LUIS ALVAREZ HAS BEEN DELIVERING Internet of Things solutions to his clients for almost as long as he’s been in business. He just wasn’t aware that’s what he was doing until recently.
“We’re in a very heavily agricultural area,” explains Alvarez, who is president and CEO of Alvarez Technology Group Inc., a Salinas, Calif.-based integrator and MSP firm he founded in 2001. About a third of the companies he supports grow, ship, or process food in one way or another, and Alvarez has been helping them use remote sensors to monitor soil conditions and track temperatures inside refrigerated trucks for years.
“In ag, they’ve been innovating in what we call IoT for a long, long time,” says Alvarez, who adds that he just didn’t know to call it IoT back then.
He knows now, however. Worldwide Internet of Things services spending will total $235 billion this year, according to Gartner Inc., which also expects the global installed base of IoT endpoints to skyrocket from nearly 6.4 billion in 2016 to roughly 20.8 billion in 2020. That explosive growth spells opportunity for channel pros who build, sell, and maintain Internet of Things solutions.
Thanks to the increasing sophistication of IoT gateways, development platforms, and other technologies, moreover, getting in on that action doesn’t have to be as hard as you might think. Let these four recipes for IoT solutions you can cook up and sell today show you the way.
Recipe 1: Trucking Company Dashboard
According to Alvarez, businesses that get agricultural goods to market are longtime users of sensors for monitoring truck locations. “Truck tracking technology has been around for 20 years,” he says. “It has just now become much cheaper and more efficient.”
That realization helped Alvarez spot an opportunity to do more with IoT technology than keep tabs on truck locations. Transportation laws limit the number of hours drivers can work in a given shift, and how much rest they must get between shifts. Determining which driver and which truck should handle which delivery requires a combination of vehicle, booking, routing, and HR data stored in separate operational systems. “There was no clear way other than Excel spreadsheets to track all of that stuff,” Alvarez says.
So he created one, a cloud-based dashboard solution that imports data from truck-based sensors and merges it with all of the other information trucking managers need to get the most work done, legally, with the least number of drivers. “By being able to correlate where the trucks are to when the drivers have started work, and how many more hours of work they have left to them, they can be much more efficient about who they assign to different routes,” Alvarez notes.
Building the first instance of the solution took more than 200 hours of work, but much of that effort could be repurposed for additional clients in the future. The availability of industry-specific IoT transportation solutions made importing data from vehicles easier than expected too. “It’s not as complicated as we thought it was going to be,” Alvarez says, adding that the toughest part of the development process was stitching the truck-based application together with the rest of the solution. “One thing that a lot of these IoT solutions still lack is any sort of integration,” he explains.
- An Internet-enabled telematics solution for tracking truck locations
- Cellular connectivity to get data from the trucks into the cloud
- A public or private cloud in which to store the data and host the dashboard. Alvarez uses Microsoft Azure for that purpose.
- Reporting software capable of combining and analyzing information from the telematics application and the customer’s various business systems. Alvarez employs Microsoft’s Power BI in this role.
- Meet with the client to assess specific requirements. Different truckers will want to monitor different metrics in different ways.
- Select a telematics vendor and research interfacing with its software. “Standards aren’t universal, and they’re kind of tweaked by each manufacturer to meet their specific need,” Alvarez warns. “At times, those conversations can get very laborious.”
- Integrate your chosen cloud environment and analytics tool with the telematics system and your client’s operational solutions.
- Use the analytics tool’s data visualization features to create the graphical dashboard interface.
Additional Serving Suggestions
Transportation companies aren’t the only businesses in need of a dashboard. Alvarez also works with manufacturers eager to correlate information from machinery on their production line with ordering records in their ERP application, for example. The basic structure of the solution he created for trucking clients can easily adapt to other uses like that as well. “With some tweaks, you can do this in a number of different industries,” Alvarez notes.