When it comes to technology especially new age digital technologies, Zoho’s name comes in the frontline. In an exclusive and candid interview with Faiz Askari of SMEStreet, Ms Karen Ravindranath, Director – WebNMS (IoT division of Zoho) explained Zoho’s IoT focus and trends in the market. Some believe that IoT is a disrupter, some say that IoT is the future, come what may, it is the demand of this hour to explore what exactly, IoT is up to?
Faiz Askari: Since you are in the IOT space, what are the key areas of priority for Zoho?
Ms. Karen Ravindranath: We have been in IOT for quite some time now and our key focus is to enable enterprise customers with end to end IoT Platform and solutions built around it. The world is moving towards a connected environment. As we know all the enterprises and OEMs are trying to figure out how IOT can benefit their business models or how they can incorporate IOT to add value to their business. So in this space, Zoho’sWebNMSdivision intends to help the OEMs who are manufacturers of the smart machine to create their own IOT applications. In the global market, IOT is becoming a game changer in most companies. Maybe it is for manufacturing, utility, consumer products or even business to business equipment in the manufacturing sector like textiles and similar industries. Today IOT is gaining prominence and has become an integral technology because enterprises need to monitor and stay in the know for data-driven management. Even OEMs are ramping up their hardware in order to leverage the value IoT bestows. In order for the OEMs to embrace IoT and go to market quickly, they need a software solution partner who can integrate with their hardware seamlessly and help them in their IoT journey.WebNMS platform is compatible with any hardware and the presence of Edge computing agent EdgeX makes it easier to acquire data from any device, process and offer actionable insights. Applications running on WebNMS Platform can be integrated with third-party applications like ERP, CRM, HelpDesketc and this a major differentiating factor. WebNMS looks to empower hardware manufacturers, IoT solution providers and enterprise customers with a robust IoT Platform to build great products, customer focussed enterprise applications and avail data-driven business insights respectively.
Faiz Askari: What are the areas? It is like home appliances because smart home is becoming quite big in the IoT space or is it like manufacturing of automation or robotics are becoming quite contemporary in today’s times. So what are the areas Zoho is actually focusing? So how is Zoho looking at the whole IoT space?
Ms Karen Ravindranath: WebNMS – the IoT division of Zoho is completely enterprise focussed and aims to offer business customers, IoT driven solutions. We focus on the core IoT platform and very specific verticals like Energy Management, Asset Monitoring and Fleet Management and Tracking. Our energy Management solution is focussed at enterprises looking to optimize energy bills and run sustainable operations. Most of the customers are from manufacturing, smart cities, telecom and corporate facilities. The solution will empower teams to operate multiple sites spread across the globe, through a centralised console. Operations can not only be monitored, but also be automated based on data. This will help reduce downtime and improve operational efficiency. Organizations can digitise their operations and make a major paradigm shift from paperwork to IoT empowered digital processes. That is one aspect.
Another product we have is the logistics and fleet management solution. Here again, we are attempting to bring in the IOT capabilities in order to track and trace as well as secure and monitor end to end fleet management and logistics and work order management etc. WebNMS aims to empower enterprises and SMBs with an intrinsic layer of monitoring, management and automation for digitised operations and enhanced productivity.
Faiz Askari: Now in terms of priorities for 2019, where would you like to place WebNMS or where would you like to take Zoho in 2019?
Ms. Karen Ravindranath: WebNMS plan for 2019 would be to reach out to hardware manufacturers seeking IoT software integrations and the new breed of IoT solution providers and Sis. Some of our customers are manufacturers of hardware who had integrated our software platform in order to go to market with a fully integrated smart device. We intend to expand our hardware partnerships this year and enable more players to adopt the platform and market their integrated solutions within a short turnaround time. We see ourselves being the most accessible IoT platform provider to SIs from India to build customized and turnkey solutions for their enterprise customers.
Faiz Askari: So system integration partnership actually has a lot of commitments. So what kind of commitment would Zoho probably entertain? So what kind of SI’s are you looking at? What is the channel approach that you are going to take?
