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In S2 episode 23, Ralph Varcoe MD and Chief Growth Officer at Connexin joins the show to talk about the impact of smart cities πŸ™πŸŒ± on communities, and optimising tech in order to make it more accessible for local authorities.

Sit back, relax, tune in and be the first to discover…

  • Ralph’s background in IoT 00:0005:53 🌱
  • What are the key IoT Solutions that Connexin cover? 05:5309:55 πŸ™
  • What industries are seeing the most prominent growth? 05:5309:55 🌱
  • What are the common challenges faced by cities and communities? 09:5515:33 πŸ™
  • How are IoT and Connexin’s Smart City Solutions enabling innovation in this area to improve these barriers? 15:3318:44 🌱
  • What needs to be done to get more governments and councils on board to build sustainable cities that address the challenges of our time? 15:3318:44 πŸ™
  • What role with Connexin play in the future so Smart City communities? 15:3330:59
  • And much more!

ABOUT THE GUESTS

Ralph Varcoe is the MD and Chief Growth Officer at Connexin, an innovative and disruptive technology company specialising in building and operating award-winning Smart City Infrastructure to support the Internet of Things.

Connect with Ralph Here

Find out more about Connexin Here

Episode Transcript

Brad King-Taylor
Hello, and welcome to The IoT Podcast. I’m your host today Brad King-Taylor. I’m the head of business for UK. Today, we are lucky to be joined by Ralph Varcoe, who is the Chief Growth Officer and Managing Director for IoT for Connexin. Ralph, Great to see you how are you keeping?

Ralph Varcoe
I’m good. Yeah, really great to see you as well. Thank you for inviting me.

Brad King-Taylor
Not a problem at all. I mean, we’re excited to see what Connexin are up to so. So we’ll get straight into it. Ralph, if you could just introduce us to your journey in the world of IoT. How you got to where you are at the moment, give us a brief overview of what Connexin actually does for the audience purpose.

Ralph Varcoe
Sure. So a little bit of background on me. More than 25 years won’t tell you exactly how many- working in IT and telecoms. I’ve worked for some of the biggest telecoms companies around like orange, Virgin Media, business, and others. And I’ve also worked in a number of startup organisations, particularly around AI and platforms in the AI space. So always in sales, marketing, in management, running organisations, both domestically and globally. And my journey into IoT was really through an old boss of mine, who is the chairman of Connexin who had a conversation with me. And so they’re doing some incredible stuff. Do you want to come along and join the fun, get on the bus and and see what you can do to help. And I started to do a little bit of consulting work for connecting, and absolutely loved what was happening. So it was an inevitable decision to say, I’m going to join full time and give it my all to help the business to grow. And prior to joining connects in I’d had experience of IoT but not specifically had teams responsible for selling IoT. But always I’ve been around in the telecommunication space, the connectivity space, and there are lots of things which overlap. So yeah, so I’ve been on board full time for just about a year now.

Brad King-Taylor
Oh, brilliant. I would say he sold you the dream when he came about the dream was actually reality. And I’d be having a look quick look at some of the stuff that you had to fantastic. So I suppose in if you were to give a couple of sentences into exactly what Connexin does?

Ralph Varcoe
Yeah, so Connexin has two sides to the business. The first part is really around fibre, broadband, telecommunications, the traditional telecom services, and in fact, Connexin got an investment a couple of years ago, to start to build out a full fibre network across whole and East riding. If you know anything about the telecommunications market, you’ll know that that was always the monopoly of calm. And so what Connexin instead of out doing was providing the residents and the businesses of how and East riding with the choice that they’ve been denied for 20 plus years. So huge amounts of effort and activity are going into building the fastest possible fibre network to enable consumers and businesses to have the broadband services and other telecommunications type services around that.

Ralph Varcoe
The other side of the business is the IoT part, which is essentially enabling cities, buildings, health organisations, utilities, and enterprises to be able to connect up data that’s coming from the external world from sensors that are out there measuring things to data that exists in the internal world, ie data that’s already in systems and tools that the organisations already have. And we enable that to effectively that data to come across our network or networks, depending on what kind of technology and bring that into our platform, which then enables you to correlate all sorts of different datasets against each other, which provides significant value in terms of insights.

