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5G investment key to untethering IoT intelligence for manufacturers

5G’s lighting-fast speeds will reshape consumer expectations for entertainment, shopping and social connectivity.

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Manufacturers are starting to understand just how much business intelligence is possible with the Internet of Things: Connected devices streaming reams of valuable data to algorithms that, in turn, learn how to spot trouble before it happens. Every step of the process — from manufacturing to product service — can benefit from smart devices communicating in real-time.

But even businesses using the fastest 4G networks are starting to question that oft-used term: “real-time.” 

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4G can support approximately 2,000 devices per square kilometer, and as mobile devices proliferate those boundaries are under stress.

But there are promising solutions on the horizon. The cutting edge, often-hyped 5G network tech currently being rolled out and tested by global telcos is poised to become essential to leveraging business intelligence. 

Its technical details are complex, but 5G is, simply put, faster and better. It’s projected to support one million devices per square kilometer. Downlink speeds are spec’d at 20Gbps, and latency (how long it takes data to travel from A to B through a network) is expected to max out at four milliseconds versus 4G’s 20 milliseconds. 

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Even though widespread 5G connectivity is still a few years away, Sharath Prasad says many manufacturers are trying to gauge their investment in the space. As Cognizant’s connected products portfolio lead, Prasad says “the pervasiveness of 5G, the cost of 5G and its adoption rates can all drive operational intelligence.”

Vivek Diwanji, senior director of technology at Cognizant, says this shortened latency is the real potential benefit to IoT-enabled businesses. “5G and edge devices are where the overall story is going to change in terms of the way data will be consumed, analyzed and leveraged,” he said.

So what does this mean for manufacturers? A number of things:

If a connected manufacturing device senses a problem on the line, for example, getting shut-down instructions in four milliseconds instead of 20 could save thousands of dollars in faulty product coming through the pipeline. 

The value of IoT doesn’t always end inside the factory walls. Once some connected products leave the factory — an automobile for example — and deploy into the field, 5G connectivity can feed product engineering teams with more data and insight on how a product functions on the — traditionally — dark side of the moon.

The list of benefits of 5G is long.

“I think that’s going to be the bigger impact of 5G overall,” says Diwanji, “not only as a backbone for infrastructure, but from the overall customer experience standpoint.”

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Relying on telcos to deploy 5G at scale may be a waiting game, but manufacturers can also outfit their own facilities with 5G networks to reap benefits today.

Prasad says groups such as CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) are working to expand 5G capabilities into existing mobile network technology thanks to recently released radio spectrum

With some hardware investment, he says manufacturers can set up their own 5G-based network using the CBRS’s framework and “actually do away with dependence on a carrier … Even if factories are located in remote areas without reliable wireless connectivity, they can actually set-up a CBRS-based 5G network just to cover their factory and provide good quality connectivity there without having to shell out a huge cost to carriers.”

5G’s lighting-fast speeds will reshape consumer expectations for entertainment, shopping and social connectivity. So too will it reshape the business sector. In a world where one company’s “big data” intelligence is pit against another’s, speed will define market leadership. 

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The (chat)bots are taking over

According to Gartner, by 2027, chatbots will be the primary customer service channel for roughly a quarter of organizations.

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Gartner chatbots
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Ordering clothes. Changing your phone plan. Dealing with a lost package.

There are many situations where you’d contact a company’s customer service agent. These days, you’re just as likely to interact with a chatbot as opposed to a live human. And according to experts, it’ll be even more common in the future.

According to recent Gartner research, by 2027, for about a quarter of organizations, chatbots will become the primary customer service channel.

Gartner conducted a customer service and support (CSS) survey of 50 respondents, finding that 54% of respondents are already using some form of chatbot, VCA, or conversational AI platform for customer-facing applications.

“Chatbots and virtual customer assistants (VCAs) have evolved over the past decade to become a critical technology component of a service organization’s strategy,” explains Sr Director Analyst in the Gartner Customer Service & Support practice, Uma Challa

“When designed correctly, chatbots can improve customer experience and drive positive customer emotion at a lower cost than live interactions.”

While CSS experts recognize the utility of chatbots, implementation strategy seems to be a struggle. 

As Challa outlines, “benchmarking chatbot performance metrics at one organization against that of its peers is not effective and can be misleading because chatbot type, design and complexity vary widely by organization.”

Gartner has also outlined five considerations CSS leaders need to keep in mind when deploying chatbots and measuring performance:

  • Develop a chatbot deployment strategy that’s aligned with appropriate use cases and how complex you want the interactions to be. 
  • Keep customer containment and customer effort in mind when improving useability. 
  • Determine the chatbot metrics that are most relevant to your organization.
  • Keep bot design and complexity in mind when adapting metrics.
  • Review chatbot metrics against the established baseline by setting up a cadence.

