The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to become a massive trend in the IT channel, with Gartner predicting that 8.4 billion things will be connected globally this year, up 31 per cent from last year.
While the trend has enjoyed initial success in the consumer space with items such as connected heating systems, the technology is also transforming certain enterprise verticals.
Cisco's UK chief technology officer Alison Vincent (pictured) explained to CRN at UKFast's Cloud UK Live event in London yesterday how the channel can get in on the trend.
IoT as a trend has been talked about for a number of years, and success stories are coming through from some in the industry. But in the UK, where are we at with the trend in terms of its maturity?
For the UK on the whole, we are certainly well on the start of the journey. It is very much coming in the consumer and the home market, but certain industries are also grabbing it. The manufacturing industry is most advanced in the benefits it is getting from IoT. They are connecting the sensors on the machinery with video cameras on the factory floor - all the way back to the iPad the person walking around the factory floor is using. In that industry, if they make even a very small fraction of saving, because the process is very expensive, they get a huge amount of value from this productivity.
From a partner point of view, is manufacturing the best industry for them to start looking at for opportunities in this space, and are there other verticals where IoT is taking off?
Manufacturing is the most advanced, but the other main area is retail. A lot of retailers are trying to approach IoT from the customer-experience side. How can we [improve] customer experience from when they come into the shop, in terms of connecting the shopper, when they come in with a mobile phone, with offers available. The data and analytics they can do on the back end for tracking where the customer is another key space.
Having said that, the UK government is totally behind digitising the country as a whole, so a lot of the public sector [is also on board], such as healthcare, schools, universities and museums - because it's such a driver for improvement and gaining cost savings, it's certainly hitting lots of industries right now.
As IoT is an emerging trend, which requires a certain level of infrastructure to be put in place for it to work effectively, is there almost a disadvantage in being a first mover, as investing in that infrastructure falls on you? What is stopping companies that wait for the trend to mature from piggybacking on your success and investment?
The secret for partners engaging in this space is to take a step back and realise that in this IoT future, when there will be this increased traffic, let's look at helping people get the right backbone first, in terms of making sure the infrastructure underneath it is secure and scalable and automatable. That's something that, regardless of what they build on top of it, which might be the bit which is changeable, the underlying tech is solid.
Some partners have said that the bespoke nature of IoT can cause a headache for them in that they can't gain traction with easily repeatable business which they can scale fast. How can they get around this issue and learn how to earn repeatable business in IoT?
If you solve a common problem, that core problem you solve is repeatable. You then just skin it in a different way. The key to success in this space is finding that niche, which of course, because this is hitting all industries, there are huge opportunities for partners to find that niche for themselves. Where can I add value? Which vertical industry do I understand best? Can I help them think about their strategy?
What about SMB partners? Is the IoT reserved for partners with big R&D budgets who can afford to take risks on emerging technology, which may not be as reliable an investment as traditional technology they have a solid business in?
No. I can see a huge opportunity for the small providers. There is a need for those small businesses to become more productive and this is the technology to help them do that. There is a very good one-to-one relationship to be had between the small partners and the small businesses who need to join this journey.
The IT skills gap is something the industry talks about a lot. How much of a challenge is this specifically to IoT and its adoption in the UK?
The reality of these 'things' is that they are just another bunch of hardware. So the generic skills gap we are trying to address in terms of getting people to understand electronics and programme, it's just another subset of that discipline, and that is getting covered in the initiatives that are happening.
Does the fact that the IoT is quite an easy, accessible concept, which is perhaps more exciting than other areas of traditional IT, help capture the imagination of youngsters who are looking to get into tech? Does this help elevate the profile of the IT industry?
We do the Cisco Little Big Awards, which is for schoolchildren aged 12 to 14. The idea is to try to inspire them before they make their GCSE choices. Now you can introduce things like connected stuff to them and you can have a much livelier conversation with them. All of a sudden they are sparked to create some really interesting ideas. And it is becoming more simple for them to actually demo stuff. When we started the competition a couple of years ago, it was just virtual PowerPoints and stuff, but now they can produce small demos and physically create something that moves. I think it is more engaging.
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