Shared from the 1/20/2021 Financial Review eEdition

Forget those conspiracy theories about secretive government agencies or big business harvesting our data for nefarious purposes. The real issue for organisations is making sense of the burgeoning volumes of digital information generated from the largest of global servers to the smallest of sensors and devices.

According to the World Economic Forum, a staggering 44 zettabytes of data – yes, there is such a measurement – was expected to be produced in calendar 2020. That’s 44 sextillion bytes – or 40 times the number of stars in the universe.

Volumes in this ‘cosmos of data’ are expected to increase to 175 zettabytes by 2025.

The trend is being driven not just by the rise and rise of e-commerce and social media, but the advent of the internet of things (IoT) era which will see millions of sensors and cameras deliver digital updates on physical objects or conditions.

Examples are sensors that measure movement or temperature, or probes that assay liquids for gases, or cameras that gauge the location and health of a cow in a paddock.

The role of continuous IoT monitoring has a topical resonance with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, some of which need to be kept at constant low temperatures.

When the term IoT was coined more than two decades ago it was a science fiction-like notion, even though internet fridges enabling automatic restocking were around in the 1990s. Now, there’s nothing futuristic about IoT, with 75 billion devices expected to be online within four years.

But generating data is the easier part. Like food wastage at a Las Vegas buffet, huge swathes of information are not used because organisations don’t have the requisite systems and platforms to harness the data.

The arrival of 5G networks allows for even more data – images, in particular – to be quickly downloaded. But if businesses are not careful, their usage costs will soar for what is mostly, in essence, unusable information.

“Data wastage is now one of the greatest opportunity costs to humankind,” says Adam Gallagher, CEO of the ASX-listed Constellation Technologies.

“Currently, the vast majority of data that is generated and available either sits idle in storage or – worse still – is simply discarded.”

That’s a pity, he says, given smarter capturing and usage of data can have positive results not just for the bottom line, but for the environment and staff safety and wellbeing.

“With proper incorporation of IoT you can see with much better resolution what impact activities and events are having – or might have in future – on operations and other aspects such as the environment,” he says.

“In the safety context, applied IoT data can help avoid accidents and hazards.”

Constellation Technologies designs, engineers, builds and integrates systems that combine the company’s software expertise with custom hardware development.

“We are aiming to be the ‘Intel Inside’ for IoT, which means offering a built IoT platform that can be pointed at any number of different industrial applications,” he says.

Constellation’s business is based on its MeridianCT platform, which collates and processes data from sensors, cameras and other third-party sources. The information is then customised on user-friendly dashboards via a webpage, mobile application or 3D application.

The platform also allows for automated intelligent decisions by applying artificial intelligence and integrating existing business systems and processes.

Gallagher says the imposition of working-fromhome requirements for office workers in 2020 has highlighted the notion that anyone – and anything – can be managed from anywhere.

He expects further evolution as users move from the ancient screen and keyboard combination to more engaging experiences using augmented reality, virtual reality and three dimensional applications.

For example, submerged and underground facilities that can be viewed in real time ‘‘walkarounds’’ or ‘‘fly-arounds’’.

Under its Australian leadership team, the company’s heart beats at its wholly-owned Bangalore facility. There, a team of more than 50 experts develop the entire IoT chain from the hardware sensors to the software interfaces on the user’s mobile phone, PCs and control rooms.

The company also has a nine-person presence in Beijing – and this is no accident given the company’s customer base is skewed to the Middle Kingdom.

“For industrial-tech adoption generally, China is hands-down the biggest market globally,” Gallagher says. “There is a significant push behind smart cities and so-called ‘new infrastructure’ and it’s all driven by government policy.”

In the meantime, the IoT landscape continues to evolve.

One major advance in IoT hardware is “edge processing”, which involves the devices (including 360-degree cameras) not just relaying the images or data, but making intelligent decisions on what data to send.

“Instead of just relaying the raw data from the sensor in the field, that little piece of hardware will, in part, process the data and selectively send processed data back to the platform,” Gallagher says.

In the September quarter, Constellation generated cash receipts 85 per cent higher than the June quarter and 383 per cent better than the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

Just over 12 months ago the company signed deals with two strategic distribution partners that potentially could generate $15 million of revenue by the end of calendar 2021.

“It’s great to have a compelling market offering, though getting to critical mass commercially is the key,” Gallagher says. “It’s still very early days for us. However, we’re now on our way.”