Ms. Karen Ravindranath: So let me give an example. See we have a customer like Elmeasure, they are one of the top most manufacturers of energy devices in India. And Elmeasurehas smart product line of electrical appliances from stabilizers to smart meters and equipment in similar line. This helped the partner offer smart customised energy management portal to their customers. So they have a very good value by taking our platform and creating business value and bringing their domain expertise and creating a customised IOT solution for their customers, targeted and already pre on-boarded with our smart devices. So that is one way we partner. And the second one, like all the system implementation vendors and on the ground consulting companies like eg, Cyient. These companies actually provide managed services or professional implementation services, consulting services for different domains. For example, Cyient is working in the telecom sector, so we work with them to enable them to manage geographically dispersed telecom towers for their customers. So what the partner does is take our platform and then add their value-added provisions and domain expertise they bring to the table, their consulting experience, customer requirements. They customise the cell tower monitoring solution and offer implementations for their customers. So these are the two ways how we engage. One is the hardware or manufacturer aspect and the other is the implementation Managed Service provider.
Faiz Askari: There is also one channel which is addressed in the market physically in smaller companies, which doesn’t have much expertise in software. I am talking about companies that are into conventional products. But what can they do better with regards to IoT use?
Ms. Karen Ravindranath: This is exactly where Zoho stands. Zoho has always believed in walking with small and medium enterprises and help them to achieve that software expertise. As you rightly pointed out hardware and equipment manufacturers can concentrate on their core competency while leveraging the software expertise of our platform and go smart. So, WebNMS is available to them as a platform, and this platform will have the core capabilities of IOT taken care of. WebNMS enables end to end capabilities right from data acquisition, storage, processing, analytics and intuitive visualization for the customers. The intuitive data visualization can be rendered as both mobile app as well as a web app for the users.
So how the concerns of getting the data, managing and analytics are taken care of. This helps the customer widen their horizon and add value to their customers. Besides, the hardware players and solution providers can expand and strengthen their portfolio.
Faiz Askari:If you have left any important points which you wanted to discuss, please share. Can you spend a couple of minutes on Edge X platform which you have?
Ms. Karen Ravindranath: We also have an aspect called EdgeX – our inbuilt ‘Edge Computing agent which connects active and passive sensors and sends it to the cloud. Today, we are still not in a completely smart world, or the entire connected world. We still have a lot of brownfield equipment even in manufacturing and other industries. There are many IOT projects which have to deal with the brownfield as well as greenfield deployments. And in that way, WebNMS has another component called Edge X which interfaces two existing brownfield equipment and starts collecting data, even in the energy management cases. So it is not a rip and replacement scenario here. So we are trying to bridge the old and the new and bring the IOT solution in a combined way. And another factor which I would like to highlight about is, the key differentiators are connected business because we are part of the Zoho ecosystem, eventually this IOT data has to come into the other enterprise systems. Consider a customer whose IoT data connected to the CRM. Now they have IOT data about each of their aspects which is sold to their customers. Now if the IoT data gets into the CRM, their customer relationship team have much more information about their after sale service and how their asset is doing in the ground and how they can service it better. Similarly, there is a different value add which can be brought by integrating IOT data into the existing CRM or any other products or business intelligence products like reports which can transform the way how people look at data. Bringing in the connected business aspect of it, using that digital transformation of data, in a far effective by making it available for the rest of the enterprise is what we would like to do.
Faiz Askari: How many customers have you acquired so far, if you could share the numbers?
Ms. Karen Ravindranath: We have a large customer base across the globe. We have done a smart city deployment in Oman. We have completed a smart lighting solution and deployment for a municipality, in partnership with a System Integrator from the region. Environment monitoring and water management solutions using WebNMS IoT platform were implemented in a leading marble factory and airport. Globally, Africa is where we have a major presence and where we do a lot of energy management in the aspect of Grid energy and secondary back-up systems like DG Monitoring, UPS and the battery banks and all the infrastructure to be managed for the banking sector. In India, we have partnered with some of the OEM’s and hardware vendors, both SMBs and large enterprises to have a smart IOT solution for their products. We have also engaged actively with system integrators in energy space and telecom space for creating these custom and niche solutions. WebNMS also has a user based, multitenant Energy Management portal that allows the facility operator/Service provider to manage multiple clients from a single portal.