Vendor to Watch: RIoT and Wireless Research Center in Raleigh
When searching for the hottest area in IoT research, development, and programs to build IoT momentum, the first place to look is Silicon Valley. The second place, and maybe the first stop for integrators and small IoT manufacturers, would be . . . Raleigh, N.C.
Research Triangle Park around Raleigh started back in the 1950s as IBM began working with the technology departments at three area universities: Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. Helping to turbo-boost IoT development today is RIoT, a nonprofit launched in 2014 as a Meetup group in Raleigh.
“I was at NC State when RIoT was started,” says Tom Snyder, executive director of RIoT. “Many of the early attendees were from large companies in the area. They weren’t there to share IoT success stories but to learn about IoT themselves. “We discovered there was an unmet need in education and support, so we began having larger and larger meetings.”
Companies in the area join RIoT and pay an annual fee for access to a long list of services, including networking with technologists, engineers, business leaders, academics, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalist groups. “Raleigh has a good balance of industry,” says Snyder, “including medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, and more. What one company learns and shares about IoT in one area translates well to other companies in different areas.
RIoT has held 35 events with over 1,200 companies attending. Attendance includes over 5,000 “RIoTers” in the Triangle area, 1,500 to 1,600 in Charlotte, and over 400 in Atlanta. About 80 companies pay the annual fee for RIoT membership.
“All our events are free and open to the public,” adds Snyder. “Our goal is education and economic development, and we make that inclusive to help everyone.” That approach helps the group reach a much larger audience and avoids the steep attendance fees many industry trade shows charge.
“This summer, with the City of Raleigh, we’re offering courses to main street business, to more than just tech companies, down to food trucks and boutiques,” Snyder says. “We want them to understand where data-driven business practices can help, rather than overwhelm them, in the future.”
One area of support for growing businesses is the RIoT Accelerator Program, or RAP. The 12-week, high-touch program helps IoT startups and corporate innovation teams. The Spring 2019 class finished in April.
Closing the Gaps
Snyder feels strongly that, “IoT is not coming, it’s already here.” But what’s stopping the 20% of early adopters providing IoT services from becoming 50% or more of IT integrators?
“There are two large knowledge gaps for IT integrators, and two fundamental shifts that have to happen for wide-scale adoption,” says Snyder. First, IT and data services are not typically connected, but data science and analytics drive IoT. Snyder understands the “data is the new oil” slogan, but adds that oil isn’t usable until it’s refined, and that means data science and analytics.
“Like the business changes from the last wave of tech, the ‘as-a-service’ cloud model, we need a new mindset around outcomes from data analytics,” he says.
Second, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) teams need to start playing well with each other, says Snyder. “We have to bring these organizations together, and industry is starting to adjust to that idea. Today, the HVAC team, for instance, may not work closely with the IT department, but they need to.” The core goal of RIoT is to connect people and think systemwide to find solutions to problems.
In many ways, Snyder’s approach to IoT is like the open source software movement’s approach to software development. “The software industry shifted from proprietary to open source,” he says. “We’re seeing the same thing in hardware and IoT.” To support that goal, RIoT takes no equity from developing companies helped by the accelerator or other programs, and they make no claim to intellectual property. “Even the IP we help them research, test, and develop into products remains completely in their hands.”
Snyder cautions that those waiting for the various networking standards around IoT to get set will miss the IoT boat. “If you’re waiting to see if LoRA beats SIGFOX or something similar, you’re way behind,” he says, adding that the most successful processes in the market tend to be those that become the standards.
“Betamax was technically better than VHS,” says Snyder, “but VHS got into the hands of the consumer and became the standard. Even if you bet on the wrong technology, you’ll learn so much doing the IoT project you’ll still be way ahead. There’s no reason to wait from our perspective.”
Besides meetings with potential investors and customers, RIoT makes use of the Wireless Research Center, a world-class testing facility and research hub created in 2010. It’s an ISO 17025 accredited facility and a certified CTIA Test Lab for over-the-air (OTA) testing of cellular devices. Companies, members of RIoT or not, pay standard fees for WRC testing and certification services.
“No organization is vertically integrated enough to provide all parts of an IoT solution, from silicon to sensors to data services on up,” says Snyder. Integrators with strong technical stack skills come to RIoT and are teamed with data analytics partners, shown how to leverage the customer’s own in-house skills to build the project team, and cover any other gaps in the IoT solutions stack.
“We help our members develop products that are forward-compatible, even with competitors,” says Snyder. “Customers are rejecting proprietary products. Our open source attitude is important to helping companies build long-term relationships with their current customers, and all their next clients.”
James E. Gaskin is an author, consultant, and speaker on technology based in the Dallas area.