IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Tuning for the Future with IoT

5K Technical Services is using the Internet of Things to help clients save resources and gain efficiencies today while positioning their businesses for tomorrow. By Corey Kirkendoll

CHURCHES AND FARMS may seem like wildly different business models, but they share a common mission: to be stewards of their resources while running efficient operations. 5K Technical Services is using the Internet of Things to help our clients accomplish these goals as well as position them—and ourselves—for the future.

5K has been offering IoT solutions for more than a year, initially in an ad hoc fashion to address client issues. What caught our attention with our churches were the LED lights and other foreign objects showing up on the network. They were taking IP addresses, using our infrastructure, and opening up security vulnerabilities. We sought a way to manage this issue.

More broadly, we knew this was forcing a change in the industry: IT and facilities management now had to work together. The age of the smart building was upon us.

Some churches in the Dallas area have sanctuaries that seat 10,000 people for multiple services a day, plus they have meeting space, offices, a cafeteria, and a school. Maintaining different comfort levels throughout the church is very difficult. We started working with companies like Johnson Controls and Honeywell to integrate the thermostats into a central management system that allows the church to sync its Office 365 calendar or smart calendar with its HVAC control system. The system will warm or cool a room before its scheduled use, and then adjust the temperature accordingly when it’s no longer in use.

For lighting, we installed sensors in rooms, corridors, and parking lots, so lights are turned on when they detect bodies in an area and turned off when an area is empty. The sensors will also send alerts when a light is out and report when it has been replaced. To manage this, we are using the CommonSense IoT platform from Three Phase Electric.

With our farmers, we wanted to use technology to reduce the need to drive hundreds of miles on a tractor to visibly determine when to plant, water, apply pesticides, etc. We started by installing GoPro cameras to collect data on soil conditions, weather, and other elements.

Then with the emergence of 5G, we began working with Sprint to evolve our solution. Today we create IoT kits that include a camera from Comm-Core and a ranging sensor for the tractors, Wi-Fi equipment, a router with some LTE or cellular cards and router modems so we're not just relying on Wi-Fi, and a small computer on-site for local storage. We use our Continuum RMM to monitor the PC and Auvik to monitor the network. We also hope to adapt CommonSense to monitor the sensors, which we are just pinging now to ensure they’re running. In the next phase, we plan to implement analytics too.

We are piecing this together, but what has helped us in this emerging market is leveraging partner relationships, something we learned as an MSP.

Challenges Remain

Security is a challenge, as many of the device makers do not supply a steady stream of firmware updates or fix security holes. So we went back to the fundamentals with segregated networks. In some cases, the IoT device will be the only thing running; it will never touch the data network.

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