Updated: May 24, 2019
IoT represents a goldmine market opportunity for system integrators and MSPs. As more and more enterprises are rolling out IoT projects that involve integrating hundreds or thousands of devices and sensors into the IT infrastructure and organizations’ data workflows, system integrators and MSPs can play a critical strategic role in helping to define, develop, deploy and support these initiatives – while also improving their own delivery of services and building new business models that can provide recurring revenue.
CHALLENGES OF BUILDING A SCALABLE IOT SERVICES BUSINESS
Building a Machine Network Is Different & More Complex than Networking IT Equipment
Industrial and commercial machines were never originally intended to operate like computers or servers and integrating them into an IT infrastructure is not as simple as “plug and play.” Many were built on legacy proprietary hardware and software platforms that were not designed with the intent that they collaborate in a heterogeneous machine environment, much less via the Internet or a cloud.
This requirement alone can make taking on an IoT project daunting. With thousands of different types of sensors and machines – all of which speak their own language and have differing product and maintenance lifecycles, trying to integrate them all into an effective information workflow for even one customer project can require months or years of work and requires a deep and diverse list of skillsets.
Machine Data Storage and Processing Capabilities Are Much More Limited than Traditional IT Machines
Most machines were also not built to hold data for extended amounts of time, and as such contain very limited storage or data processing capabilities.
Attaching external IoT device servers or gateways, can be helpful to provide a tunnel for data to be securely transported from the device to the cloud. Using gateways still require that developers spend significant time writing additional code to automate what data gets extracted from the device and enabling that data to be connected to an application, or in some cases, multiple applications.
And leaving all the data to be sorted out in a cloud-based application (or multiple applications) can quickly become an expensive proposition for both you and your customer once your project is beyond the POC stage. As many MSPs and SIs are already realizing, not all data needs to be sent to the cloud. Of course, knowing what data to send where, when and to whom is another added complexity when it comes to implementing an IoT solution.
Cloud-Based Off the Shelf Apps Are Good for Proof of Concept But May Not Get You to a Field-Ready Solution
Today, there are several off-the-shelf solutions that make visualizing the data from your POC easier. However, there is a significant gap between going from an attractive demo POC that presents well in the boardroom to a field-ready solution that can be deployed into the enterprise.
A field-ready IoT solution or project is pursued with the intent that it will deliver increased efficiency within the existing workflow. That means that it’s not enough to just extract data and present it in a dashboard that still requires human beings to look at and interpret – device data must be intelligently harnessed and integrated with information from the enterprise to automate actionable insight. When the machine is down is it because the wi-fi access point isn’t working, it isn’t plugged in or could it be a device failure? Depending on the answer, the person who must solve the situation could either be your IT guy, the machine operator, or your manufacturer’s technical support that needs to be called.
IoT is supposed to solve that – but going from a nice looking POC to a fully field-ready solution requires substantially more programming and additional capabilities that can make the time-to-rollout much longer while tying up your team resources (thus prolonging or displacing your time to revenue and meaningful profitability). And as any experienced SI and MSP knows, initial customer feature requirements often don’t remain static as time passes. (Our prior experiences have taught us that if anything, the list of must-haves gets longer and more complex.)
Bottom line: the very challenges that can make an SI or MSP critical to the success of any organization’s IoT project are also the same things that can quickly turn an SI or MSP’s IoT services business into a mild form of indentured servitude to a few. On the upside, do it right and you’ve positioned yourself for a long-term, scalable business that can deliver recurring revenue over multiple years (versus leaving yourself to the mercy of IT cycles).
HOW SYSTEM INTEGRATORS CAN POSITION THEMSELVES FOR SUCCESS IN AN IOT WORLD
1. Recognize that IoT is often a strategic VP or C-level business decision and not just an IT decision. This means not just addressing IT’s goals and fears, but also understanding the workflow needs and ROI goals of the different departments and levels of an organization that will be impacted by the deployment. This approach will transform you from being perceived as a services vendor (who is often judged just on price) to a valued and trusted business partner who is invested in their long-term corporate objectives.
2. Plan for longevity and flexibility. Most industrial and commercial machines have long product lifecycles – anywhere from 10 to 20 years or more. That means that your team’s proposed solution must not just be flexible to adapt for new changes in the IT infrastructure but also have the ability to support hundreds (and in the longer-term, possibly thousands) of machines for a long, long, long time.
3. Understand that connectivity is the easy part; focus on the data. At its heart, uncovering IoT’s value starts with harnessing machine data to improve business continuity and productivity throughout the enterprise. Implementing a solution that embeds flexible intelligent data management is the key to more efficiently recognizing ROI for both you and your customer.
4. Avoid becoming too cloud-dependent. Today, there’s a lot of emphasis on putting nearly everything onto the cloud (from applications to data). But the reality is that most machine data and applications don’t need to go beyond the local enterprise to be useful. Service providers that go too cloud heavy risk running up operational costs as these projects move to wider spread field deployment, as well as increasing security and privacy concerns.
5. Your time and your people are worth money, so use both wisely. It can be easy to tie up your time and team for months in trying to build your own custom solution for a customer, but this can also limit the scalability of your business in the long-run. Machine-centric off-the-shelf solutions that are robust enough to help you create field-ready POCs can help you and your customer shorten the time from POC to roll-out, saving everyone time, resources and money. In addition, using these solutions can help you spend more time on solving your customer’s business problems (and less time on trying to get the tactical side working).
There’s no question that pursuing an IoT path is not for the faint of heart. But with experts predicting that the number of connected machines will more than double to 20.4 billion by 2020, system integrators and MSPs who position themselves wisely now – with the right mindset, focus on data and efficient use of in-house and off-the-shelf resources – stand to benefit greatly in the new digital economy.
The next generation of IoT solutions will move system integrators and OEMs from using stone-aged methods and tools to advanced machine-centric tools that make building and deploying IoT even easier. Want to learn more? Click here to stay up to date with Machinechat and our upcoming product launch.