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The IoT ecosystem: Three types of partners you need on your team

As the old saying goes, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” While there is an “I” in “IoT,” true success in the complex realm of the internet of things requires teamwork.

A couple years ago, our team at Cisco created and piloted an IoT-enabled disaster management project in Glasgow, Scotland. The system collects and visualizes data from assets like ambulances, fire engines and volunteer networks during an emergency, to provide users a real-time view of what’s happening on the ground level. However, this was not a system we, nor any other individual company, could have delivered single-handedly. While we provided the IT infrastructure, collaboration and security elements, Bronze Labs brought in the IoT software and Leonardo offered high-tech aerospace and defense know-how. Additional partners, such as Scottish Water and Glasgow City Council, helped ensure a smooth, hyperlocal deployment. The result was a complete, powerful IoT system with the potential to save lives.

Undoubtedly, IoT has changed the paradigm of single-vendor, end-to-end methodology. As more businesses are discovering, IoT is too complex to approach alone. It will take many costly internal resources and the reinvention of multiple wheels to deliver a product or service that provides acceptable ROI. Therefore, companies of all sizes looking to capitalize on IoT must build a team or, more accurately, an ecosystem of partners who co-innovate to deliver a technology that meets the customer’s specific business needs.

The most successful IoT projects I’ve seen involve partners from three broader categories: horizontal, vertical and geographic. Going back to the above example in Glasgow, all three types of partners were present. Cisco and Bronze Labs were horizontal specialists, Leonardo was our vertical expert, and Scottish Water and Glasgow City Council were the geographic players. All of us worked interdependently, contributing our respective technologies and knowledge.

As you start to build your own ecosystem, consider each of the following types of partners, what they bring to the table and how they can help you achieve your goals. First, let’s look at horizontal specialists. With horizontal specialists, you’ll ensure scalable, interoperable and cost-effective technologies that offer repeatable results and withstand the test of time. These players include large vendors, consultants and even startups that provide expertise in horizontal technologies and often draw from best practices from the IT sector, like how to effectively secure large volumes of devices. Technologies provided by horizontal specialists include cloud/fog computing, data analytics, security, device orchestration, system visualization, networking and many more.

For example, a horizontal specialist can provide the standards-based network infrastructure on which your IoT application of choice runs. Horizontal specialists can also offer advanced data analytics to extract value from the information the IoT devices generate, which end users can use for better decision-making.

With products and services that complement horizontal technologies, vertical specialists address market-specific challenges and use cases, and allow you to integrate products into existing systems and lines of business. These experts understand business operational and technical environments and their unique requirements. They also have relationships with line of business, operational technology or building technology teams, as well as market-specific systems integrators and providers of market solutions, devices and equipment (such as automation/robotics, actuators, sensors and so forth).

For example, a vertical market system integrator can ensure that all IoT components can interoperate by connecting the various technologies and services, and integrating them with existing or new business processes. The result is a tailored system one cannot obtain “out of the box,” but without the cost of a custom product. When reaching out to vertical specialists, remember to give IoT startups a closer look — many have a strong vertical focus that will bring value to your ecosystem.

Last but not least, geographic specialists enable a hyperlocal IoT deployment, helping you consider local environments, laws (like data privacy regulations), economics and use cases. These geographic domain experts, as well as local vertical market systems integrators and service providers, will allow you to more easily scale the technologies developed by the horizontal and vertical specialists to specific geographic business and technology requirements. After all, not every IoT product or service will work the same from one side of the world to the other. For instance, if you want to implement an automation system in a factory in China, you should collaborate with a local telecommunications service provider to enable system connectivity.

With the three types of partners — horizontal, vertical and geographic — on board, you’ll soon discover the importance of these codependent relationships in delivering comprehensive IoT systems based on open, standards-based horizontal capabilities. The beauty of these partnerships is that they will evolve into what I call a “co-economy,” where partners and customers co-innovate and co-create products. And, as the co-economy evolves, we’ll see greater progress and overall success in the IoT market — that’s teamwork at its finest.

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