Sankar S. Villupuram, Head of Business Development & IoT, JOS

Villupuram leads the company's Internet of Things (IoT) efforts and business development. He has over 17 years of experience in design and implementation of operational technology leveraging Smart Cards, Biometrics, RFID, to name a few. Villupuram has also managed several landmark projects in Hong Kong.

Sankar S. Villupuram, Head of Business Development & IoT, JOS

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Villupuram leads the company's Internet of Things (IoT) efforts and business development. He has over 17 years of experience in design and implementation of operational technology leveraging Smart Cards, Biometrics, RFID, to name a few. Villupuram has also managed several landmark projects in Hong Kong.

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Internet of Things

Laying the foundations of smarter cities

27 March 2017

The smart city is the talk of governments and policy makers across the globe. Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Singapore are just a handful of the places with pioneering smart city initiatives that touch on a broad range of operations – from public services and healthcare, to traffic, transport, and utilities. The ultimate aim is to capitalise on advanced technology to better manage cities and improve the lives of residents, for example through management of live traffic flows, more efficient use of energy and predictive policing.

To realise these visions, smart city initiatives cut across disciplines and require collaboration between a wide variety of government organisations, utility companies, technology vendors and private sector firms. Even a single company deploying smart technology within its organisation will require integrated efforts from multiple departments, each with its own budget and priorities to manage.

Retailers, already operating in a fiercely competitive sector, are currently battling a range of adverse conditions, including rising business costs and the shift of consumer spending from stores to online. From constantly monitoring stock levels, either in-store or in a distribution center, to enabling instant price changes of on-shelf items to enact flash promotions, the Internet of Things (IoT) offers a number of possibilities for turning the tide.

Disrupting the retail industry

JOS Head of Business Development and IoT, Sankar Villupuram explains that retail is one sector set to benefit from smart city environments; as customer behaviour ebbs and flows constantly from online to in-store, retailers need to avoid being wrong-footed. "Retailers, already operating in a fiercely competitive sector, are currently battling a range of adverse conditions, including rising business costs and the shift of consumer spending from stores to online. From constantly monitoring stock levels, either in-store or in a distribution center, to enabling instant price changes of on-shelf items to enact flash promotions, the Internet of Things (IoT) offers a number of possibilities for turning the tide. A retailer that knows where its products are and how well they are selling in real-time can vary its fulfillment to offer customers new delivery services or handle smart stock replenishment. Those that cannot could lose out."

Technologies already being deployed in one sector can be used in areas such as managing crowd and traffic flows, or distributing transport or visitor information. Applications of advanced technologies are part of a trend towards building a smart urban environment.

Delivering on a smart city strategy

The United Nations (UN) has forecast that by 2050 close to 70% of the world's population will be concentrated in urban centres, and around 90% of that growth in global urban population will happen in Asia and Africa.

The pressure on Asia’s cities will be immense and unprecedented. Consequently, being more efficient, more structured, and more organised will be more important than ever. According to IDC, 92% of public authority bodies in the region see technology as the key; the development of the smart city is one of the answers to the challenges of urban population growth over the next generation, and it is an idea that is already taking shape.

Smart City strategies are one of the initiatives already announced by India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Rio Olympics Organizing Committee put channeled 20% of its $2.25 billion budget into technology investments, while the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in Korea, and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are other triggers for further smart city investments in the region.

Villupuram believes that if we are to realise the promise of the smart city, we may need to rethink our approach: "Smart city initiatives often have a grandiose top-down vision, with too many complexities. In order to embark upon a smart strategy, an organisation needs to critically revisit its processes and workflow. Building the smart city from the bottom up may be a more effective way of getting there."

As science fiction writer, William Gibson, who coined the term ‘cyberspace', once wrote: "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." Similarly, as Villupuram explains, there are technologies and initiatives already in play in some parts of the world that signpost the future of the smart city: "At its heart, the smart city will be built on the IoT. It's about providing equipment and public assets with connectivity and integrating them into city-wide networks. This will provide access to better quality information and improve – and when possible automate – decision making. We can see developments in a range of sectors, such as manufacturing, urban planning, retail, automotive, energy, building management and healthcare. These give us a clue as to how cities might take advantage of machine-to-machine connectivity to become smarter and more sustainable."

Lessons from Industry 4.0

He cites Industry 4.0, a fourth industrial revolution, as one such area. Although technology already runs most modern manufacturing operations, the sensors and monitors controlling the process work mostly in isolation – they are detached from each other and from the systems that control the broader business, such as the supply chain, inventory, shipping or finances. Under Industry 4.0, these small islands will become inter-connected and their data integrated into comprehensive management systems.

Villupuram commented: "It doesn't require a great leap of the imagination to see how the capabilities of Industry 4.0 could drive the smart city – for instance, in managing energy and water supplies. As with cities, factories want to keep disruption to the bare minimum, so what we're seeing with Industry 4.0 is new systems and processes being layered on top of existing ones to create a richer, more detailed understanding. This also holds lessons that can be applied beyond the factory gate."

If Industry 4.0 shows us the impact of IoT on manufacturing, similar transformations are re-shaping other sectors.

Sustainability and livable cities

In the urban environment, Green City Solutions, a creative German start-up, has combined IoT with cutting-edge biotechnology to create the CityTree – a living urban feature that ‘eats' pollution. Asia's first CityTree arrived in Hong Kong in July 2016. CityTree's moss cultures remove nitrous oxides, ozone and other particulate matter from the atmosphere to create a smog-free area of up to 50 metres, while IoT sensors monitor air quality for research aimed at reducing pollution. IoT is also giving us waste bins that can communicate when they need to be emptied along with street sensors that monitor illegal parking and summon parking wardens with the aim of helping traffic to flow more smoothly.

Villupuram summarised the greater significance of these initiatives: "As projects like these come to fruition, we start to see the initial gridlines for the smart city being laid down - not in some all-encompassing scheme but instead in simple, practical, and affordable steps that deliver incremental improvements for cities, businesses and residents. And as these first gridlines are laid down, they open up new opportunities for solutions built on top and linked to other systems that can tackle pain points in novel ways. Solutions designed for one sector are quite naturally crossing into other areas, creating the opportunity for organisations to explore how IoT technologies can be applied to their own operations."

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