WebNMS, a division of Chennai headquartered Zoho Corporation was founded in 1996 to make software for monitoring telecommunications. In the late 90’s when the telecom boom happened WebNMS was remotely monitoring telecom equipment all over the world. By 2009, the IoT (Internet of things) started to pick up. IoT adds sensors and internet capability to manufacturing equipment, diesel generators and also to many everyday physical objects. “Earlier communication was only between machine to machine. With IoT, the telecom platforms talk to the machines”says Prabhu Ramachandran, director, WebNMS. “It is a natural evolution.”
“In recent times, there have been several revolutions. Smartphones have changed the way we do business. Then there is cloud. IoT will be the next”, says Ramachandran. He has been involved in creating WebNMS based products and solutions for the telecom market for over 13 years. IoT can work for consumers and business. WebNMS has chosen to take the business path. “We are working on how to bring efficiencies in business.”
In 2011, the unit released the Symphony IoT platform. It has won several awards including the Express IT Award under the category, IT Innovation in 2015. Symphony IoT Platform will be ideal for the government’s smart cities project, says Ramachandran. It will help integrate diverse systems such as transportation, utility, infrastructure, and healthcare.
“Smart cities are the result of coming together of technology, people, government, environment and data. The IoT will be the key driver of smart cities which will be efficient, economically viable and people friendly. Cities today are in need of systems that could help optimise cost, secure assets at multiple geographic locations, modernise urban mobility, simplify public services, scale up security, promote citizen engagement and improve the overall well-being of its people”. “If you are having problems with your car your smart phone can talk to the engine and give you the remedy in layman terms with IoT.”
How can IoT help save energy costs? It will help monitor and manage renewable and non-renewable energy. IoT leads to electricity boards getting to know what is going on where. It will know the grid’s performance, where energy is being lost , and where energy can be saved. Smart grids allow energy distribution to be managed in real time based on immediate data rather than historic patterns of power usage. With cloud computing, smart phones, and wireless technology, machines can talk seamlessly to one another.
IoT can monitor water usage as well. Depleting water resources is a major concern in the country. As new sources dry up, water managers will have to focus on improving the yield for delivery. There is much leakage by the time water is delivered to the consumers. IoT could solve this by letting them know exactly where to repair in order to improve this yield. Sensors can provide a more precise understanding of water flows and help prioritise improvements. This can eventually apply to individual homeowners who can stop leaks, detect when a pipe bursts and save water.
All cities in India suffer from traffic congestion. “IoT can improve traffic management, reduce accidents and most important reduce costs,” Ramachandran adds. With real time traffic data, the system can recognise current traffic operation, traffic flow conditions and can predict the future traffic flow. The system can issue real time traffic information that helps drivers choose optimal routes. It can precisely administrate, monitor and control moving vehicles. “IoT for traffic management can really make people’s life easier. Put smart GPS in buses and it can alert people through their smart phones when their bus is one kilometre away from their bus stop. To put GPS in all buses in a city like Chennai will cost only about R10 crore.”
IoT can help achieve many things which seem so futuristic. “Think IoT and think intelligent toilets, parks, theatres and whole lot of places accessible to the public”. In manufacturing, it can do what robotics has done for manufacturing from a remote location. It can switch on a machine, see what is happening, and if something is failing repair it immediately. It can minimise costs. It can monitor ATMs and telephone towers which are huge consumers of diesel. It can be useful to cut costs in businesses like restaurants where usage of kitchen machinery, flow of raw materials, oil consumption and many other issues in a centralised kitchen can be monitored and corrected on time.
WebNMS’ Symphony, is the bridge between IoT hardware vendors and software application developers. The platform provides flexible ways to integrate devices, people, and enterprise systems on one platform. It is scalable to support complex IoT scenarios connecting millions of connected devices. Its big data module also overcomes the complexity to process huge data volumes and real-time analytics. “Symphony is an open platform. A person can develop a restaurant app from this platform and sell it to other restaurants,” says Ramachandran. The company has also developed Symphony EdgeX, which is an IoT agent that eases IoT enabled devices & applications to seamlessly work together. “EdgeX connects software with hardware, allows people to mix and match what they want and solves a lot of problems.”
WebNMS sees a lot of opportunities in Asian countries, Africa and the Middle East. It has already done a smart lighting project in Muscat and a fire safety monitoring project in Dubai. “IoT is a less expensive way of doing things,” says Ramachandran. In India it is monitoring telecom towers and ATM machines. In India, he expects it to take off quite soon.
Zoho bet on cloud and put in thousands of man hours on R&D. It took a few years and the Zoho suite has emerged as a leader in the cloud and devices, giving Microsoft a run for its money. Zoho’s promoter Sridhar Vembu does things his own way. The company is privately held, does not believe in PE investment or IPOs. It is not small, it has 3,500 employees. Ramachandran is confident that IoT will also be a success story from Zoho.