Turning the IoT from Promising Concept to Practical Moneymaker
IT’S NO SECRET that an increasingly connected world demands increasingly connected business solutions. During the last few years an array of devices, sensors, and systems—tied together by mobile technologies, the cloud, and real-time data processing and analytics—has introduced opportunities to redefine processes and disrupt entire industries.
There’s more than a little money to be made too. Global spending on hardware, software, and services for the Internet of Things (IoT), as that confluence of technologies is known, will reach $1.4 trillion in 2021, according to IDC.
But the IoT also presents an enormous challenge for VARs, MSPs, and other service providers looking to turn a grab bag of disparate technologies into viable business solutions.
“Although the Internet of Things has been around in some shape or form for about two decades, it is just now gaining momentum,” explains Benson Chan, senior partner at Hayward, Calif.-based consulting firm Strategy of Things. “There’s no single solution or stack.”
To make matters worse, most people find the Internet of Things to be a somewhat fuzzy concept. That lack of clarity can, in turn, lead to paralysis or cause business leaders to pursue ill-considered projects. Solution providers must be equipped to guide their clients past such hazards.
Making Connections Count
What does it take to build a successful practice in this tech segment? “Tapping into IoT requires new expertise and skills, and the ability to assemble an array of technologies that create value,” states Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of Boston-area cloud consulting firm THINKstrategies Inc.
Before adding such capabilities though, he says channel pros must embrace an easily overlooked fact: The Internet of Things is not a technology. It’s a framework that leverages a variety of devices and applications to deliver goods and services.
“It’s all about gathering information and using it to act in faster and better ways,” Kaplan points out. “The focus must be on creating value for customers, partners, and an enterprise.”
The next step toward building or strengthening an IoT practice is enhancing your internal skills, knowledge, and capabilities. Options include forging new partnerships with consulting firms, security experts, and other third parties; training current employees; or hiring professionals familiar with IoT platforms. Acquiring or merging with peers who already possess that technical know-how is an alternative to consider as well.
Chan advises channel pros to build on their existing knowledge and look for ways to differentiate themselves from peers. For example, firms with strong networking capabilities could extend that forte to IoT. Those with healthy application development or RFID/supply chain practices could draw on that expertise to pursue entirely different opportunities. Each would make a perfect partner candidate and play a key role building out a solution and support network.
“You really have to think about the entire ecosystem and how all the various components of IoT—and a digital framework—play out,” Chan says. “The ecosystem is the solution, and without an integrated partner network, these initiatives will likely fall short or fail.”
Kaplan encourages channel pros to cultivate an IoT specialization too. “IoT is a very broad and highly fragmented market,” he says. “Your company needs a niche area of expertise that allows it to stand out.”
Bring IoT into the “Real World”
Of course, developing in-house skills and becoming part of a viable IoT ecosystem is only part of the story. There’s also the task of selling IoT products and services. IT services companies must help their clients understand that there’s no one way to capitalize on these technologies, and then design and customize systems that address their specific needs.
“If they operate a large number of vehicles, consider a fleet management solution,” Kaplan says. Retailers might appreciate an app with features like speech recognition, predictive capabilities, or augmented reality, he adds.
Kaplan also recommends starting with smaller projects to iron out kinks in your solutions before delivering them more broadly. “Disruption is a scary proposition, so it’s important to take a measured approach,” he says.
Once a client has scored some meaningful gains, you can introduce new features or take existing IoT capabilities further. The overarching goal, notes Chan, is helping clients understand that doing nothing can have negative repercussions.
“The Internet of Things is now part of the business world, and the use of connected systems will only grow in the future,” he explains. “Companies that fail to build new systems based on the IoT will likely find themselves falling behind. It’s important to focus on innovation and gains possible through the IoT and build practical solutions that deliver real-world benefits.”
Samuel Greengard is a business and technology writer based in West Linn, Ore. He is the author of The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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.