There is little doubt that the Internet of Things (IoT) is the next big technological advancement. Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be more than 26 billion connected devices; some estimate this number to be closer to 100 million. Smart, forward-thinking companies are jumping on board to promote and tout their IoT capabilities and initiatives. In Chicago, where the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) is based, there are no fewer than eight large-scale conferences and events focused on the IoT between now and the end of the year. However, all the hype and media attention given to the Internet of Things can also bring out the “hangers-on.”
One of the biggest obstacles IoT companies face is proving that their technology or implementation is more than just a public-relations spin. It’s not hard to find a firm that is only talking the talk. I recently read in an article that “We’ve been approaching the Internet of Things all wrong.” The article asserts that the $20 million in Series B funding recently received by Silicon Valley smart-sensor startup Helium indicates a sea change in the perceived value of IoT technology. The article states that the IoT won’t “be making any big breakthroughs with consumers any time soon” and that, instead, “Helium is betting big IoT’s real utility is on the commercial and industrial side of things.”
I have to admit, I agree: the IoT’s commercial and industrial utility is where and how it will flourish.
The propensity for technology firms to spin their services to fit the latest technological trend and the “non-consumerism” of most successful IoT implementations are two of the biggest challenges IoT companies face. For companies to stand out — to attract capital, talent and customers — they must be able to demonstrate real results, turn their theory into practice and show the impact they are having on their constituents.
ITA created the Midwest IoT Council to help with these challenges. One of the primary purposes of the council is to raise the visibility of the IoT work being done in the Midwest. The IoT Council recently released the Midwest IoT Inventory, a first-of-its-kind report that catalogs Midwest tech companies doing meaningful work in the IoT sphere. The report garnered increased awareness and visibility for the companies listed within. A key component of the report is a peer-review vetting process, providing third-party confirmation of a company’s IoT prowess versus being self-claimed. Companies like BMW Technology, One Plus and Infobright received increased media attention from the publication of the report and are working with the IoT Council to develop and publish in-depth case studies.
Collaborative IoT partnerships
The facilitation of connections and partnerships is another cornerstone of the IoT Council’s mission. We believe that collaboration is the key to unlocking collective potential. Through the IoT Council we have been able to bring together a cross-section of the industry: developers of new IoT technologies and end-users of that technology. The result has been the uncovering of new opportunities for implementation and the ability to see IoT technology in operation. Partnerships have formed between IoT Council members to explore and pilot unique implementation opportunities. Currently, Hitachi Data Systems and CDW are working jointly on several IoT initiatives.
It is these implementation opportunities that make the Midwest such a strong place for IoT growth. We believe that the IoT is less about where it’s developed and more about where it happens. And it happens here in the Midwest. We have a strong industrial sector, the heart of the automotive industry, deep agricultural roots, a heavy footprint in healthcare and medtech, and a strong presence in transportation, telecommunication and retail. The Midwest is already an IoT hub, and we didn’t get here by making “smart refrigerators”; we got here because we recognized the value the IoT presented to our already-established industrial heritage and put it to good use.
With a full year under our belt, the IoT Council has made a lot of progress toward its mission. In addition to telling the story of IoT in the Midwest and facilitating collaboration through events like our IoT Summit, the IoT Council is focused on:
- Talent/education: Addressing the talent needs for IoT companies, as well as those students interested in pursuing careers in IoT
- Policy: Understanding and influencing local policy to create a “pro-IoT” environment
- Capital: Driving investor interest and awareness in Midwest-based companies
What’s involved in establishing a multi-group IoT ecosystem
Other regions looking to jump-start innovation within a particular technology or industry sector should first realize that collaboration is key. It is the basis of any good tech ecosystem: Organizations need to be able to find and share ideas, resources and mentorship, from the executive level on down. But collaboration requires a certain level of selflessness, a willingness to share resources — perhaps even with competitors — without a concrete ROI.
As we built the IoT Council, we found a group of highly committed and passionate individuals that firmly believe in the old adage “a rising tide lifts all ships.” It was with the help of these individuals, in particular our co-chairs, Infobright CEO Don DeLoach and City of Chicago CIO Brenna Berman, that we were able to develop the mission and key tactics of the council. As we had success and showed progress toward our goals, interest and involvement grew to the point that we now have more than 150 companies and 1,000 individuals involved and participating.
I’ve been asked if it’s difficult to bring these disparate groups together. The truth is that on this subject, they are aligned. Although the “how” might be different for each part of our community, the goal of driving innovation and visibility to IoT in the Midwest is the same. The recognition exists that if we do it together, it will be stronger and more impactful.
Fred Hoch is CEO of the Illinois Technology Association, a business services organization with more than 500 member companies and a focus on scaling great tech companies. He is also co-founder of Chicago’s TechNexus Venture Collaborative, a development firm building a new, collaborative model for leading corporations to engage and extract value from the global entrepreneurial ecosystem. Hoch also has founded a number of technology startups and led the software division at the Software & Information Industry Association.