Variantz: Smart-Connected IoT Application Platform Solutions

Philip Seow Variantz - Interview with Fusion Analytics World

In a conversation Mr. Philip Seow, CEO & MD, Variantz divulged Fusion Analytics World how Variantz is looking to be the game-changer in IoT space through regional partnership collaboration, thereby bringing more insight & action driven capabilities based on IoT connectivity and other forms of big data analytics.

Introduction: Yourself. What is Variantz and how did it all start.

Variantz is an IoT & SaaS Solutions Provider with the mission to reduce complexity, improve interoperability, and to realize the actionable values of Smart-Connected IoT with our Application Platform Ecosystem that is able to Connect-Engage-Collaborate regardless of technology, environment, and people.  Our primary customer segments are from Home & Living, Healthcare & Wellness, Safety & Security, Property & Estate, Hospitality & MICE, Energy & Environment, Commerce & Retail, and Education & Training.  Together with our channel partners, we span across the Asia Pacific region.

It all started when the founder realized there were gaps in providing a seamless end-user fulfillment and personalization that could be streamline cross-sectorial upstream and downstream capabilities, generating insights and foresights on operational efficiency and end-user experience.

What do you think sets Variantz’s offering apart from competitors in IoT category?

We develop our own application to help enterprises and end users to integrate with other devices. The IoT sector is very fragmented as each vendors tries to create their devices with varying technical approach. This makes the interoperability difficult and complicated. Variantz aims to bridge that gap in the IoT ecosystem.  Simply, we are a software company, not a hardware company.  Our solutions are theme-based, targeting very specific environments and needs (e.g. home, healthcare, office). By focusing on these themes, we bring various hardware companies together to form our ecosystem of devices.  Through partnerships, we offer a full suite of services, including deployment, hardware support and a smart home management system.

What is your view of the Asian Internet of Things (IoT) landscape?

Messy, with different wireless standards and a wave of companies rushing into the industry.

There is a rapid growth of IoT devices in the region. The growth can be observed in the number of IoT innovation lab that has been invested such as HPE APAC IoT lab, SCALE@NTU, HiTech Park in Hanoi, Dell’s IoT Lab are some examples to begin with.

Also, the APAC region have access to cost-effective hardware and software, making it more favorable for enterprises to develop here. Asian consumer’s high rate of mobile usage and access to internet can potentially lead to high growth in personal IoT products.However, with all IoT device, data and security remain a concern for all as the digital tools are not standardized and integration is complex. In less economically-developed countries, the living standards might be lower and the move towards smart homes will be slow.

In more economically-developed countries, technological adoption might be faster. However, in places like Singapore, people are not as keen on smart homes because the exorbitant costs do not seem to justify the small gains in convenience. Further, the government is slow to adopt IoT because it tries to plan long term and avoid mistakes.

What do you see as key factors for a success of IoT solutions and what are today’s roadblocks?

  1. Infrastructure: You can have some or all of nation’s infrastructure ready for IoT.  But without a change in business model, no one will see the true value of IoT – Harnessing data to provide educated insights on potential outcomes.
  2. Security and Privacy concerns still remain a hurdle in the IoT ecosystem.
  3. Interoperability: Differences in standards is limiting the geographical usability of devices, Companies tend to work in silos, legacy devices not connected, DevOps direction is very important here and it is still lacking in many platforms where the integration between the IoT device and the gateway. Collaboration between companies, Focus on needs and not a desire to just produce any cool IoT solution.  Asian’s being active more on consumption instead of innovation, will tend to be blown away with the sights, sounds, touch, and feel of smart gadgets that might be cool but not be very useful, inadvertently overlooking the true value of smart devices – Actionable and Contextually application data.

 How do you see the IoT market shifting in the next several years?

  1. Connectivity: Businesses are looking at using a mix of technologies from fixed line to low power wide area networks (LP-WAN) depending on the application; increasing interest in narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) as well as Sigfox or LoRa.
  2. The advancement in security is key. With blockchain-based platforms coming into play, security concerns may be decreased. Data is crucial in helping companies to make valuable predictions, therefore security is important to ensure the reliability and usability of them.
  3. Greater collaboration and integration: The open ecosystem encourages open collaborations. A lot of IoT labs are beginning to surface with the intention to bring about creativity and to provide a platform for start-ups to connect with enterprises. Variantz is proud to take its lead in this direction to realize the value of IoT from this perspective.

What are the different sectors where the IoT can actually add value to the current processes? 

Those involving active monitoring/control: e.g. factory production, safety and security,

Those where collecting more data helps greatly: e.g. Healthcare, Insurance, Law enforcement, Energy & Environment, Hospitality & MICE.

 Are there any particular industries picking up on the opportunities faster than others?

1.Healthcare: United Nations noted that by 2025, 15% of the global population would be part of the aging population, a 2% increase since 2015. Smart healthcare devices are increasing: Vitals-Tracking Wearables, Medication Adherence Tools, Virtual Home Assistants, Portable Diagnostics Devices, Personal Emergency Response Systems, Disability Assistance Tools, Smart Implants, Smart Senior homes, Family Caregiver Remote monitoring tools.