Ralph Varcoe
And those insights can then be turned into actionable intelligence, which means that organisations can then decide to do things differently. So there’s lots of great stuff that we provide as a solution set. You know, it’s all about getting that data from wherever you want to get it, labelling it to come across the network that will put in place, but then the magic happens inside the platform, which can actually be a game changer to those that are running the systems and the customers that we have.

Brad King-Taylor
Yeah, amazing. I mean, the IoT world is massive, right. And I think, probably to beyond some people’s wildest imaginations, or you touched on yourself, it can potentially be a game changer. You’ve touched on some of the key IoT IoT solutions that connects and provides what industries are you seeing the most promising growth or impact from what you guys are up to?

Ralph Varcoe
Well, it’s really interesting that at the moment, there is a huge move in the water industry to move from AMR metre readings, which are effectively the drive by metre readings, where somebody has a handheld terminal, which effectively connects to the metres that they’re close to, and then they get a metre reading through to AMI metre readings, which is essentially, where the metres are connected all the time, via a network to enable the water companies to get up to date real time data on water usage. And they can from that information, also spot where other things maybe challenges like leakage detection and stuff in that area. There’s a huge drive for that lots of changes going on in the market. And we have, in fact, one, the first major AMI metre rollout, contract with seven Trent to do this with quite a large area that they have. And we’re seeing basically all the other water companies doing a similar thing, and looking for how they’re going to do this.

Ralph Varcoe
So it’s a huge drive and initiative that we are very grateful to be working with seventh Trent on and others besides that will be coming down the line at some point in the future. That’s really interesting. The other area clearly is around smart cities. We talk about smart cities as if they’re one entity or city as a as a single thing. And in fact, it isn’t it’s a it’s a collection of different departments, different use cases, and actually, just so many different use cases across so many different things. And it’s very exciting, because you can be looking at the data that a council will have internally, which is all to do with residents could be to do with antisocial behaviour. And it could be to do with I don’t know, school exclusions or various things like that. You can also then take the data from just hundreds of different types of sensors, pull those into the system, and enable the city to start being run on a on a smarter basis.

Ralph Varcoe
So we’re talking to many different councils, city councils about the sorts of things that they’re trying to do. We’re talking to many different parts of those councils as well, because invariably, it’s not just one entity within the council that we’re talking to. It’s actually about ensuring that the data that we might capture, because I don’t know, let’s say the the street scene team needs to pull a load of data or in fact, the water utilities need to pull a lot of a lot of data. We’re actually seeing how other departments within a city can benefit from the data which has been pulled for another side of the council, because it’s just incredibly useful to enable them to think differently about how they’re providing services to their residents, and how they’re utilising their their spend across the city. So it’s, I mean, it’s just a vast area, particularly in the city environment.

Brad King-Taylor
Yeah, amazing. I mean, the stuff you touched on with the water is fantastic. Congratulations, by the way. Huge to be the first host suppose though, with all this exciting stuff out there, there’s come hurdles. I’m keen to dive into a little bit more on the smart city side of things and you’ve touched on already with the car outsource. So local authority as we all know, they’re always under increasing pressure to deliver quality services to improve the quality of lives around the city, but also while reducing spend, right? So I’m keen to understand a bit more about the key challenges faced by the cities and the council’s and how you helping overcome that. And where we can over overcome challenges, I suppose is the easiest way of putting it.

Ralph Varcoe
Yeah, I mean, I think I come back to the point I made before, which is that a city isn’t simply one entity. It’s a group of different departments and different budgets. Actually, there’s a there’s a white paper, which has recently been produced by UK black tech, which has interviewed a lot of different people from a number of different cities, to look at what the challenges are. And one thing really comes out clearly. And in fact, I mentioned it in the section in that white paper that I wrote, which is that if you’re going to get a city to become smart, you really need to bring the different parts of that city together, and actually start to think about how you’re going to maximise the spend, to benefit more than just the budget holder who’s signing off on that spend, but how’s it going to benefit other parts of the city as well.

