Energy Needs Drive New Types of Tech PartnershipsBy Lawrence Walsh | Print
Infusing greater intelligence and control into legacy and next-generation electricity and power systems could be the next boom market for IT vendors and solution providers. Early entries say tackling this opportunity requires innovation and collaboration with companies that aren’t exactly traditional partners, and adopting new business models.
IBM is among the many large technology vendors pushing deeper integration of common IT products and solutions into the legacy infrastructure and frameworks of everyday life. IBM has implemented—both direct and with partners—major infrastructure projects around the world that are having a substantial impact on energy consumption, transportation and population. A variable toll system IBM implemented in Stockholm is transforming the way people commute, reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions.
Under IBM’s "Smarter Planet" initiative, Big Blue is helping enterprises, midmarket companies and government organizations understand the necessity and benefits of infusing more integrated and automated controls into common infrastructure systems. Cisco has a similar program called "Smart Grid." Some have called the "smart" vision an idea out of the reach of rank and file resellers and solution providers, but IBM and Cisco both point to partners like Consert and Business Technology Partners that are embracing the spirit and challenge of the vision.
Business Technology Partners, a Cisco partner, started out as a Manhattan-based IT and managed service provider for the financial services community. Long before the financial services sector’s fortunes started changing, BTP began diversifying into other verticals such as health care and hospitality. Today, it’s in the midst of a massive project for the Trump Organization, providing all of the IT systems from the ground up for the new Trump SOHO New York, a 43-story hotel condominium complex in the heart of Manhattan.
Rather than bolting the IT systems into the building after construction, BTG worked with Trump and the general contractor to incorporate the wired and wireless IT systems into the fabric of the building. When completed, the Trump SOHO will have a fully integrated management system through which everything from guest services to unified communications to HVAC controls will flow over the same network, which will be managed remotely by BTP.
"Trump spared no expense in taking advantage of the IT infrastructure for the hotel," says Joshua Aaron, president of Business Technology Partners. "The Trump SOHO is an example of doing everything right."
Legacy public and physical infrastructure is, to this day, built on basic principles that are more than a century old. Building contractors, bridge builders and utilities have updated their techniques, but not their underlying foundations. As a result, technology and infrastructure providers on the physical side of the equation are having to learn about technology, and they are recruiting partners from the IT ranks to help facilitate their transformation.
"This business is quietly skyrocketing, even in a horrible economy with new construction and retrofitting," says Jim Dagley, vice president of channel marketing and strategy at Johnston Controls, which is traditionally a supplier of thermostats, HVAC control systems and physical security technologies.
The boom in demand for IT and physical infrastructure is prompting companies like Johnston Controls to not only seek relationships with IT vendors such as Cisco, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, but also develop channel relationships with IT solution providers who have the expertise in designing and implementing IT systems. These converged relationships differ from typical IT implementations in that the technology is designed to carry universal systems, as well as designed and implemented from the first shovel of dirt out of the ground.
"We get involved in projects 18 to 24 months before companies like Cisco ever hear of the opportunity," Dagley says. "We make sure that there’s enough bandwidth to serve all the systems and that we’re not having to run a ton of different cables."
While some traditional solution providers see initiatives such as IBM’s Smarter Planet and Cisco’s Smart Grid as high-level programs that have little room for participation among smaller resellers and service providers, vendors point to companies such as Consert and BTP as examples of how solution providers play a significant role in energy convergence technology implementations.
"There’s a place for all partners—hardware, software and services—and IBM has a play in all of these areas. Partners who have expertise in these areas may actually be the lead in these discussions," says IBM’s Duquid.