Ben Hancock, National IoT Lead based at AFN Solutions head office in Sydney answers the most pertinent questions surrounding the IoT and Smart Cities.
Hi Ben, welcome to AFN, where in early November you started in a newly created position of a National IoT Lead. Also, you recently visited a Retail Innovation Summit in Sydney CIC where you talked about various challenges of making the physical world ‘digital’. So it seems you settled in well and you have your hands full, but can we maybe start by explaining your job title to everybody?
Q: What exactly is IoT?:
Ben: Thank you! I am excited to join the AFN team in such an exciting industry that is IoT. IoT stands for ‘Internet of Things’, however it is also known as Industrie 4.0; Industrial Internet, M2M, Internet of Everything and so on.
Basically, it is the concept of ‘things’ talking to other ‘things’ using intelligent platforms, networks, AI and analytics. It is the future of how humans connect to the technology around them.
Q: Sounds like a passage from some Isaac Asimov’s book. What exactly does AFN Solutions, a smart city technology company with vast experience primarily in CCTV & video analytics, do in that field?:
Great question – AFN has a strong lineage in CCTV, which requires network connectivity. This is the foundation and walls of the solution, which allows IoT technology to fill in the rest. Sensors, smart lights, smart bins, robots (yes, robots), analytics and platforms are the smart technology and solutions that build out the rest of our offering. But without the underlying foundation, there is no house!
Q: Robots? Smart sensors? Analytics? Are you sure you are not filming a sequel to the A.I. movie? How does AFN intend to integrate these disparate technologies in the context of Smart Cities?
Haha, well – the future is now! The first step is to understand which technology will achieve the greatest outcome in terms of improving life for the inhabitants of a city or town.
For some regions, this may be a more effective waste management program to reduce unsightly rubbish and free up capital to invest in other projects; for other towns, it may be public safety-led; and for some, it may be an upgrade to typically outdated and manual parking management systems, to reduce congestion, improve visibility and keep visitors flowing through towns.
Once we have established this, we can look at integrating into existing systems, or the viability of building something new entirely.
Q: And that’s where you come in?:
That’s right! My role is to provide thought leadership, product excellence and of course customer service and sales to our clients. Anything IoT, is me.
Q: For example? Can you be specific?
For example, we have recently undertaken a consulting engagement for a regional town where we have been their Smart City partner from initial ideation, assisting in the application and securing of funds, through to the actually project management and deployment of technologies.
In this instance, that includes Smart LED lights, Smart Bins, Smart Parking, Wi-Fi, and environmental monitoring.
This means AFN have been involved from the ground floor and can ensure a logical approach is applied to the investment of funds into the right technology.
Q: Good to know. Now, let’s get real. Technology being technology – can you see any disruptions IoT may cause to an average Australian community or business whether they are big or small?
I think we will see less reliance on ‘the way things have always been done’, and more acceptances to small start-ups, innovative ideas and Proof of Concepts to learn and fail fast.
From a technology perspective, we will see more focus on distributed computing (or ‘fog computing’) a larger uptake of NB-IoT solutions, and investment into open-source, API-driven solutions that can form a coherent network of technology and outcomes.
Q: That sounds very complex. Do you have any recommendations as to how can AFN Solutions help companies stay prepared? Or maybe even be a little bit ahead of the game?
There needs to be a keen desire to do things a little differently – there is a town we are working with at the moment looking to leverage a communal farming robot project as one of their Smart City projects, for which AFN is the lead partner.
There is also large amounts of information on grants available on the Smart Cities & Suburbs webpage, so I highly recommend spending some time researching that avenue.
The most innovative projects draw the most attention and generally give Councils access to the most funding.
For businesses, understanding where they sit in their IoT maturity and where some of the technology I’ve mentioned may provide some return – e.g. Smart Retail, Connected Logistics sites, etc.
Q: Okay, and in practical terms, where do you suggest Australian communities should start to be future-ready and why?
Well that would differ from Council to Council and likewise, no two businesses are alike. One thing to remember is that we strive to create brilliant solutions with our customers as partners. Call me and let’s have a chat! Be open-minded, creative and brave.
Thanks for your time, Ben.