Ralph Varcoe
So having a truly integrated approach to being a smart city is is really important. And we’ve seen that with the likes of hold City Council, where we’ve been providing an integrated smart city platform for them for many years. And also now with Sunderland City Council as well, we’re providing them with their platform, where they’ve got the vision to look at how they integrate the datasets from lots of different areas, lots of different departments, so that they can really work out what the business cases for how that city or each of those cities in both those cases, can actually make best use of the budget that they’ve got available to ensure that they’re returning the best possible outcomes for their citizens.

Ralph Varcoe
So I would say that that’s the first thing that that you need to do. The second then is to really look at the technology. Now, a bespoke or rather, a, an IoT platform that’s built for IoT solutions from the ground up, is always going to be the most flexible. And the best solution for IoT use cases. There are lots of other things that collect data, lots of other much bigger companies than we are, you know, global companies that are providing platforms that take data and present it in different ways. But they tend to be built for every possible use case of the presentation of that data under the sun. Whereas what we do and what specialist providers do from a platform perspective, is ensure that we’re taking the right data and presenting it in the way that is optimal for those that are looking to make their cities smarter. And it’s really important to do that in a way that every member of the Council who wants to have access to the data and has a need to be able to query it can actually get access to that data in a digestible format without them having to go through a huge amount of training to work out how the platform works, or how to interpret what the data means when they see it.

Ralph Varcoe
So we go through painstaking process to ensure that when users get added to the system, because they need to be able to query the data and then have a look at it, that they can do it really simply and easily. Just log on, have a look at it. Very intuitive, understand what it says what it means to them, etc. Clearly, there’s a huge back end to the system that we and our solutions architects and our dev team will work on to make sure that various different datasets are, are pulled together to be correlated, but we will always do that in a way that gets visualised so that those who are using it can use it simply one of the biggest killers of platform. Adaption is the fact that people just find it too complicated to use the systems. So we want to try and make it as easy as possible to do.

Brad King-Taylor
Yeah. Which, which I think is the key. Especially with I suppose with technology and implementing anything like this, there’s always going to be a fear, I would imagine, especially from from council members investing in this technology that they think that potentially their employees might not use or be able to get their head around. So when it comes to that sort of side of things, is there anything advice wise, that you would like to give councils or anything that you would want to see a council or a government really change in their ways to be able to get this, get this working across, not just Hull for instance, other counsellors or governments?

Ralph Varcoe
I think it is about aligning the different parts of the organisation and actually coming at it from a perspective of the outcomes first. So it’d be very easy as a technology company, I could sit here going, oh, you know, we need to make sure that it’s all about this particular sensors and chipsets and the LoRaWAN network and how the platform does its, you know, really incredibly clever stuff. Actually, all of those are just enablers to to the outcomes, which the council is trying to drive. So first step, what are the outcomes that the council wants to put forwards? And how do they want to help either I don’t know regenerate a particular area. And there are lots of use cases around how we can help them the platform and the technology can help enable that, versus practical things such as, you know, air pollution monitoring, and how that can then enable them to look at strategy decisions around, you know, the bus service improvement plans that they may have, and, you know, trying to drive people onto the buses and cars off the roads, all the way through to temperature sensors on the road, to know when to use the grid, and when not to and how to best cost optimise your grid usage. And to keep people safe.

Ralph Varcoe
So it’s about the outcomes first, then it’s about sitting down with us to actually plan out what the metrics are that are going to be pulled together and how they’re going to be presented. What’s going to be useful? When you’ve got so much data, it can be easy to present too much of it in a way that can just confuse and it’s like, Oh, I’m not quite sure how to interpret that. You know, it’s like, for example, over the last two years, we’ve had lots of statistics around, you know, COVID cases. And there is so much data out there that you’d be forgiven for kind of going on just don’t really know which way is up? What are the things that I should be looking at, I just use that as an example. Because it’s one that we’ve we’ve had in our recent history. So there’s a there’s a real piece of work, which is around how to ensure that we’re only presenting the information which is going to be necessary for us to help the council deliver the outcomes that they’re seeking to deliver. And then once we’ve done that, to start with, we can then look at what are the additional data sets or data correlations, which could then layer on top to look at other things that we might not have dreamt of yet, but because the data exists, we can start to think about how that data can be used in a different way. But it’s very much a kind of an iterative process, always starting from the outcomes.

