As a technical consultant at KPN, there’s always something that can be connected
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Can a meadow ‘talk’? And what about a coffee machine, can that ‘talk’ too? If you ask Arjen van der Knijff (KPN), the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. His job is all about connecting devices. As a technical consultant at KPN Internet of Things, his day-to-day work involves exploring potential opportunities and, more importantly, identifying what is required to actually get them up and running.
As Arjen himself puts it, his job is about getting devices ‘to talk to each other’. “My goal is to constantly improve products or related services. For example, so that farmers can use sensor technology to see which areas of land need irrigating and which don’t. Or so that coffee machine suppliers can see how often the coffee beans need refilling and whether the machines are still working as they should – and perhaps even whether users of those machines prefer to drink latte macchiatos or espressos, which delivers interesting insights for the Marketing department.”
From hardware to dashboards
As a member of KPN IoT’s Customer Solutions Team, Arjen examines data-related issues in collaboration with KPN’s customers. “Our task is to identify their problem and figure out ways to solve it. That could be anything, but it always involves several disciplines.” The first step is the hardware that you need, for example to read out data via a serial connection or based on analog measurements. “Or you might be able to use an additional sensor. Then you have to think about data carriers, perhaps LoRa, LTE-M, or even 4G- or 5G-based solutions. After the hardware and communication, the data ends up somewhere where something needs to be done with it; you might need to decode or enrich that data so that the user can actually use it. And then you need an application or some kind of other solution, such as a simple dashboard or a connection to a business information system.”
Arjen’s role in that process is to analyze what is actually needed to make such chains operational and to come up with a design. “Sometimes we deliver a proof of concept that demonstrates, for example, that we can actually get that one particular heat pump to tell us something remotely.” And once the team has figured everything out and proven that the solution works, there is still the challenge of building a sound business case. “I don’t do that on my own; as a technical consultant, I work closely with a business consultant and a project manager. The business consultant oversees the business case, and the project manager makes sure we get the guidance we need in a project, for example, by liaising with our customer, application parties and hardware suppliers.”
Changing the world of bicycle insurance
Every project is different, and that is precisely what makes the work challenging, explains Arjen. “For each project, you have to immerse yourself in the customer’s field. And all along the chain there are difficult trade-offs to be made. Decisions you make in one place have an impact on what you can do further down the line.” A prime example of this is a project that was recently completed for an insurance company, which was looking for a solution to help them successfully track and recover stolen bicycles. One of the key requirements was that the proposed solution had to continue to be operational for the entire duration of a bicycle insurance policy, in this case five years. “A LoRa device can run for a very long time on a battery. These types of resource-constrained devices sleep practically all of the time; they wake up briefly to send small messages of, at most, a few hexadecimals, and then go back to sleep – until the moment that the ‘theft mode’ is activated remotely. After which, they proactively transmit location updates at a high frequency.”