2.Smart Homes, Buildings: Ameco Research noted that the APAC region is the fastest growing region for smart sensors, however the high implementation cost result in slow growth.

What impacts will IoT have on Infrastructure and Smart Cities Sector? Why IoT will be successful in the coming years?

They will help to improve people’s standard of living.

Eg. Smart water metering in India has help to overcome water shortage issues by allowing citizens to monitor their water usage. If the government in India decides to adopt this nation-wide, this could bring about better standard of living in India.

Eg: Smart buildings allow firms to consumer energy more efficiently.

Increase safety and security, and reduce manpower needed in those areas,
More informed decisions through data collected (e.g. efficient transport system),
IoT will be successful because there is great scope for reduction in manpower and improved efficiency through

  • controlling devices remotely and
  • data analytics.

What will happen in terms of jobs losses and skills as IoT makes devices and robots more intelligent?

In the healthcare sectors, jobs are being taken over by AI to help diagnose patients. Soon, administrative staff will not be needed at the frontline and fewer people will be involved in the work process.

But Jobs will be created to maintain the systems of devices,

Job losses will happen for jobs that are more labor intensive (e.g. monitoring/control work in factories and security)

Ultimately, to prevent being replaced by robots, people will have to pick up softer skills like creativity.

So what are the main challenges of the IoT implementation? What are the major Privacy and Security Issues?

The high cost implementation has resulted in slow growth of the whole ecosystem.

Encryption and the standard of security varies with different developer.

Challenges: Government endorsement of specific projects, security of the IoT networks

Because more data is collected about us, and is transferred between different parties, it is difficult to ensure they do not fall into unwanted hands.  One just has to look at Cambridge Analytica.

The Law is still backwards when it comes to safeguarding our digital privacy

Users might not be technologically-savvy enough to protect themselves from technological vulnerabilities

Because so many processes are connected to the Internet, cyber attacks like those involving WannaCry, Petya and NotPetya can be hugely disruptive and prevent important institutions like the government, banks and hospitals from functioning properly.

Can you talk about 1-2 case studies where you have implemented IoT successfully?

We are unable to disclose the names of our clients due to client-privilege agreement.  However, below are 3 case studies of how IoT and our Application Platform Ecosystem have made an impact towards the overall businesses.

i)  A private medical doctor encountered a senior citizen patient who kept coughing despite a clean bill of health after various physical health checks.  A decision was made to understand of his living environment by deploying IoT appliances such as air pollutant sensor and humidity sensor.  In less than a week, data from the devices showed presence of nicotine and dry air surfaced in our reports.  This totally changed the mindset of the medical doctor who thought he failed to diagnose the patient appropriately.  Further follow-up revealed that the nicotine content was not created by the patient himself but rather from a family member.  With these insights, we were able to leverage on IoT devices to trigger a series of actions to alleviate patient’s cough by activating air purifier and humidifier when air pollutant sensor detects nicotine and below than normal humidity level.

ii)  A newborn was introduced to a couple’s home.  While the family engaged a maid, the couple installed an IoT enabled surveillance camera, giving them access view the baby room when there motion was detected.  The objective was to ensure the infant was resting safely.  A proof of value was introduced after a controlled experimentation was conducted together with the permission of the infants father, where a static image was placed in front of the camera to spoof the view and temperature sensor were increased to the highest to trigger less than comfortable condition, triggering a panic reaction to the infant’s mother.  As a result, IoT devices such as motion sensor and temperature sensor were deployed to provide a multidimensional checkpoint where safety and security were ascertained through the application platform ecosystem.

iii)  A boutique hotel received complains on housekeeping and maintenance issues from in-house guests.  IoT devices such as water-leak sensor, smart lighting, and vibration sensor were deployed to help housekeeping and maintenance department work optimally and eliminate guests complains.  Examples of immediate Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul include placing the water leak sensor at the bottom of the basin, toilet water tank, vibration sensor at air conditioning duct and smart lightbulb to detect potential sound nuisance and poor/no illumination.  Timely repair works resulted in optimal use of manpower allocation and optimal spend on parts.

What is next for you and Variantz?

  • With the regions’ aging populations in mind, we are currently focusing on the healthcare industry and facilitating a move towards home health.
  • We will be making our solutions more robust, and useful for not just the patients, but also the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, relatives of the patients, and ultimately also the scientists and policy-makers.
  • There are endless possibilities to IoT, and we also work on other areas like security and office applications.

In the coming years, Variantz will focus on regional partnership collaboration, bringing more insight and action driven capabilities based on IoT connectivity and other forms of big data analytics.  Variantz is currently building an alliance to bring together vast spectrum of individual and organizations with the goal of being the seamless IoT SaaS Ecosystem Platform regardless of industry or context.  We are opening our doors to asset developers, public and private sectors, and focused interest groups with the goal to accelerate IoT adoption with consistent messaging and end-user takeaways.

It’s was a pleasure talking to you Philip. Thank you for your time.

It was lovely speaking to you Kalyan!

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Kalyan Banga223 Posts

I am Kalyan Banga, a Post Graduate in Business Analytics from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, a premier management institute, ranked best B-School in Asia in FT Masters management global rankings. I have spent 14 years in field of Research & Analytics.

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