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How managed services can get the most out of IoT

IoT-enabled products are everywhere — or at least will be soon. Gartner projects that there will be more than 20 billion connected devices by 2020. Businesses already recognize the potential of IoT to deliver value. According to a recent survey, 82% believe they will adopt some form of IoT within the next two years, in part because they believe that the information provided by IoT-embedded devices will promote other innovations.

But adopting IoT is no simple matter. And few companies presently have the skills or infrastructure needed to safely and productively deploy IoT technology.

Implementing IoT requires highly specialized skills which nearly half of all companies believe they lack. This has created a wide and troublesome skills gap — a disconnect between the demand for a technology and the know-how to apply it. Additionally, most companies lack the necessary software, security and IT infrastructure capabilities to employ IoT. Instead of undergoing the costly and time-consuming process of acquiring these competencies, businesses should turn to specialist service operators — those with the right expertise, experience and equipment — to extract optimal value from cutting-edge IoT technologies.

Managed service providers (MSPs) are well-suited to fill this important role. Throughout the business world, MSPs handle complex IT deployments, like device as a service and managed print services, to add significant value for their customers. This value comes in the form of cost-savings, efficient deployments and support services, all of which are made possible by MSPs’ familiarity with the technologies they offer.

MSPs are heavily incentivized to acquire rare and in-demand skills, such as a competency in IoT, and have a unique economic advantage when it comes to complex and cutting-edge technologies. Their business models allow them to spread the cost of knowledge acquisition across a wide customer base, making their investment cost-effective. Ultimately, this translates to expenditure savings for the customer and a transition from heavy initial Capex to cost-efficient, use-based payments.

With the broad benefits of a service provider who can help guide IoT projects now established, there are three key areas in which they can offer value specifically to the IoT space:

1. Advanced analytics

IoT technologies will generate a great deal of precise, real-time data on how their host devices are performing. This data can be used to improve device performance and lifespan. However, McKinsey found that only 1% of all IoT data collected is ever used. Clearly, companies aren’t capitalizing on the available data. The issue being that it’s too complex and voluminous to be easily manipulated — it requires an understanding of big data analysis.

MSPs will develop the ability to analyze and interpret this important data — which will be fed directly back to them from the devices they manage — using big data principles. Properly employed, this data can offer important insights into usage, performance and physical condition — all of which can be used to optimize devices, configure them for specific end users and forecast wear and tear. These insights will greatly improve user experience.

2. Service innovation

MSPs can also combine this new classification of device data with their existing databases of client information. Contrasting macroscopic corporate insight with microscopic usage analytics will yield a range of findings. They will also empower MSPs to develop and deliver a range of innovative and tailored services — preventative repairs, product tailoring, product tuning, improving customer service — to make sure companies and their employees are getting the most from their products.

There are several situations and fields in which new, IoT-enabled services could provide a significant boost. In logistics, sophisticated asset tracking would enable companies to more closely monitor their supply chain, allowing for logistics and inventory optimization and stricter quality control. In manufacturing, construction and natural resources, field equipment intelligence can deliver reduced maintenance cost and downtime with preemptive repairs. In the office environment, IoT-driven customer insights could allow MSPs to plot the distribution of printers and personal systems to maximize productivity but minimize outlay.

Patterns in IoT data could reveal ways to improve business operations and efficiencies. MSPs could soon also be combining recommendations on device deployment with data-driven counsel on maximizing device deployment to meet business goals.

3. Fleet security

New capabilities mean new vulnerabilities. And more data means more sensitive information. Ninety-six percent of security professionals responding to a recent survey said that they expect to see an overall increase in industrial IoT breaches this year. And attacks like the massive distributed denial-of-service Dyn attack, which targeted insecure IoT devices such as webcams, video recorders, routers and baby monitors, will only increase in frequency and impact. In fact, security is number one in Gartner’s top 10 IoT technologies for 2017 and 2018, saying “IoT security will be complicated by the fact that many ‘things’ use simple processors and operating systems that may not support sophisticated security approaches.”

Diligent MSPs will gain the know-how necessary, or enlist a suitably qualified professional partner, to ready their customers for IoT-related threats. As part of their growing suite of evolved services, MSPs will provide security assessments, devices with built-in detection and recovery capabilities, automatic security updates across fleets and appropriate data destruction for retired devices. MSPs will also continue their move beyond network security into endpoint security, and will design and deploy robust but unobtrusive security protocols. Fundamentally, this means far better fleet security than would be possible for a business without significant in-house expertise.

In many unforeseen ways, IoT is a game-changer. To maximize and protect every dollar invested demands a unique skillset and a deliberate, thoughtful deployment. Managed service providers will deliver the intelligence, skills and experience to use the full potential of IoT-connected devices, while ensuring that company assets are safeguarded.

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