Q&A Corner: MSPs and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Q: What is Smart Manufacturing and how does it relate to MSPs?
CROOKS: Smart Manufacturing (or Industrial Internet of Things/IIoT) is the use of sensors and devices to collect data to build up insights into a manufacturing environment that may not be otherwise available. One common area where IIoT techniques can be used is predictive maintenance, where sensors are used to predict machine failure before it occurs, saving the manufacturer thousands of dollars in lost revenues and down time. This can be the first step that leads to process automation and Big Data/Machine Learning initiatives.
For MSPs that already have clients in manufacturing, they have the opportunity to engage further, as they explore this new technology space. MSPs will want to be educated and know how to apply this technology in order to remain relevant to their manufacturing clients. A new technology space always opens up opportunities to strengthen existing partner relationships or to allow the MSP to engage with new ones.
Q: Some MSPs don’t think there’s an opportunity for them with IoT (only for large enterprise-only MSPs)? How do you respond to that?
CROOKS: For MSPs that are already in or wish to target manufacturing clients, there are huge opportunities to increase their value-add and stickiness with such clients. Smart Manufacturing is happening and since MSPs generally “own” the technology relationship with their clients, the IIoT conversation can allow them to expand their offerings and generate additional revenues. If the MSP doesn’t have this conversation, someone else will, so why not get ahead of the curve.
The MSP can initially deliver consulting and infrastructure upgrades driven by IIoT. If they wish to they can take on more and more of the IIoT systems delivery by adding analytics, automation, development and other skillsets as the market demands.
Q: What are the benefits to MSPs of taking on an IoT project?
CROOKS: It is well known that it’s much easier to sell a new product/service to an existing client than to target new clients with your existing product/service. With IIoT being a new service that is being explored by numerous manufacturing organizations, it can present a significant opportunity for appropriately positioned MSPs to increase their revenue by engaging their current manufacturing clients in this conversation. By leading the IIoT conversation, MSPs can be positioned as thought leaders in their field, helping to differentiate themselves.
Any IIoT project is a strategic long-term initiative. The MSP that is involved in delivering such an initiative naturally creates a closer relationship with their client and positions themselves as a key long-term strategic partner.
Q: Are there any barriers for MSPs getting started in IoT and Smart Manufacturing?
CROOKS: IoT means “Internet of Things” but sometimes becomes the “Internet of Talk”. It is very easy for an MSP to get caught up in a long-running pre-sales conversation that never results in a concrete project. In order for an MSP to maximize the chances of a real project crystalizing with a realistic scope and budget, they must know the questions to ask and how to approach the conversation.
Another barrier is that most manufacturing environments are relatively unique and as such their IIoT solution will be different. For an MSP to create any repeatability, they must find a structured step-by-step process supported by the appropriate tools in order to generate guaranteed outcomes. When starting from scratch, it can take a six-figure project just to get basic data into a cloud system for visibility. However, if an MSP chooses the right technology toolset to work with, they can deliver quick time-to-value. This can be the first step in supplying something that remains and survives as a core cornerstone of a steadily expanding IIoT project.
Q: How can you identify which of your clients are ideal for an IoT project?
CROOKS: A good IIoT candidate client would be one where they are looking at technology as a way to improve and streamline their business processes. They understand and are willing to embrace this new technology and realize that without it they will fall behind.
Manufacturers that have a very manual process are also good candidates, lots of clip boards and white boards on the factory floor opens the door for automation, which usually generates good return on investment.
The best IIoT initiatives are driven by the Operational or Quality teams within a manufacturing organization. If the IT team is leading the project, then the conversation can quickly focus on technology rather than the more important question of business value.
Finally, in order to leverage value from an IIoT initiative, a company must be at sufficient scale so that they can recognize their RoI in an acceptable timeframe.
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