Sparks Electrical News

As IoT becomes more prevalent, electrical contractors that change the way they operate, and skill up, will not only stay relevant, but can open up new business opportunities.

People have been talking about the brave new world of the Internet of Things (IoT) for years. It has been predicted to be as transformational as the spread of the mobile Internet, and we are seeing IoT transforming the way we live and work. Already, we are seeing IoT systems being used for health status monitoring, intelligent traffic lights easing traffic congestion, and smart meters helping citizens and utilities use resources like energy and water more efficiently.

Internet of ThingsIn fact, utilities are second only to the insurance industry where the IoT use case shows almost immediate benefits, and while much has been said about the role electrical engineers have to play in the IoT-driven future, electricians will also have to invest in new skills in order to remain relevant. As connected power grids become more common, the business model of contractors is increasingly being challenged.

According to Enrique Birlanga, who is responsible for the EcoXpert Connected Power Certification badge from Schneider Electric, smaller contractors who work with small to medium businesses (SMBs) such as restaurants, offices, industries, smaller retail chains and branch offices, typically operate in a highly competitive and price-sensitive market. In an increasingly commoditised low voltage environment, “it’s a rather traditional business of design, install and go,” he says.

“With the IoT, they have opportunities to deliver new, value-added services to customers with higher margins, competitive benefits and a closer relationship to their typical SMB customers than in an ‘install and go’ scenario. These additional services are also in higher demand, not in the least due to cost saving, energy efficiency and monitoring/maintenance demands.”

Local IoT networks

In South Africa, like the rest of the world, IoT is relatively in its infancy. While common IoT applications have tended to be along the lines of FitBit and driving monitoring to allow underwriters to tailor premiums, local utilities are actively testing connected systems.

This is partly as a result of the success of IoT implementations in other countries, and partly because they now have access to a number of IoT networks that have been rolled out locally. MTN Business is one of the companies that has invested in a South African IoT ecosystem. Not only has MTN Business built a nationwide IoT network, it has established an extensive partner portfolio to cover the many industries that will be using IoT in the future. The company has also run the Mind2Machine event for the past three years in order to grow the skills base and applications available.

Mariana Kruger, GM for ICT solutions at MTN Business, explains that the focus from a skills perspective has been mainly on the technology side, but that this will change as more IoT applications are implemented. “We are not doing specific upskilling of electricians at the moment, but we will absorb as many local municipality staff in the roll out of new services in their region as possible. This will be done through our partners,” she adds.

Another company that has rolled out an IoT network is Comsol, which is providing its own IoT ecosystem. In addition to the network, Comsol has secured several device distribution agreements in South Africa and has partnered with Actility, an IoT software specialist. Comsol is “in talks” with a “major public sector organisation”, according to Justin Colyn, Executive Head of IoT at Comsol, when asked if any electrical utilities were using the Comsol network.

New skills for a new world

In light of the fact that these IoT networks are opening up new opportunities for utilities and greater efficiencies for everyone connected to the electrical grid, connected power solutions such as smart panels, smart metering and energy management and efficiency systems in the cloud are going to become more common over the next few years. This means that on top of their electrical skills, contractors are going to need essential IT and IoT know-how.

These skills are relatively hard to come by locally at the moment, with few certifications available. Schneider Electric offers the ‘Connected Power’ badge within the awarded EcoXpert partner programme and the SAIEE provides a course on IoT Standards and Applications. Other certifications are available online, but do not offer the classroom environment many people prefer.

The EcoXpert partner programme provides tiered competency training paths for “the industry knowledge and skill sets needed to enable smarter buildings, more reliable infrastructures and optimised energy efficiency”. There are five competency tracks with two certification levels: Certified EcoXpert or Master EcoXpert, with specialisations and advanced training on topics including Building Management Systems, Critical Power, Light & Room Control, Data Connectivity, and Connected Power.

“The choices for electrical contractors are relatively straightforward: do they want to remain in a very competitive and commoditised market with high cost pressure, low margins and no-repeat business while the uptake of smart panels and smart energy efficiency solutions goes on and in the end makes them less relevant or do they want to become leaders instead of laggards, tapping into new revenue sources with high margins and up-sell and cross-sell opportunities as they stay longer and close to customers, up the value chain? The solutions, benefits, programs and certification paths are there, now it’s just a matter of acting,” Birlanga concludes.

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Contact Sparks Electrical News

Title: Editor
Name: Karen Grant
Email: sparks@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Carin Hannay
Email: carinh@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

 
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