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Regional momentum takes shape at fifth annual Midwest IoT Summit

The Illinois Technology Association (ITA) has been around for a while, effectively promoting technology in Chicago and greater Illinois. Having been a CEO of several software companies and living in Chicago, this was an organization that attracted my attention a long time ago and I subsequently joined the board. Around 2010, shortly after the sale of my second company, I joined the executive board of the ITA. Around that time, I also became CEO of a company called Infobright, offering an analytic database. The interesting thing about Infobright was that it excelled in storing and analyzing machine data, which meant a lot of time with adtech firms and in networking and telecommunications, but it also pointed me towards the internet of things. This became my passion. The combination of my role on the ITA board and my increasing infatuation with IoT led to championing the ITA Midwest IoT Summit in 2013. On the executive board, we all agreed that IoT was unique in that it was the intersection of information technology with operational technology, so where IoT “happened” was important. As it happens, the Midwest has a great industrial, automotive, medtech, transportation, agricultural and even retail footprint, and was even beginning to gear up efforts around smart city initiatives in Chicago. In other words, this was a prime region where IoT should happen. So we set out to embrace and communicate that to all on a cold, late November day in 2013.

The first Summit had five panels, was held at a law firm and, by all rights, was a big success. Who didn’t want to learn more about IoT in late 2013? It was the cool buzzword and we wanted to know more. So naturally, we did the Summit again in 2014, only this time, it moved to a new venue and doubled in size to 250 (the facility limit, thank you fire marshals). We had seven panels in an all-day IoT binge, but it was great. We were exploring various domains, such as smart connected cars, industrial IoT, smart health, smart homes and smart grids, but were also looking deeper into security and data privacy. This was clearly a thought-leadership conference. No sales presentations. No ridiculous panels where each panelist shows “a few introduction slides” lasting 50 minutes, followed by a discussion for the remaining five minutes. It was healthy, thoughtful discussion and debate by people who knew their craft.

In the wake of the 2014 Summit, we knew IoT was becoming the thing in the Midwest, and we also believed that due to the nature of the industries, not only in Chicago, but in the broader Midwest, that IoT could and would play an increasingly important role in ensuring the robust nature of the region, from businesses to government to quality of life. This realization manifested itself in the formation of the Midwest IoT Council in early 2015. The Council has a board, which includes both smaller and larger companies across a variety of disciplines focused on IoT. We also have working committees that put together a Midwest IoT company inventory and case studies, track Midwest-based IoT research, work to bring capital into the Midwest investing in IoT, analyze the IoT talent and education-related needs of companies and the associated offerings from the university system throughout the Midwest, assess the IoT-related policies at federal, state and local levels, and, at times, provide positions and support of certain initiatives, and run the Midwest IoT Summit each year since the inception of the Council. We have also begun to establish remote affiliate chapters of the Council and will have six affiliates up and running around the Midwest by mid-2018. Last, we are beginning to establish “domain specific groups,” pairing several startups in a particular vertical (for example, smart healthcare) with larger established organizations in that same vertical. This effort will also naturally extend to the affiliate chapters as well. We have had hundreds of companies and over a thousand people get involved in these efforts. The 2015 and 2016 Summits each grew larger each year. We also added the First Analysis Capital Conference as an element of the overall Summit, furthering our effort to attract IoT-related capital to the region.

On October 18 and 19, we will be having the fifth annual Midwest IoT Summit. The momentum is palpable, and there is a growing list of success stories. This year we will look at data ownership and governance and the related shift in the market from a focus on IoT-enabled products to becoming an IoT-enabled organization. We will explore the evolution of IoT security from the chip to the cloud and everywhere in between, as well as the growing recognition that blockchain may well become an integral part of IoT. We will debate the changing communications landscape from 5G, LoRa and more. We will explore the role of machine learning and the status and direction of analytics for IoT. We will discuss the role ROI has in moving IoT from pilots to mainstream. We will chart the evolution of IoT platforms and where they are going in the future. We will look at industrial IoT, connected and autonomous cars, smart cities, smart health, smart homes and buildings, and agriculture. We will look at some of the new emerging technologies like voice and its widespread use. We will discuss Council findings on talent development and policy analysis. And we will look back at the path we have traveled, and showcase numerous success stories of IoT in the Midwest. We will hear from two of the top gubernatorial candidates for Illinois in 2018 on their views on the role of technology in Illinois, and we will close with a discussion on the future, focusing on the democratization of IoT.

This has been a long but gratifying road for me personally. I think I am safe in speaking as well for co-chair Brenna Berman, the executive director of City Digital, and the rest of the Council board in saying the excitement around this conference, and around IoT in the Midwest, has grown more and more each year. The Illinois Technology Association and the Midwest IoT Council has come a long way since we began to explore, promote and develop IoT in the region in 2013. It is truly a collective effort of a variety of companies from a variety of industries working to promote IoT and make the region a better place. And there should be no better place, on the 18 and 19 of October, than the Summit. We hope to see you there.

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