olly - Fotolia

IoT opportunities: Partners should prep IoT roadmap to reap profits later

Channel partners should start planning their IoT roadmaps, paying particular attention to vertical market skills and integration capabilities.

If you're not taking action around the Internet of Things (IoT) and where it fits into your partner business you may be putting your firm at a disadvantage.

While money-making IoT opportunities for most partner firms are nascent at this point in time, the reality is that partners need to be prepared to answer customer questions about IoT and even discuss an IoT roadmap for when the timing may be appropriate.

"Even if the [IoT] dollars aren't available today, partners don't want to wait until the market is mature enough because then it may be too late or their customers may not think of them as a potential partner," said Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research at CompTIA.

Laying the groundwork for IoT and having IoT discussions with customers is a very real opportunity for partners today. That might translate into guiding customers around IoT products and services or, even if an IoT implementation isn't immediate, looking at a customer's infrastructure to assess whether it will support IoT when the time comes.

Even if the [IoT] dollars aren't available today, partners don't want to wait until the market is mature.
Tim Herbertsenior vice president of research, CompTIA

For example, a small retail company may be excited about IoT-enabled location-based services or digital signage, but may not have a network infrastructure in place to take advantage of IoT technology.

That's where the channel partner can help. "Today the partner can offer to assess the customer's network, assess the customer's security and ensure that the customer is ready to adopt new IoT technology when the time is right," said Herbert.

But that's just the beginning.

Defining IoT opportunities

The term IoT is tossed around casually and quite often, so a little clarity and definition around IoT may help partners focus their thinking and solidify their business objectives.

When talking about IoT, there are two separate concepts that partners need to understand. The first is that IoT refers to connecting things to the Internet that were previously unconnected. Or, to use Gartner's description: IoT "is the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment."

But, that's only half the story.

The other half of the story is what happens beyond the connectivity of everything or what happens to all the data coming out of the devices. This piece of the picture revolves around managing the data and making it useful to improve business processes, impact productivity, impact production or reduce operational costs, for example. This spurs a need for analytics and application development.

Andres Sintes, global senior director of IoT/IoE and solutions partner sales at Cisco, talked about two types of Cisco partners and IoT opportunities. For the vendor's traditional partners the premier IoT opportunity is connecting all the things, utilizing the networking capability of these partners. But for IoT in the context of a factory floor, for example, which may not be a traditional industry for some partners, channel players would have to become knowledgeable about the application of networking, wireless and security in the manufacturing environment, Sintes said.

When it comes to what Cisco calls Internet of Everything (IoE), the partners most ready to build an IoE practice are already building practices around big data and analytics that are driving business outcomes, he noted.

In June, Cisco introduced the IoT System for partners, a portfolio that addresses the complexity of the IoT with an infrastructure designed to manage large-scale systems of diverse endpoints and platforms and the data they create.

The platform has six pillars: network connectivity, fog computing, physical security and cybersecurity, data analytics, management and automation, and application enablement platform. Each pillar offers a set of IoT technologies and products.

"We grouped the products into six categories so that we can help our partners understand what piece fits where," Sintes said.

That said, no one goes out and buys IoT, noted Gartner research vice president Alphonso Velosa. "This is an evolution of things that we've been doing forever. The drawback that we have is that it's a collection of vertical markets that are unified by horizontal technologies," he said.

For partners that translates into both good and bad news. The good news is that partners need vertical market expertise to differentiate. The bad news is that partners need to have vertical market expertise, meaning that they need to acquire it.

"For a channel partner this is a brilliant opportunity because they get to take their capabilities in terms of vertical markets and leverage it with a new technology approach," Velosa said.

Leading the way in IoT: Roadmap needed

Presidio Inc. and Zones Inc. are two Cisco partners firms on the forefront of IoT. Both are large system integrators with a deep bench of engineers and solution architects, software developers and 24x7 support operations. IoT is an extension of what they've been doing for years, yet each partner continues to expand and adjust the way it does business.

While product development work is something Presidio has done historically, the company has invested in additional manufacturing space to expand capability and market reach as it's embraced IoT.

That's because there's no single manufacturer that provides an end-to-end IoT offering. In fact, IoT is about manufacturing collaboration, said Shawn Rahn, vice president of IoT at Presidio.

"That's where we come in. We work with ISVs and folks like Cisco and Intel -- and the need to integrate many solutions can't be done without a little bit of hardware development capability or software development capability in the middle to truly unify an architecture," Rahn said.

At the same time, delivering an IoT architecture goes beyond things. "There can be too much focus on the things and not enough focus on the people -- which is really the goal," he added.

Part of the consultative process is for the engineers to know what things are out there, and what data they generate. Most of the process has to do with whatever the particular market is (i.e., manufacturing, transportation, community organization and so on), and to understand the workflow of the employees, citizens or customers who are using the environment. It's important to understand what they want to happen differently or what they're having struggles with, explained Rahn.

Today, IoT is top of mind in every Presidio office and the firm touches every account with IoT opportunities and assessments.

Zones formalized its IoT practice about one year ago after achieving a level of success bridging IT with operational technology (OT). Today Zones focuses on multiple vertical industries, i.e., retail, manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, among others.

"We created these horizontal solutions, so when it came to video surveillance, access control, energy management, digital signage or analytics that goes with any one of those solutions, we can take them and cross them with any vertical industry out there in the market," said Stephen Lurie, vice president of IoT solutions at Zones.

While the partner firm had an advanced solutions group in place, it needed to recruit OT professionals such as facility managers or people who understood the smart grid or regulatory compliance around the smart grid, and other professionals with HVAC and lighting experience, for example.

"We always understood the IT side of the business and now we can bridge IT with the OT type of individuals," he said, adding that Zones is making a very big investment in people.

Additionally, while Zones understood the networking and device connectivity side of the business, the company works with IoT ecosystem partners for the analytics platform and does in-house programming to connect to the platform.

Business opportunities and IoT advice

According to a recent CompTIA report -- Sizing Up the Internet of Things -- one in three partners expect to make money in IoT within two years. "The data indicates that there is a segment of partners investing time and energy to position themselves to make money in IoT," Herbert said, author of the report.

That doesn't mean that IoT revenue in two years will account for 50% of a company's revenue and might in fact represent just a small percentage of revenue, but it's important to acknowledge that today there are partners who are moving ahead in this area, learning new things and exploring new vendor relationships.

Some advice for partners on IoT from industry participants: get off of the sidelines and take action.

  • Prepare to answer customer questions about IoT and even discuss what an IoT roadmap may look like.
  • Assess your current strengths and capabilities and increase skill levels up to grow.
  • Look within your current customer base for lines of business you haven't yet worked with. Expand your business contacts from the carpeted side of the business (corporate) to the manufacturing floor.
  • Anticipate working with multiple vendors. A good way to understand the IoT vendor ecosystem is to research the various consortiums being formed. For example, AllSeen Alliance, Open Interconnect Consortium, Thread, Industrial Internet Consortium, and Wireless IoT Forum.
  • If you're a managed service provider, know that the complexity of IoT increases the demand for managed services (i.e., remote monitoring and troubleshooting), as more devices are added to the network. Develop additional skills to support new platforms.
  • Be prepared to make new investments in people and skills.
  • Don't call yourself an IoT solution provider if you don't have some success stories to back it up.

Next Steps

Read SearchCIO to find out about what factors to considering before embarking on IOT

Learn how limited bandwidth may limit IoT development

Find out how to protect yourself against IoT security attacks

Dig Deeper on Internet of Things (IoT) Service Providers