Brad King-Taylor
Yeah. Amazing. I mean, that in itself, the fact that you’ve just covered that on the spot, I think is amazing. on its own. And you guys are up to some really important stuff. So it’s very much like your website suggests as well, I think it’s up to us to define what happens tomorrow to steal your tagline if you like. But what does tomorrow look like for you? What’s what’s next for Connexin? Where can you go with with the technologies and solutions that you’re implementing at the moment?

Ralph Varcoe
Well, the, you know, we are very much a provider of LoRaWAN networks, we know that 80 ish percent of the use cases around smart devices and sensors is essentially LoRaWAN chipset enabled. And therefore a LoRaWAN network infrastructure is what’s needed to be able to pull that data from the sensors through into the network. And that’s that’s really important because the way that the sensors tend to work if you take if you take a water metre, for example that’s going to sit underground under a metal lid. For years it’s going to be running on a battery. And that battery is going to have to last a really long time. And that battery just wouldn’t be able to last long enough if you were you Using high powered networks, 4g 5g, you know how quickly your mobile phone, battery dies, even if not in, you’re using it because there’s this keepalive that’s going constantly going Hello, network, hello phone, etc.

Ralph Varcoe
So the LoRaWAN network infrastructure is critically important, I think to the, to the adoption of more and more smart use cases across cities, health authorities, utilities, buildings, etc. And that’s where we come and this is what we do is as a specialist, IoT network provider, we will roll out LoRaWAN network infrastructure. And we can clearly provide full fibre, that’s what we’re doing in health residents and businesses. And we can provide and we do in a number of places provide Wi Fi connectivity to town centres public Wi Fi. And we can enable sensors that are plugging into the mains to be able to connect, you know, in whatever way. So effectively, we can do all of it. But what we do know is that there is a huge need for LoRaWAN network. And that’s what we are enabling, with Severn Trent, for example, across large parts of Coventry and Warwickshire, for example, which then enables any kind of business, whether it’s city utility health building, enterprises of some sort agriculture, to be able to utilise that same network infrastructure, with the relevant sensors that help them achieve the outcomes that they’ve already defined that they need, in order to pull that data through into the platform for them to be able to do something with it, whatever, that something happens to be for them.

Ralph Varcoe
So that’s really important for us, ensuring that we have the best and most flexible connects in OS, that’s the name of our platform, which we sometimes refer to as iscp, or integrated smart cities platform, but it’s effectively all built on connects in iOS, that’s really important, because, as I said before, it is where the magic happens. You know, having the data is one thing, having it pulled together and correlated, in a way that’s going to make sense is another. So ensuring the continual development of that, so that we can deliver the outcomes for cities. And I’ve mentioned the other verticals that we’re working with as well. It is really important to us. And then it’s a question of dreaming up what those use cases are. Because once you’ve got the LoRaWAN network infrastructure in place, once you’ve got a platform, actually, you’re almost unlimited. Not quite, but almost in terms of what you can dream up, you know, you want to measure temperature, luminosity, air quality, motion, whatever these things are, well, then let’s look at the combination of those. And what is that going to actually tell you about how your city or your community or how your business is running, and how that can then help you become more efficient, more effective, providing the better services for the council tax or other government funding that the cities are getting?

Brad King-Taylor
Yeah. And I think that adaptability that that ability to learn as we move, I mean, IoT and connected devices is moving so fast. Every day, we’re seeing something new. Like you mentioned, LoRaWAN is going to change things, 5g is going to change things, there’s gonna be more and more things coming in all the time that we just we need to be able to do something with so the fact that you’re constantly learning I think is vital. And some of the stuff you you can do with this data or learn about is is magnificent. I mean, go back to previous podcasts, like you can use lights to, to learn about air quality, and yeah, it’s superb. And I think we just gotta keep learning keep growing, right? Folks, like companies like you are going to be forever in, in people’s, in people’s mind. So yeah, congratulations.

