There are moments when it seems we are all butts of the joke in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch about the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things -- especially in the technology industry. No matter how we pile up layers of hardware, software and services, there is always more to do. Rather than simplifying our IT environment, we seem trapped in a cycle of ever-increasing complexity.
As the president of the society in the famous sketch says: “This year our members have put more things on top of other things than ever before. But, I should warn you, this is no time for complacency. No, there are still many things -- and I cannot emphasise this too strongly -- not on top of other things.”
Indeed, this year we are hearing more about the “Internet of Things” - a slippery phrase which serves to encompass the multidimensional web of connected devices and individuals that we have been creating (partly by being deliberately unclear). And channel partners will have to grapple with this issue, however frustrating it appears.
In fact, Kim King, vice president for global partners and channels at BI vendor Progress Software, sees it primarily as a channel opportunity - whether you consider the Internet of Things to refer to machine-to-machine (M2M) or machine-to-human (M2H) communications, both of which are necessary when you start connecting more types of devices and, er, “things”, online.
“Our SI and ISV partners will continue to see a demand for M2M where a complete, vertical solution is required. Our key verticals where we are seeing this demand are within financial, manufacturing and industrial services,” she says. “The need for automation and BI is fuelled by M2M communications and driven by the competition in the market.”
We are talking about these M2M/M2H technologies themselves, but also the support systems that surround them. King says businesses are already looking for easily deployed, automated, information-rich, vertical-specific offerings that offer competitive advantage. The Internet of Things is another strand to mobility and the big data and analytics stories; it is all about learning to make more sense of what is happening, anywhere and everywhere, in real time.
“Align with an ecosystem that includes integrators, MSPs, hosting firms, VARs and consultants, or be part of the consolidation in the marketplace where one large telco or services provider offers the whole solution,” says King (pictured, right). “This is not an opportunity where any partner can stand alone.”
Over time, interoperability and standards should lessen the need for custom integration, allowing feature-rich apps to take centre stage, on top of other things.
“Analysis of the resulting data leads to even more opportunities. Partners that take advantage of this will find themselves in a sweet spot as the market continues to consolidate and telecoms and service providers move away from commodity and into vertical solutions,” King insists.
This year’s CES showcased more products with online capability than ever before. These devices were able to respond to touch, voice, gaze or gesture when controlling a TV, PC or other gadget while online. Consumers are getting more interested in a range of smart devices - and where consumers go, businesses these days tend to follow.
According to Gartner, the cost of components is continuing to fall as well - expanding the number of things that could be connected to other things.
On top of that, specific verticals such as healthcare and logistics have long seen the advantages of the Internet of Things. As General Electric explains in a presentation on the industrial internet, if more machines and components are internet enabled, more information can be exchanged and shared between components, machines, sensors, monitoring systems and software applications.
Greg Smith, chief innovation officer at consultancy C-View Technologies, agrees, noting that a wide range of devices are already connected to the internet, so management and integration opportunities are already emerging.
“This is a collection of hyped technologies, internet enabled and driven by a thirst for information and knowledge,” he says. “[So] channel partners need to understand their ability to work at the early adopter phase of technology sales and identify their sweet spot - do not focus your core effort on technologies that lack revenue at the early stage of adoption.”
Early on, the Internet of Things will not be an opportunity for every partner, he suggests. “While partnerships have traditionally been about technology enablement and this enablement is still essential, it may not be sufficient for the Internet of Things today.
“Successful partners will not only bring deals but also identify new ways to market, while vendors should look at developing tool kits for resellers to both market and integrate these new solutions,” says Smith.
Mike Mayers, global channel director at Peer1 Hosting, continues: “We already have smart meters, web-enabled phones, inventory management, logistics and smart cars, and over the next five to 10 years many more machines and objects will become connected to the internet. The type of information an Internet of Things can provide logistical companies, manufacturers, retailers, universities and the public sector is invaluable.”
However, more needs to be done on legi-slation, technology and security for companies to capitalise on the concept, Mayers warns, adding that, once again, this represents an opportunity.
Randy Roberts (pictured, right), vice president of mobility products at Siemens Enterprise Communications, agrees -- but notes that specialised partners that already have expertise in mobility or telecoms are likely to do best. Telecoms remains different from IT, and those who know about areas that involve gadgets with “ambient intelligence”, that automatically collect and transmit data remotely, will have less of a learning curve.
“Things are beginning to take off in some vertical markets already,” he says. “For example, virtually everything I got over Christmas from Amazon or wherever had an RFID tag.”
Chris Baker, senior vice president for ISVs, OEMs and Java at Oracle, says “massive growth” is going to happen, and less-technical VARs and VADs will also be critical to the successful ecosystems that are developed. “Whether you think the market is worth £20bn, £50bn or £100bn in the next three to five years, the key thing is that the amount of data that starts flying around is growing hugely,” he says.
Customers of all sizes will go on needing help, at all levels, says Baker. Unsurprisingly, he mentions embedded Java as one key to building the right applications for an Internet of Things -- in part because it can help reduce the need to write so many bits and pieces of code in order to help more things connect and communicate with other things.
“Devices have to talk to each other, and then to the datacentre,” says Baker. “And it is happening: BMW is talking about connecting every car, with each having a petabyte of data that can help with maintenance. In healthcare, vital signs information can connect with the ambulance and people could be picked up even before they know they are ill.”
In the sketch, the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things is abruptly disbanded when the delegate from Staffordshire protests that “the whole thing’s a bit silly, really”. It's true that it seems that humans cannot help but put things with other things - however, in real life, it may indeed prove a useful project in many customer organisations.
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