and all the benefits which come with such implementations. But in countries like India, we are used to the traditional way of solving problems. Only after the problem occurs, do we call for help, at which point customers understand the value of a repair service. But when someone prevents a problem, or rectifies a minor issue and thus prevents a bigger breakdown, it brings up the question of how much such a service is valued. How much will someone pay for it? That mindset still has to evolve.

EB: Who is the key decision-maker for you – the technology head or the business head?
It’s the technology head. We believe that the technical people are the primary users. So, once they are convinced, we can take things forward. The procurement team enters the picture only to ensure that we deliver the right solution.

EB: How has your business been over the last couple of years?
Well, it was good the previous year, but this year it’s been sort of slow. But I think it’s a worldwide phenomenon that is getting reflected in India. Here, things are still okay in some sectors.

EB: How would you rate the Indian government’s initiatives to boost domestic manufacturing, on a scale of 1 to 10?
As a part of CLIK (Consortium of Electronics Industries of Karnataka) we have a much closer contact with the government. We know that there are a lot of initiatives from the government to promote Indian companies, including the very small ones. Once the demand goes up, then everybody will start seeing the benefits from these initiatives. We, as a company, are all for GST, which is working very nicely for us. We have not faced any problems. So keeping all such initiatives in mind, I would give a rating of nine.

EB: Do you see e-commerce gradually over-taking brick and mortar businesses? What’s your strategy with respect to benefiting from this revolution?
This is not easy. The trick is to have a well-balanced approach to maximise returns from all emerging market scenarios. The online selection, ordering and payment process is far more efficient in comparison to the traditional methods, and this is the reason why customers prefer to take this route. But it should also be possible for organisations to adapt and offer online purchase platforms to their customers, even while educating them continuously on the various benefits of keeping in touch with brick and mortar setups that offer quick support.

EB: In your opinion, is the Indian government playing any significant role in expanding the IoT market right now?
The Smart Cities project is in line with the IoT market and the government should move forward with this project. This will offer the much wanted impetus to this specific area and encourage many new companies to join in.

EB: How is the development of standards (or the lack of it) affecting the adoption of IoT?
This is a challenge and, in my view, the companies offering products in the IoT space would do well to offer the protocol of choice to the customer.

EB: How ready is India’s tech ecosystem to develop and deploy IoT solutions?
I do not see any reason why our companies cannot offer solutions in this space. Of course, the one challenge is to make the solutions robust enough to work in our infrastructure.

EB: What are the key technologies missing, which when made available, can accelerate the adoption of IoT across the globe?
Low-power technologies, which are still evolving, and the very low-cost communication infrastructure should pave the way for more and more deployment. Of course, the relevance and need for a particular solution will ultimately determine its success and not just the availability of appropriate technology alone.

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