NEW BEDFORD, Mass.—On the fifth floor of a former newspaper building in this old port city on Massachusetts’ southern coast, Chris Rezendes and his colleagues are working hard to bring the benefits of the internet of things to smaller businesses.
Rezendes (pictured) and the others at INEX Advisors’ IoT Impact Labs are working with a growing group of sponsors—including, Dell, GE, Intel and Analog Devices—as well as state and federal agencies to bring together startups that are making sensors and other IoT devices and small and midsize businesses around Southeastern New England not only to improve operations at these sites but also to use them as proof points for other organizations around the world.
INEX essentially works with both the supply and demand sides of the IoT equation. Rezendes and others sort through hundreds of pitches from tech startups with interesting technologies to determine which ones to embrace, helping to hone their business plans and technologies, while at the same time talking with various organizations in the region—from fisheries groups and city officials to agricultural, brewery and winery associations—to fuel interest in using sensors, wireless connectivity and other IoT technologies to capture, store and analyze data that can enable them to better run their operations.
A key is getting into these sites and installing the instruments and technologies to make it all work, Rezendes said. There is a lot of talk about how technology—such as remote sensors in satellite images—can more easily get people closer to places to find out what’s going on in huge swaths of land or in the vast oceans, but for the IoT to work for most businesses, they need “boots on the ground,” he said. “You need to go out in the physical world.”
That’s where he and others were during a recent tour of three sites in New Bedford and the neighboring town of Dartmouth that are among a number of pilot programs INEX is running in which IoT technologies are being used. Rezendes and Jason Shepherd, director of IoT strategy and partnerships at Dell, headed a tour of a winery, nursery and New Bedford Harbor to show journalists and analysts—as well as actor Adrian Grenier of “Entourage” fame who also is Dell’s social good advocate—how these technologies are being used, and the benefits being drawn from them.
The IoT is really all about the data, and the sensors and other technologies are there to help collect, store and analyze the data so that businesses can more easily digest it and quickly develop action plans from it. They can use the data to help drive down costs while increasing revenues and profits, Rezendes said. Instrumentation can lead to a lot of benefits, he said.
In New Bedford Harbor, home to the country’s top fishing port based on value of the catch, INEX has installed sensors and a Dell Edge Gateway 5000 outfitted with technology from partner V5 Systems at the Palmer’s Island Lighthouse—near the opening of the hurricane barrier, through which the fishing fleet and other boats enter and exit the Atlantic Ocean—that send back video feeds to the New Bedford Harbor Development Commission. Rezendes and Shepherd also said there were plans in development to use sensors and the Dell Gateways in buildings where boats offload their catches, to detect chemical, biological, nuclear and other threats, and to be used on boats in place of humans who monitor the catches, which can costs companies as much as $850 a day per person.
Rezendes noted that putting sensors and other technologies on fishing boats could collect huge amounts of data on everything from the health of the fishing stock to the temperatures of the oceans.
“Every boat is essentially a data center,” he said.
At the 130-acre Salt Creek Vineyard in South Dartmouth, INEX has installed sensors from such companies as Davis Instruments and New Mountain at the top of poles in three fields that act as a weather station, measuring everything from wind speed and direction to sunlight, rainfall and humidity, all information that vineyard workers can use to determine their practices for growing grapes. A pH sensor in a water tank enabled growers to adjust their watering practices and save 10 to 15 percent of the crop. More sensors will be installed in the soil as well as in an old building that’s being converted into a new winery at the site. All the sensors will feed the data into a Dell IoT gateway for collection, storage and analysis, with the information being available on client devices through software.
Spreading the Benefits of IoT Among Fishermen and Farmers
At Quansett Nurseries in Dartmouth, sensors are used in the greenhouses where they grow micro-greens and in the propane tanks. According to owner Fred Dabney, he assumed that the drought hitting the region meant that the two water wells on his site were running low, and he was cutting back on the amount of watering the nursery was doing. However, sensors installed in the wells found that there was plenty of water in both, enabling him to continue to do the watering he needed.
Rezendes said other pilot sites are getting similar results, and the hope is that the benefits can extend beyond the individual sites. Water data collected by multiple farms can be combined to give a clearer picture of the health of the environment, and the data collected from fishing boats can help with monitoring fishing stocks and water quality. In addition, IoT products developed for one business can be used for others, Dell’s Shepherd said.
“It’s definitely a journey,” he said, adding that he hopes to reach “an inflection point, where you can sell this as a service.”
The INEX lab—currently funded through its sponsors—is still in its infancy, having opened a year ago. The goal is to create a situation where not only is the lab making money, but so are the IoT companies it works with and the growing number of small and midsize enterprises that are using the technologies.
“Everything we do has to be profitable, and it has to be sustainable,” he said.
IDC analysts in June forecast that organizations in the United States would invest more than $232 billion in IoT hardware, software, service and connectivity this year, and that the spending will grow to more than $357 billion in 2019. Most of the industry focus will come from manufacturing, transportation and smart buildings, they said.
Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst with TECHnalysis Research, said that SMBs could be a fertile ground for IoT technologies.
“Most of the value of IoT is very particular,” O’Donnell said. “Most of that tends to happen in small and midsize businesses or in small departments of larger businesses.”
Rezendes said SMBs live in a world where there isn’t enough money, people or instruments to do what they need, and that “one bad day can ruin a week, a month, a year.” Giving them access to IoT technology that is affordable and doesn’t require more people can enable these organizations to better guard against that one bad day.
O’Donnell said he likes the direction INEX is going, adding that having partners like Dell, Intel and GE are important. Smaller businesses and systems integrators tend to be less trusting than enterprises because they can’t afford to put money into something that’s unproven, he said. Having Dell, Intel and others behind it will smooth the path with SMBs, he said. At the same time, partnerships with INEX and others are a key part of Dell’s strategy to expand in the IoT, an effort Shepherd and others laid out earlier this year.