Sticking sensors on anything from refuse bins to plant machinery could become big business for the UK channel. Doug Woodburn looks at how the IoT appears to finally be gathering pace
The Internet of Things (IoT) is regarded as the ultimate over-hyped technology in some circles, but across the channel it appears that IoT user cases are starting to multiply.
Until now, relatively few resellers appear to have embraced the world of IoT, with a recent study from CompuBase finding that just one in 12 resellers - both in the UK and across Europe as a whole - have carried out work in the field.
But traction seems to be gathering pace across the UK channel as organisations begin to embrace what IoT can offer.
According to Gartner, IoT is "not just a toy anymore" for businesses. It pinpointed smart buildings, automotive and healthcare as prime IoT niches resellers should target.
Some 8.4 billion connected things will be in use globally in 2017, a 31 per cent hike from last year, Gartner predicted.
The IoT install base among businesses will hit 3.1 billion devices this year, a 30 per cent hike on 2016, while the number in circulation in the consumer market will rise 32 per cent to 5.2 billion, Gartner said.
Cutting local waste
Rob Bardwell, managing director of Pinacl, said the Wales-based systems integrator has already seen success in designing and deploying IoT solutions, particularly among local councils looking to do "more for less".
"We are working specifically with councils at the moment, looking at air pollution, waste, traffic control, parking spaces - a myriad of things that will sit on one network," he said. (An example of this technology, a sensor placed in a dustbin to measure waste levels, can be seen below.)
"It's about taking the sensor information and gathering that data to make intelligent decisions to drive efficiencies.
"The other area we are looking at is control of high-value goods. For instance, for a building site with such goods on the site, we can build a network with a mobile SIM in it and you can track those goods onsite."
This second concept could also work well for hospitals, Bardwell said.
"Hospital beds all look the same, but some - orthopaedic beds and the like - are very costly and they move between departments and get lost," he said. "We've got a couple of hospitals with wireless LAN in, but IoT networks - because of the relatively cheap cost and coverage - would be a better solution for that."
Bamboo Technology is another MSP betting big on IoT after setting itself a target of growing revenue from a current run rate of £12m-£13m to £50m in a "couple of years". Having trialled it with select channel partners, the Cheltenham-based outfit has launched its M2M [machine-to-machine] service to its direct customers - M2M being the data connectivity for the IoT.
Bamboo's M2M SIMs operate on all UK major networks, and on over 600 networks globally, due to an international roaming agreement with its core vendor partner Telefonica.
Bamboo managing director Lorrin White also picked out healthcare as a key vertical for the service, which Bamboo can offer either on a wholesale pence-per-kilobyte basis, or as a bespoke data bundle.
As an example, one possible application for healthcare might be alerting staff in care homes to the fact that a patient hasn't put the kettle on by 8.30am, White (pictured) said.
Bamboo has already rolled out six or seven significant M2M projects with its channel partners, she said.
"Some of these opportunities come through very small to begin with but gain traction over a short period of time," White said. "We had a client that started off with 15 connections and is now ordering hundreds each month. We see [IoT] becoming a substantial part of our business."
IoT ‘a team sport'
Ben Boswell, EMEA director at Cisco and Dell EMC partner World Wide Technology (WWT), claimed the IoT market is on the "verge of sizeable growth", but argued that linking up with other partners is essential for resellers in order to take full advantage of the trend.
Boswell said the IoT is high on his firm's agenda, claiming its goal is to become one of Cisco's IoT partners of choice. He cited one customer, a global manufacturer, which over 18 months made $1bn (£803m) of savings thanks to the IoT technology it deployed.
The nature of IoT, which can involve adding sensors to significant numbers of devices, means that partners need to work with one another to deliver a customer solution in this space, Boswell said.
"IoT is a team sport," he added. "It depends on each one of the customer engagements we are in. The art and science of this is being able to pull together teams which consist of not just our customers and ourselves, but of other partners which may be specifically specialist in a certain area and working together to deliver the outcome a customer wants. It would be a bold statement, even from an IBM or one of the large providers, if they said they had everything covered."
According to Gartner, total spending on IoT end-points and services will reach almost $2tn in 2017.
"The numbers show that we are seeing a lot of momentum, especially when it comes to real-time manufacturing and the increases in electric metering for smart grids," Gartner research vice president Bettina Tratz-Ryan told CRN.
"It really shows that there is a dire need for business processes to get better data for organisations to understand what is happening on their manufacturing floors and within critical infrastructure.
"It's not just a toy anymore, but is really starting to gain traction."
Manufacturing IoT sales
Although manufacturing remains the top IoT vertical, there are a wealth of other opportunities partners can target, says Cisco's UK CTO Alison Vincent (pictured below).
For the UK, where are we at with the IoT trend in terms of its maturity?
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 they [improve] customer experience from when people come into the shop, in terms of connecting the shopper, when they come in with a mobile phone, with offers available. 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.
Some partners have said that the bespoke nature of IoT can cause a headache for them as they can't gain traction with easily repeatable business they can scale fast. How can they get around this issue?
If you solve a common problem, that core problem you solve is repeatable. You then just skin it in a different way. The key 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.