The Internet of Things: It’s Not Just for Whiteboards Anymore
Breathless predictions of massive growth. Dazzling visions of forthcoming solutions that sound like something straight out of a Hollywood special effects department. End user and IT provider confusion. Sound familiar? It should. The buzz surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT), which seems to gain volume daily, bears a lot of resemblance to where the cloud computing market stood just a few short years ago.
But don’t let the hype distract you, urges Tim Acker, vice president of mobility and connected solutions at Fremont, Calif.-based distributor Synnex Corp. The Internet of Things is far more than theory, and solution providers needn’t wait to get in on it. “IoT is a very real opportunity that resellers can profit from today,” Acker says. “We’re seeing hundreds of resellers actively engaged in IoT through Synnex. In addition, many of our resellers who aren’t currently engaged in IoT are planning to change that over the next 12 to 24 months.”
Others should join them. Gartner, one of many analyst firms forecasting flush times ahead for IoT, predicts there will be 6.4 billion Internet-connected objects in use by the close of this year, up 30 percent from 2015, and that worldwide outlays on IoT-related services will rise 22 percent this year to $235 billion.
According to Acker, moreover, you don’t have to be an IoT expert to cash in on some of that spending. With help from partners like Synnex and others, channel pros can draw on skills they already possess to bring a variety of sophisticated solutions to life for their customers in fields like these:
Retail. Using radio-equipped beacons, retailers can measure and optimize traffic flow through their stores, or create interactive solutions that automatically deliver personalized information and offers to shoppers on their smartphones. The beacons are unobtrusive and inexpensive, and a variety of software packages remove the complexity from configuring and connecting them.
Supply chain management. Utilizing those same beacons and other sensors, companies can track the location of containers and shipping pallets in real time, or monitor the temperature of products that must stay cold in transit.
Fleet management. With a channel pro’s assistance, companies that operate trucks or delivery vans can use IoT solutions to see where those vehicles are and when they’ll arrive at their next destination. They can also get real-time data on fuel efficiency, maintenance issues, and other critical systems.
Manufacturing. IoT sensors can monitor the performance of shop floor machinery and send automatic alerts when equipment appears headed for a breakdown. Similarly, IoT-enabled applications can measure pressures, temperatures, and other key metrics along an assembly line and take automatic action if they fall outside preset parameters.
Building control. IoT-equipped building control solutions empower companies to turn off lights and dial down temperatures automatically in unoccupied rooms. Prices for building control sensors are plummeting these days, putting sophisticated solutions within reach of small as well as large businesses.
Public sector. Thanks in part to the $160 million “Smart Cities” initiative that the Obama administration announced last September, municipal governments are some of today’s hottest IoT targets, especially at the small and midsize end of the spectrum. “That’s where our resellers … have the ability to add a lot of value,” says Eddie Franklin, Synnex’s vice president for public sector and vertical markets, noting that larger cities tend to have extensive in-house IT departments and big-time technology partners.
Video surveillance networks and traffic control systems are just two of many IoT-enabled solutions that city governments are snapping up in large numbers at present, Franklin continues, adding that building control solutions are popular too, because they save taxpayer dollars by lowering energy costs in municipal facilities. “That’s something that a civic leader can hang their hat on,” Franklin observes.
Land and Expand
Acker has a few words of advice for channel pros contemplating their first steps into the IoT market. First, he counsels, start small. “Pick a problem, perform a proof of concept, show an immediate value, and continue to build on it,” he says. “Near-term solutions will create long-term business.”
The easiest near-term solutions to get off the ground are likely to be in familiar markets, Acker continues, so pick one or two verticals that you already serve heavily and focus your initial efforts there. “It’s important for resellers to start with what they know,” he says. “Once they’ve established an IoT business in those verticals, there will be many opportunities to build on.”
Franklin agrees with both recommendations. “In public sector in general, things don’t normally start out with a big bang,” he says. Piloting something compelling but modestly scaled is usually the best way to establish a foundation for more ambitious solutions down the road.
Acker stresses that how you sell IoT solutions is as important as what you sell, however. The people likeliest to appreciate the potential benefits of an IoT deployment are business leaders, not IT professionals. To win their attention and get a new project funded, you must focus meetings with them on how the system you’re proposing will ease business pains, save money, and boost profits. “Instead of just deploying the technology, solution providers should be looking to solve concrete business problems for their customers,” Acker says. “It’s not about the ‘IoT hype,’ but rather about improving business outcomes.”
Lean on your partners too, he adds. Distributors, software vendors, and OEMs are all spinning up IoT business units with plenty of training programs, product information, and marketing resources to share. Tapping into those resources is the quickest and simplest way to get an IoT initiative up and running.
The ChannelPro Network is dedicated to providing IT consultants, VARs and MSPs who serve the IT needs of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) the news, insights, resources and best practices necessary to help them grow their businesses and better serve their SMB customers.