Ralph Varcoe
Yeah. Well, your point about the lights, you know, we I think there’s a huge thing we know that we’ve got an energy crisis. You know, and we know that we need to be more efficient in our homes, you know, yes, there’s the challenge of air travel and shipping transportation and the contribution that they make to the the, you know, the challenge that’s out there from a pollution perspective, but what we can do from a smart buildings point of view, in offices but also in residential is just immense. You know, you have a sensor that is effectively a smart light switch that is also measuring temperature and humidity. And I mean just countless other things, which then enables the building to learn how the people who occupy it, use it. And then it can learn when to turn the heating on or off, assuming is electric infrared heaters rather than, you know, a wet radiator system. And that can then make the building the house much more energy efficient. And with the challenges that we’ve all faced to 54% or whatever the increases in our energy bills over the last few weeks. That’s going to have a massive impact. And that is just another example of how IoT can help an individual, not just cities, it’s not just about cities, it’s about individuals that it can help. And the more ubiquitous that becomes, the more it changes individuals lives, as well as those that are running the cities and the communities and the buildings

Brad King-Taylor
this amazing I think what what this technology can achieve is, is beyond measure, I mean, you’ve said it, I think three or four times and just then the word learned. I touched on adaptability and being able to look to learn over time again, as we’re moving on, I think that is the key. We’re always constantly learning. And some of the technologies that you that I see on a daily basis, things like sensors in roads to pick up, how many cars are going. So pollution, all that sort of stuff. This all comes from IoT connectivity. So yeah, it’s amazing, and I adaptable and learn to two key words from this. I think so. Thank you very much. There’s one more question. Now this question has come from a last podcast. So Eric Hewitson from wild networks, he would like to add question to alpha and the question is IoT adaptation is accelerating. But what are one activity should IoT companies be thinking about in order to enable general business adoption?

Ralph Varcoe
For there are so many things that all IT companies need to do. But if I was to pick one, I would say that it’s to educate people, and the people that work in the cities and in businesses about just what IoT can enable for them. Because I think, for many people, so if I just, if I take my, you know, take the kind of test, would my would my grandmother who have understood what IoT is, she’s no longer with us. But you know, if I were to use that test, I think the answer is no, because you probably perceive it as being a bit of a buzzword in the industry. And it’s like, what, what is this IoT stands for? And, and I think that when we work in technology, we just we love a good acronym. We love to talk in these, you know, LoRaWAN, IoT, all sorts of buzzwords, actually, we need to, we need to come down to a level where we can talk about it in a way that makes people understand the benefit of it to them. How is it going to make their world different? How is it going to make it cheaper for them from an energy perspective in their homes? How is it going to enable them to, you know, have services that are run in a better way so that, you know, certain councils, I live in London, the council, I’m in the council tax is double the council area, that’s next door to us, right? So similar number of people that live in each and similar kind of topography and, you know, London boroughs, but one charges almost twice as much as the other? Well, if we can educate people to understand how using smart technology can make the changes, the efficiencies, the betterment of community living, such that the revenues that are raised through Council taxes and other government funding, etc, are used in the most optimal way, then that’s going to be good for everyone. So I would say there’s a huge marketing, education, sort of awareness piece that we need to do to get everybody going. Do you know what that just makes so much sense? Why aren’t we doing it? Let’s do it now.

Brad King-Taylor
And it perfectly links back to what we were just saying, right? Not only do we have to learn from the data, but we need to educate ourselves as well. Before we can learn from the data so it’s a brilliant answer. Final thing Ralph, where can the audience have a look at Connects in what the website contact details for yourself if you if you want to provide them any Isn’t that? Where can they find you?

Ralph Varcoe
Well go to our website, which is connexin.co.uk. And you can find me at r.varcoe@connexin.co.uk.

Brad King-Taylor
Perfect. Thank you very much. You can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter at the IoT podcast. And of course the website, the IoT podcast.com Doesn’t matter what platform you’re watching on. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast like and comment where possible. It will just give you all the relevant content and you will know what is coming up on each episode. It doesn’t matter how you’re connected, as long as you’re connected. We’ll see you next time. Thank you

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