One of the well-rehearsed challenges about smart cities is that this is not a single application. Where most IoT deployments draw on the skills of one industry, smart cities must connect and integrate diverse business groups. For that you need particular platform and integration skills.
M2M Now‘s Jeremy Cowan flew to Krakow, Poland this week for an exclusive interview with Comarch‘s Marcin Dabrowski, VP Telecommunications and the Board Member at the system vendor responsible for their smart IoT offerings. The group — best known for its loyalty, financial services and telecoms business support — is profitable and growing; it saw global revenues of PLN 1.03 billion (€247 million) in 2014, with profits PLN 152.9 million (€36.5 million) and a workforce now totalling more than 4,500 worldwide.
Since its launch in 1991 Comarch has played heavily on its integrated software offering, and the company expects to benefit from a similar ‘building blocks’ approach to IoT, starting with its Intelligent Connectivity Platform. (See also: Telekom Austria Group’s M2M platform implementation completed by Comarch.)
M2M Now: Comarch appears to be focusing on Smart City applications and technology. Is this an accurate perception? If so, why smart cities?
Marcin Dabrowski (MD), Comarch SA: From the IoT perspective Comarch is focusing on multiple aspects, not only smart city. We see multiple verticals such as eHealth, automotive, small business, and large industries as potentials with high growth.
To support these verticals we provide building blocks of the whole ecosystem needed for IoT to be realised. We provide a very well referenced Intelligent Connectivity Platform for horizontal management of vertical apps connectivity and business models, as well as various tools for device and service management, quality and performance management, reporting and data analytics, loyalty and precision marketing, partner management and billing.
The vertical solutions we’re currently working on include: Smart city, eHealth, remote/tele-care for patients, smart shopping, smart vehicles, smart home, intelligent locks, smart healthcare, and smart guidance (indoor navigation).
M2M Now: What does Comarch offer its clients in the smart city sector?
MD: Comarch provides a comprehensive solution for different verticals, based on the same platform, sharing the same data which can then be shaped to local market needs.
But Comarch comes not only with powerful tools which can save costs and generate new income sources, but we’re also offering some great expertise and proven business models that are ready to be used. Based on the existing features, cities can choose the way they want to become smart, how they want to get closer to their citizens and how to make some additional revenue streams sharing the platform with their partners.
Currently, we are strongly focusing on selected areas which are:
Smart Mobility – contains navigation functionalities, loyalty functionalities and other complementary features
Smart Retail (Offers) – the inverse of the ‘Navigation’. We see offers at first, then we can turn on the ‘trip planner’ and ‘navigate’ to a specific offer
Smart Entertainment – the emphasis is on events, mainly focused on spending free time in the city (cinemas, theatres, community centres, outdoor events). In this application configuration, we add gamification – like beacon-based, or geocaching treasure chest (the beacon serves as a cache for virtual prizes). The main purpose of this application is to encourage citizens to travel by public transport in their spare time
Smart Citizenship – applications in which there are e-government services (pay taxes, office visits, etc.) prepared for users to request a queue, or book a visit for a specific time. Users can also report ‘problems’ in the city
Smart Services – same as the ‘Retail’ part, but focused on services (hairdresser, laundry, restaurant)
Smart Payments – mobile payment solutions for smart city services.
M2M Now: How are these solutions different from others in the market?
MD: Multiple solutions that we see on the market focus on a given vertical without communicating information with the outside world. Our perception is that IoT must be interconnected and IT solutions must provide broad functionalities making it possible to share the same data between multiple verticals. Such an approach requires us to deliver features that make it possible for services to be created, offered, managed and billed.
Our solution uses some of the great experience we have in all different verticals which provide the customer with the information he needs (the customer portal, social business intelligence), help to navigate (outdoor and indoor) and commute (trip planner), provide precise marketing messages (campaign management), on how to engage customer (through gamification and loyalty), and deliver new products and services (via an e-commerce platform and digital services).
M2M Now: Which other industry ‘verticals’, such as healthcare or automotive, is Comarch offering its IoT services to most?
MD: Even though our IoT platform offers endless possibilities in terms of various uses of its capabilities, the current focus is on dedicated solutions for verticals including: Transport & logistics where we help to identify and monitor the flow of logistic units (packages, cars). With the Comarch IoT solution, thanks to the information provided by barcode readers or Comarch beacons, you gain access to updated information, with exact timing, about the volumes of packages sent and received. IoT helps to ensure smooth operations of the entire supply chain.
Then there’s retail & banking where the beacon devices and mobile apps are used for precision marketing, Customer identification, gamification, as well as delivery, trade or service monitoring.
In healthcare Comarch’s solution includes health reports, remote monitoring and diagnostics, indoor navigation, patient tracking and some other features improving treatment efficiency, eliminating paperwork and shortening the time required for distribution of medical reports and test results.
M2M Now: Do you find different global regions focusing on different topics? Which are the most promising areas for IoT development in Poland and Central Europe?
MD: Yes, we see differences between mature and emerging markets as they have some obviously different business and life needs. Metering and monitoring has areas that are common everywhere but to different extents. For example, industries will drive the growth of IoT in Africa towards big businesses as they will see a quick potential return on investment (RoI), some in Europe or the Americas. But smart homes, eHealth or smart cities are at least described as hot topics in mature and rich countries.
Within Poland in Central Europe we see the most promising areas for IoT development in manufacturing, agriculture and even heavy industries. Yes, even coal mines. This might sound surprising, but if you think that one of the big coal mines in the region could save millions of euros in water, electricity and fresh air distribution by introducing IoT and proper IT platforms then you will understand how big the potential is in this area.
We see also very big interest in the smart city concept – from big cities as well as small ones – which sees potential not only to have savings, but also to attract investors and boost citizen satisfaction. Sometimes this is more important than money-side aspects. Within smart cities we see the potential for such activities as assisted guidance for travellers, public transport optimisation, traffic jams reductions, parking lot monitoring and online reservation, integrated payment systems, and integrated city-card solutions.
(See also: Comarch rebuilds architecture of flagship product.)
Next week: We report on Comarch’s eMedi telehealth service that uses their own wireless connected health monitors, and we show how a system vendor can be a device manufacturer and service provider too.