Learn more about chatbot strategy from Gartner:

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Solar electric tricycles give Zimbabwean women a lift

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Danai Bvochora says the tricycle changed her life
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For years, selling eggs was a joyless business for Danai Bvochora, as most of the money she made went to cover minibus fares to the market in a rural area of Zimbabwe.

That was until an earth-brown solar-powered electric tricycle changed her life.

“We used to carry loads on our heads before. The tricycle has lessened the burden,” said the 47-year-old from Domboshava, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

She carefully loads eggs onto the tricycle’s trailer before embarking on a bumpy eight-kilometre journey to the market.

“We even use it to go to church and worship,” Bvochora said, explaining a single trip to buy chicken feed from a local business centre used to cost her $12.

But charging her new solar-powered vehicle sets her back only $2.50 every two weeks, and the mother of two is now making a profit.

Bvochora is among groups of women in Domboshava, a district renowned for its picturesque hills and giant boulders, who received a tricycle last year as part of a European Union-funded project to assist small-scale farmers.

Assembled by Harare-based social enterprise Mobility for Africa, the  three-wheelers were first introduced in Zimbabwe in 2019 to help women develop their businesses, said the company’s director Shantha Bloemen. 

Transport has historically been inadequate in sparsely populated rural areas of Zimbabwe, where women often have to walk long distances carrying heavy loads on their heads to trade products — which sometimes spoil on the way in the heat.

– Electric push –

Yet the idea of addressing that with electric three-wheelers raised a few eyebrows at first, said American-born Bloemen, who is a permanent resident in Zimbabwe and lived in the country in the 1990s when she worked for UNICEF. 

“It was very lonely when we started,” Bloemen said, explaining her team had to work hard to prove to funders that the idea was viable. 

“No one was talking about electric mobility in Africa let alone for rural women.” 

Three years later, the social enterprise is planning to more than triple its current fleet of 88 motorised vehicles by the end of 2022.

It operates three solar-powered stations, where drivers can come to swap their lithium battery for a fully charged one when running low on energy — and foots the bill when something breaks.

Zimbabwe has for more than two decades faced tough economic conditions, with rural areas particularly hard hit. The country’s economy is mainly driven by the informal sector, to which Domboshava women farmers such as these belong. 

While some of the three-wheelers — nicknamed “Hamba” or “go” in the local Ndebele language — were bought by the EU and then gifted to locals, others are rented out for $5 a day.

Phyllis Chifamba, a 37-year-old mother of four, uses her rented vehicle as a taxi.

Her clients include sick people going to a clinic, pregnant women going for medical checks, and villagers and farm dwellers going to do their shopping and other errands.

“I am able to provide food for my family and pay school fees for my children with the money I make from using the Hamba,” she said.

Mobility for Africa said it was planning to expand operations to other areas. 

“African women are the most entrepreneurial, most productive but no one takes them seriously,” said Bloemen. “If we solve the transport problems, rural economies will work. Small farmers will get more produce to the market.”

Beneficiary Frasia Gotosa said her small business has improved since she has been driving to the market as her vegetables no longer rot while waiting for the bus or pushing a wheelbarrow. 

“Now I get to the market while my produce is still fresh,” she said.

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Instagram sidelines TikTok-like features following complaints

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People unhappy with changes on Instagram have been urging the company to 'make Instagram Instagram again'
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Instagram will pause features that users have campaigned against and complained make the social network too much like TikTok, according to a report in the Platformer tech newsletter Thursday.

Celebrity sisters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner were some of the most vocal users to have posted messages on social media this week calling for the company to “make Instagram Instagram again” and stop trying to be like TikTok.

The slogan sprang from a change.org petition that had received more than 229,000 signatures as of late Thursday.

“Lets go back to our roots with Instagram and remember that the intention behind Instagram was to share photos, for Pete’s sake,” the petition read.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri had responded to the controversy earlier this week with a video on Twitter in which he said the features were a work in progress, and being tested with a small number of users.

Changes included playing up short-form video, displaying it full-screen the way TikTok does, and recommending posts from strangers.

“I’m glad we took a risk,” Mosseri was quoted as saying Thursday in an interview with Platformer’s Casey Newton.

“But we definitely need to take a big step back and regroup.”

“If we’re not failing every once in a while, we’re not thinking big enough or bold enough,” Mosseri said.

Mosseri argued that the shift to more video would happen even if the service changed nothing, as users increasingly share and seek video snippets.

“If you look at what people share on Instagram, that is shifting more and more to video over time,” Mosseri said.

“We are going to have to lean into that shift.”

Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg backed that position during an earnings call Wednesday, saying people are increasingly watching video online.

Both Meta and Google are among companies facing increased competition from TikTok for people’s attention, and have launched their own versions of short-form video sharing.

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