Grandeur Journal x Jamal Nasir
Chapter I : Jamal Nasir
This week we’re having chai with Jamal Nasir, CEO of S.A Hamid. The company was originally co-founded by his grandfather back in the day and his interest in tech ultimately landed him here. S.A Hamid now spans in multiple domains including electrical panel manufacturing, EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction), solar installation and IoT.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
I’m pretty sure you had to face a lot of hurdles while building your company and with deeper technicalities, come deeper problems. What was the hardest thing you had to solve?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): There were a couple of things we had to figure out before launching the product in the market. Lets start with the first one. You have to explain to the customer why they need the solution. Pakistani market is a stagnant market, they do not want to change. That is why we are looking towards the international market as well.
We have weird this mindset that if we have data we can primarily use it to extract information to save money if not other things. Most people don’t understand the necessity and proper use of IoT. Even the academia is not yet ready to acknowledge that IoT is a field now. Even if you have the basic understanding and use cases in mind, when you go to the customer, you have to understand their business model as well and understand their custom needs which sort of creates hurdles in the process.
Where essentially did IoT come into the picture?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): While working with international vendors, we were representing Pakistan. We were buying Wago’s hardware. Wago was making all kinds of machinery and IoT enabled PLCs which could talk to cloud directly, but to get anything customised you had to reach out to them. My prime concern was why we cannot do it in house. When we started working on it we talked about VPN’s and ultimately decided to work on MQTT.
Chinese market was already making IoT for end users. Since that market was already saturated, we moved to industrial IoT. In this ecosystem time to market and hardware stability is super important. That’s why we moved away from hardware production ourselves because it was way easier. We still use Wago because industry can pay as much, so it wasn’t a limitation and it checked the boxes of feasibility.
The edge we provided them over others was that we were going to give them a retrofitted model where everything they have would work smoothly with IoT. Additionally, we also gave them analytics which gave them insights like how much money they could potentially save.
IoT has surely done wonders and with the amount of advancement we’re leading to a stage of big data. But even with this amount of data coming in, customers are not exactly sure what to do with that data. What do you with the huge amount of data coming in?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): Data is extremely important and we should definitely not get rid of data. The industry does not change very quickly so we should definitely keep all the data logs and eventually use it even after a period of five years.
Specifically talking about our team, our engineering team analyses that data to generate insights. For instance lets talk the example of a soil manufacturing company we worked with. They had an imperative step of mixing all the soils together in small ceramic balls using a high power device. Typically, a single load ran for about 10 hours or so but worker negligence/tardiness caused it to run for about 11 hours. Data analysis showed that if they strictly ran that device for 10 hours, they’d potentially save 2.5 millions per year. It takes looking at data to find these things and even if we want to move to AI and automate the entire system, we can run nothing without idea.
MA (Grandeur): I understand where you are coming from. Until we figure out the whole feedback loop where data is actually put into use there is no point of adding bundles of sensors or machines.
We see other communities adapting new ideas pretty quickly. Why do you (and if you do) think Pakistani ecosystem is averse to new ideas?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): There are multiple reasons spanning from political to cultural to economic. And I believe it is not only Pakistan, many countries have these issues. They are also slow to change. If I look at our own customer a.k.a the industry this rigidity can stem from lack of infrastructure, incompetency in the technical sector and just the general lack of will to improve and move away from old practices. I can’t pinpoint why it is there but I think we can change it of we go to the ground level which is revamping the educational landscape of Pakistan and making it a true means of learning.
I mean if you take my example I have been a good student all my life be it school or university but despite that I chose homeschooling for my kids so that they can develop a true thirst for knowledge. If they develop that, they can learn anywhere not just in educational institutes.
Where do you think IoT platforms stand in the local and international ecosystem?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): I’ll be honest, I don’t see it growing too much in Pakistan, not in Pakistan but it does have a lot of potential in the international market. Any new hardware startup would love to have it. The concept is perfect. The idea and implementation of IoT really reduces the time to market. I mean if we talk about Grandeur, I personally do not use it because by the time it came in I already had a working solution and I did not want to put in effort to learn about the workings of a new platform over our pre-existing solution and change even a little bit of the protocols.
MA (Grandeur): That I guess should be the goal, even if you have an existing infrastructure, just to add one sensor, you have to add the sensor , change the code to send data and then after on the software end you setup to receive the data of sensor and plot it or whatever you want to do with that data. It should be as simple as connecting the sensor and the data reaching the analytics software without any other change.
Jamal (S.A Hamid): In IoT, there is no standardisation. If you can standardise, that’d be great.
MA (Grandeur): It’s not easy I know. Every sensor has its own protocol, especially in industry. Standardisation is the true need of the hour.
With all of what is going on in the technological ecosystem where do you think the future of tech or IoT stands?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): Change has definitely slowed down. Software should be doing great. Pakistani investments might have stopped but they’ll surely come back. We readily have the product available in the market so when it picks up again tech is the only solution. Talking specifically about IoT, it is going be everywhere. IoT isn’t ready now but in couple of years everything would be IoT ready. It will first span to the consumer base and then surely industrial.
Even if we talk about the startup ecosystem of Pakistan, we should reserve our comments on it. Everything in Pakistan these days is about Politics. And it’s a very effective way of destroying the conversations LOL.
MA (Grandeur): I understand where you are coming from. So where do you think 2023 will take us?
Jamal (S.A Hamid): I was hoping it’s not a tough year, things are going to come around. But now I don’t have high hopes. It wont be good economically. I strongly suggest to focus on the exports. While I will never say don’t invest in Pakistan, but don’t expect too much in terms of investment from Pakistan. It’s going to be tough. Political instability has brought economic instability but economic stability is also from extrinsic factors.