IoT helps companies serve existing customers and find new business, even in a pandemic

BBOXX supplies solar upgrades to rural Africa.

IoT is not only enabling organisations in numerous industries to continue operating, despite the Coronavirus. The Internet of Things is also helping to grow businesses and enabling companies to rise to new Covid-related challenges. Jeremy Cowan hears more from Mohsen Mohseninia, Aeris’s vice president for International Market Development and Suzanne Lancaster, European marketing director.

Jeremy Cowan: I’m particularly interested in work being done by one of your customers, BBOXX. How is IoT helping them?

Mohsen Mohseninia: BBOXX is supplying solar upgrades to rural Africa where there is no grid. The lockdown in Africa could have had a significant impact on their business supplying electricity and collecting (payments) on a monthly basis from their customers. And the ability that they have, from London, if the customer doesn’t pay, to disconnect the customer is enabled via IoT.

Mohsen Mohseninia

They’ve been able to protect the existing business where they could collect their money and deliver the service. And through the IoT they are able to remotely monitor the health of the solutions that they deliver to their customers, without the need to send engineers to a site that is locked down and where engineers couldn’t go.

So IoT helps them to keep the quality of service for their customers as well as maintain their revenue. The issue that they and others have faced is in new business; how do you generate new business where you need to have an installer to go and install something? IoT is fundamental to create the resilience, during lockdown and during Covid for companies like BBOXX.

JC: So, how have they been able to pursue that new business?

MM: I can’t name the customer, but their main market was Uganda, and they actually couldn’t sell anything, because nobody could come to the shop to buy during lockdown. New business was severely impacted by Covid. Remember they’re selling into rural Africa where the internet is almost non-existent, so people can’t go on the web to order it and get it delivered.

But when you look at companies like Axon (vehicle insurance & telematics providers), where previously customers needed to get specialist installers to the vehicle, and during lockdown installers were all closed, what they came up with was a limited way of making their product self-installed.

So, customers could easily order the product, using Amazon for example, and the product has got a key on it. When they get it, they go to a website, enter the key, and the product becomes live the customer can use it. And the whole of that was done because they automated, through integration with our back-end platform. And they’ve kind of stolen a march on some of their established competitors in the market, because they’ve been able to bring ‘self-install’ into the equation.

Remember that, in the times of Covid, a lot of companies or individuals are looking at two or three cars that are sitting on a driveway, and they pay insurance for no reason. And Axon’s model being insurance for when you drive pay-as-you-go kind of insurance that was very attractive to a lot of people whose income was also impacted by Covid. They came up with an innovative way, and we helped them through that process. They overcame Covid restrictions on their business by leveraging the automation and the connectivity that we provide.

MM: It’s basically usage-based insurance. They have a business that sells to insurance companies, and now they created a retail business where they can sell it directly to the end customer. There is a plug socket in the car. You take the widget, you plug it in to the OBD2 diagnostic port. Any vehicle manufactured after 2004 has got it.

JC: How successful has this been?

MM: What I can say is the number of SIMs getting provisioned on their account on a daily basis is on an upward curve, growing by a factor of two. 

Another example is Eave, which is in the business of providing health and safety at work, especially to prevent ear damage due to industrial and workplace sound. The problem with headphones is that you can’t hear anybody else who’s talking to you. Eave have come up with an innovative way to use headphones; they can measure the decibel level, filter out all the background noise and allow person-to-person communication whilst they’re wearing the headset. They’ve also added proximity detection, so you receive an alert if somebody gets too close to you.

Suzanne Lancaster

Suzanne Lancaster, Aeris: Industrial hearing loss is an important area of corporate social responsibility. It’s the second highest cost in industrial injury litigation. It’s costing companies a lot if people go off sick. People can keep working safely on the motorways or wherever and are still able keep a safe distance. The headsets are being used on the HS2 construction project at the moment (High Speed 2 is a new rail link under construction in the UK. Ed.).

MM: Another interesting example is Foresolutions. They’re using the connectivity and IoT for delivering vital medical supplies like vaccines. They were telling us how they can track the location and the temperature of vital medical supplies.

JC: Does Wisepill work in a related area? What can you tell me about them?

Wisepill’s box monitors the patients’ use of medication.

MM: Wisepill works for the United Nations and they are heavily involved in the fight against tuberculosis (TB). They have a compliance vehicle, where patients receive these boxes with the tablets inside, and the box monitors that the patients use the tablets correctly.

JC: How is that communicated?

MM: It’s 2G at the moment because most of the countries that they deliver service to are in Africa and Southeast Asia, where 2G is the common factor. It needs to be a cost-effective way of monitoring. Interestingly, TB medicine is now being looked at as a means to deliver medication to some developing countries as a defence against Covid. So, although the original focus was on TB and its prevention, because of Covid a new angle has emerged that they want to explore.

JC: There seems to be a thread of creativity running through the IoT that enables these firms to respond quickly to new circumstances.

MM: Yes, I was talking to the CEO of one of the companies and he was really pleased because he used to manage another business that was purely about selling goods on a CapEx basis. Now he’s not there, but he sees that business suffering really badly because of Covid. And he’s amazed at how resilient his revenue has been in the new business. Covid has had an impact on growth, but it hasn’t had an impact on business-as-usual.

SL: And the other thing that is amazing is that we’re very much into a cashless society. I can’t remember the last time I got any money out.

MM: Yes, these charity shops are suffering hugely. Every day charities are talking about the revenues not coming in. So, collecting for charity using contactless payment is now a way forward. This company I’m talking about is purely focused on creation of contactless payments, using IoT for the likes of Oxfam, Cancer Research and Age Concern, and all the charity shops that started to occupy town centres. In my town, Wokingham (in the UK), I think we’ve got at least 18. These contactless payment systems are amazing, you tap your card and off you go.

JC: Is that using Bluetooth?

MM: No, it’s LTE 4G, and it’s not just a little terminal where you tap your card. It’s actually an advertising panel with a payment capability on it. Customers can see some of the goods they can buy by tapping on it, all sorts of additional capabilities that have been added. They needed a lot more data; 2G and 3G weren’t designed to address it, so LTE is actually the solution.

JC: And how long has that been in use?

MM: The end of September was the first one that went live. Another company that comes to mind is coming out of a university and is using our technology, developing a sensor that is like a breathalyser. It can tell you whether you’ve got Covid or not. You just blow in it and you can get an indication about Covid. The pandemic’s driving people to come up with solutions that can report immediately whether somebody has tested positive or not.

JC: Thank you, both.

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