Quick Ways to Get into the IoT Game
CHANNEL PROS AND INTEGRATORS new to the Internet of Things (IoT) are looking for solutions that help their customers, are quick to design and implement, and drive new sources of revenue. By keeping it simple initially, you can acquire the skills and knowledge you’ll need to go upstream with more sophisticated offerings over time.
- GET STARTED with IoT by leveraging your current skills and starting with a small, simple project.
- WHILE IoT DEVICES are inexpensive, IoT projects can be lucrative.
- THE REAL VALUE-ADD is showing customers how to capture or track their data.
“Start in areas where you already have skills,” suggests Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies Inc., a strategic consulting company in Wellesley, Mass. “IoT is about connectivity, so leverage your networking expertise. Security is always an issue, so build on what you’ve learned in that area.”
Here are four quick solutions that will help you develop your IoT chops.
IoT Starter Kits
You can easily try a project with a variety of inexpensive, prepackaged IoT solutions (see “Get a Head Start with IoT Kits,” ChannelPro, Sept. 2017). Avnet Inc., based in Phoenix, Ariz., provides multiple IoT starter kits, including the TI EKK-LM4F232 starter kit, which comes with a temperature sensor, battery, USB ports, and software development kit. ActionPoint, a custom software company based in Limerick, Ireland, with offices in Torrance, Calif., and London, built a system from similar components to monitor paint-drying ovens for a metal finisher five years ago, before the term “IoT” was coined. Avnet also now owns Hackster.io, an open source IoT website full of tutorials and free device software.
“You can set [IoT-PREDICT] up in less than 15 minutes on anything with a motor. Then you start getting data from that machine.”
Tim Martin, CO-FOUNDER, ACTIONPOINT
Other companies offer similar resources. For example, Digi-Key Electronics, in Thief River Falls, Minn., offers a wide range of Arduino-Tiny computers that can be used as the foundation for many IoT devices. Carriers like AT&T offer kits that connect over their network.
IoT vendors, for their part, are rolling out intuitive kits as well. National Control Devices LLC, in Osceola, Mo., makes a one-step AC current monitor that uses 900 MHz wireless to connect from any monitored power cable to a PC. “Attach the device, download our software, and you can see when, for example, a pump is drawing more current because it’s overheating,” says Product Manager Anil Bhaskar, adding that it even connects to Microsoft Azure.
Upgrade Analog Security Systems
Upgrading analog security systems to smart systems is another opportunity, according to Gary Russell, former aerospace engineer and founder of LiveSmart Technologies, a residential automation company based in the Orange County, Calif., area. Russell uses residential security cameras to get his foot in the door, and later provides other lighting, monitoring, and control services.
One customer in Placentia, Calif., for example, had 14 analog-style cameras and a broken DVR. “We replaced all 14 cameras with new Power over Ethernet models,” says Russell. Research was needed to find the best cameras for indoors and out, and to tie them together with motion detectors in some cases. “The customer wanted to see through the cameras in real time, when they were at home or away, and record everything for later viewing,” Russell explains. LiveSmart configured the camera and DVR software to run on mobile devices through the LiveSmart app Russell developed.
The homeowner was so pleased with the upgrade that he asked Russell to install an IoT smart switch so he could turn his tankless water heater on and off. That’s also controlled through the LiveSmart app.
Integrators need an understanding of IP networking to replace analog cameras with digital models. “We quickly learned power tools are needed for installations and modifications,” notes Russell, who resells equipment for IoT projects and charges a per-project fee. Currently, Russell doesn’t charge clients for monthly monitoring, but many home automation companies do.
Predictive Maintenance for Industrial IoT
Manufacturing offers some opportunity for newcomers as well. ActionPoint, for example, boiled machine monitoring down into an easy-to-install kit. So easy, in fact, it now resells the kit to other integrators.
One application is predictive maintenance, which is critical for industrial IoT solutions. “The three most important measurements to determine the health of a machine are temperature, vibration, and current flow,” says Tim Martin, co-founder of ActionPoint. “Sensors for those details cost a couple of bucks. We connect them through a Dell Edge 3000 Gateway with Microsoft IoT software. Our software dashboard tracks all the data and keeps it in-house.”
Packaged together, ActionPoint sells the system as IoT-PREDICT through distributor Tech Data Corp.
Needed skills vary, depending on network connections and data destination. The system works with Wi-Fi, cellular, and Ethernet networks. If the client wants to send the data to Microsoft Azure, for example, ActionPoint provides consulting and integration services if needed.
“You can set this up in less than 15 minutes on anything with a motor,” says Martin. “Then you start getting data from that machine.” Once it’s identified normal temperature, vibration, and current flow ranges, IoT-PREDICT looks for deviation from those norms, and sends alerts when they happen.
Smart Sound Systems
Tekie Geek, an MSP serving New York City and New Jersey, decided to make its way into the IoT by becoming an expert in the Sonos product line of smart sound systems, according to Mike Bloomfield, president geek of the Staten Island, N.Y.-based company. Tekie Geek utilizes Sonos in both residential and commercial installations.
“Identify some bite-sized projects to increase your own IoT skills and show a positive result for your client.”
JEFF KAPLAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THINKSTRATEGIES INC.
“Sonos is an excellent offering to feed commercial 70V speaker systems, including my hospitality, restaurant, and fitness clients. When working with my commercial clients, Sonos paired with my Sirius XM Business offerings ensures that my clients are providing legal music to their clients.” Bloomfield regularly uses Sonos for projects as small as a single-speaker home system to complex sound systems with multiple music zones.
Sonos works with wired network connections, and its own Wi-Fi mesh network called SonosNET. Controlling software can be downloaded for mobile and desktop devices. While relatively simple to design and use in a home, commercial accounts require more sound design experience and knowledge of fixed voltage sound systems.
Bloomfield has completed more than 100 Sonos installations. “We profit from the solution via hardware and software sales and project fees,” he says. “As an MSP, we offer ongoing management.”
Kaplan calls IoT “a puzzle with many pieces,” adding that “integrators need to be aware of the whole puzzle but can certainly start with one well-defined IoT project to perform one valuable service for their customer.”
The “valuable” part is key. “Sometimes we call IoT the Internet of Talk,” ActionPoint’s Martin says. “Do you want to talk, or solve problems? We like to solve problems for customers.”