IoT Partners Move Past the Hype to Opportunities
Although the hype surrounding the Internet of things is most certainly off the charts—which may give some solution providers pause—a new ecosystem is emerging that offers a range of opportunities, and IoT partners are digging in.
From simply connecting devices to the Internet of things environment to collecting, integrating, managing and analyzing all the data from those devices, just about every aspect of IoT requires IT organizations to master new technologies. As a result, many channel partners are already positioning themselves to reap the benefits of IoT investments that McKinsey & Company says will generate more than $11.1 trillion a year of economic value by 2025.
Case in point is Senet, an IoT solution provider that previously limited the scope of its activities to hooking up monitors to heating oil tanks. Now Senet is building an entire IoT services practice around low-power WAN (LPWAN) technologies, such as LoRaWAN, an open specification that has been created to provide a lower-cost alternative to existing cellular and networking technologies for connecting devices to the Internet.
Driven by a LoRa Alliance that counts Cisco and IBM among its members, Senet decided to become a contributing member of the alliance early on, said Steve Ball, senior director of product management for the solution provider. That level of commitment is already starting to pay off, he said.
"We already have two-dozen platform partners," Ball said. "Analysts are already projecting that 50 percent or more of IoT connections will be made using LPWANs."
IoT Partner Opportunities
IoT partner opportunities, however, go well beyond the end point. Not only does a new generation of highly distributed analytics applications have to be built, all that data needs be integrated via the gateways that billions of IoT devices will feed a constant stream of data into every day. The real IoT challenge going forward will be the nuances associated with collecting, integrating and ultimately analyzing all that data. IoT service providers that can address this stand to benefit.
For that reason, Space-Time Insight, a provider of real-time analytics software, spent $13 million recently to acquire GOFACTORY, a developer of tools for collecting streams of data from end points, to make it possible to create an IoT solution significantly faster.
"We think IoT is ultimately all about gaining situational intelligence," said Steve Ehrlich, senior vice resent of product management for Space-Time Insight. "But instead of taking two years, we think you can get there in three months."
IoT Security Challenges
IoT security challenges will also prevent opportunities for solution providers. Most IT organizations have little-to-no visibility into those end points, much less any ability to secure them.
In a new survey, seven in 10 IT professionals lacked confidence in their ability to see connected devices as soon as they joined their networks. Another 30 percent said their companies did not have a specific solution in place to secure IoT devices, and more than one-fourth do not know if they have security policies for those devices, according to the survey of more than 350 IT professionals commissioned by network security specialist ForeScout Technologies and conducted by Webtorials.
"IoT represents an evolution of IT," said Rob Greer, chief marketing officer and senior vice president for products at ForeScout. "But a lot of this will depend on how an organization defines IoT."
Many organizations, for example, already have operations teams that have spent years investing in machine-to-machine technologies. The challenge now, said Greer, is integrating all that data with back-end systems in a way that creates actionable intelligence.
IoT Service Providers Benefit From Project Expansion
From IoT service providers' perspective, the nice thing about Internet of things projects is that they tend to grow over time. Before too long a simple proof-of-concept has the potential at least to transform the way a business operates. The challenge is appreciating all the data management nuances required to master an IoT deployment.
While IoT clearly represents a major integration opportunity, how much data gets processed at the end point, the gateway, in an on-premise data center or in the cloud will vary considerably by IoT deployment, said Bart Schouw, director of IoT solutions for Software AG. As a result, most IoT solutions will require a federated approach to how data gets integrated, he said.
"Organizations are going to find themselves managing fleets of different devices," Schouw said. "How all those devices in the field get integrated will depend on the business process. It's a huge opportunity, but it's also a hell of a job."
That same issue also applies to the analytics being derived from all that data.
It's not going to be feasible to stream massive amounts of IoT data back into a traditional data warehouse in the enterprise, said Dan Graham, technical marketing director for IoT at Teradata. "You're really talking about a massive dispersal of data sources. Most of what comes out of an IoT application is time series data," Graham said. "You can't do all the data transformation in the data center."
As a consequence, analytics needs to be baked into the data integration process at the very beginning on an IoT project, he said.
Of course, as it often the case with any major IT initiative, the ultimate debate comes down to how much organizations will opt to build or buy IoT solutions. A recent survey of 603 IT and business professionals conducted by QuinStreet Enterprise, parent company of Channel Insider, suggests that 60 percent of the time organizations will opt to buy an IoT solution. In reality, however, even when an IoT solution is purchased, there will still be a high degree of customization.
In the meantime, there is no shortage of IoT startups, established IT vendors and even entities such as GE and Siemens trying to carve out their share of a market that is already being measured in trillions.
"You're already seeing a lot of new relationships while others like SAP and Dell are extending partnerships," said Christoph Inauen, vice president of the IoT for SAP. "It'll be interesting to see where all these vendors wind up in five years.
Regardless of the vendors involved, however, the one thing that is for certain is that IoT will ultimately reshape the IT landscape in ways most solution providers never imagined.
Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.