Maybe the best indications that the Internet of Things (IoT) market is at the peak of Gartner’s hype cycle are the proliferation of industry conferences and vendor platforms. And it is increasingly possible that the IoT industry could fall into the “trough of disillusionment” as many IoT solutions providers admit to me that finding buyers willing to make strategic investments in connected products and services is a real challenge.
The recent IoT World conference is the best illustration of the IoT’s split personality. The event attracted approximately 15,000, and the level of buzz at the Santa Clara convention center was reminiscent of dotcom and Web 2.0 era conferences. The conference was collocated with three related events: Apps World, the Future of Connected Cars show and the Wearable World Congress. Nearly every session was standing room only. The aisles in the expo area were jammed. And the various startup areas and hackathon gatherings were full with plenty of people excited about creating a new generation of connected things.
Although there were plenty of sessions with brand-name companies discussing their IoT initiatives and experiences, my contacts at many of the vendor booths lamented that they spoke to only a handful of prospective customers. Instead, it was a typical industry-centric Silicon Valley gathering in which folks from local tech and software companies, along with people looking for new job or venture opportunities, scanned the show floor to gauge the current state of the industry and potential innovations.
Amidst all of the activity, it was hard to miss the flurry of new IoT platforms unveiled during the event. The parade of new IoT platform offerings came from PTC/ThingWorx, SAP, Hitachi and HP Enterprise, among others. Yet, despite all the fanfare regarding the extensibility of these solution sets, many people questioned whether the market is ready to adopt platforms at this stage.
I first heard these concerns expressed during an analyst breakfast roundtable session I hosted in which a staff person from a Fortune 500 company said her organization was not ready to commit to an IoT platform until they determined how to integrate a new set of IoT applications into their existing SAP back-office system.
During a panel session I moderated later that day, the panelists also doubted that companies heading down the IoT path are ready to build on a particular platform until they have determined their IoT objectives and the obstacles they must overcome to achieve them. Instead, the panelists from Deloitte Consulting, Flex and Cambrium Networks are seeing their customers take more tactical steps to test their IoT ideas and options.
In almost every case, the low-hanging fruit for initial IoT engagements targets situations where companies can reduce the time it takes to respond to product/service failures and associated customer problems. An offshoot of these opportunities is the ability to cut the costs and improve the efficiency of existing business processes. The grand vision of transforming a business and creating new products and services is seen as over the horizon for most organizations.
However, I suspect that anyone looking to get a quick orientation regarding the IoT technology and software landscape at IoT World was more likely to leave the conference even more bewildered by the overwhelming assortment of products and services on display.
Yet, there is no question that the strategic implications of IoT are being clearly recognized and most organizations believe this will be a business-driven rather than IT-led movement. This reality was further reinforced at the MIT CIO Symposium where executives from various global companies discussed how IoT is intimately related to the broader digital transformation process underway within many organizations.
With that in mind, a growing number of organizations are attracted to the idea of codeless development tools that enable business users to create apps for their first round of targeted IoT projects. This approach could open the door for a new set of players, like Metavine and Afero, to gain a share of the IoT software development market. These companies can fill the void by enabling business users to quickly develop microservice-oriented apps that are better suited for focused deployments so organizations don’t have to make a premature “big bet” on a more elaborate IoT platform.
Jeffrey Kaplan is the managing director of THINKstrategies, founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace and host of the Cloud Innovators Summit executive forum series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.