Editor’s note: Where is the Internet of Things space really headed? What will happen to some of the early niche players in the space? Where are companies finding inspiration for developing new IoT services and products? In this interview, I discussed all this and more with Carl Ford, who keeps his fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in the Internet of Things. Carl is CEO and co-founder of Crossfire Media, which has produced the M2M (machine to machine) and IoT Evolution Conference and Expo for over five years. SandHill.com is a sponsor of the upcoming conference.
Q: A recent study we conducted at SandHill revealed that the pace of new products and services entering the market in the IoT space unexpectedly greatly accelerated in the past 12 months and businesses are in red-hot pursuit of IoT opportunities. Is the accelerated pace due to media coverage of new use cases, or is there a more powerful driver?
Carl Ford: Yes, the IoT is spreading like wildfire all over the place. Part of the acceleration is due to a claim GE made to the Consortium. There are now around 300 companies in the Industrial Internet Consortium GE founded in 2014 (with co-founders, AT&T, Cisco, IBM and Intel). GE claimed that one percent of gain in efficiency translates to billions of dollars overall. That perspective makes companies much more comfortable with exploring their IoT opportunities and not having to worry about where the funding might come from. The overall efficiency provides an “OK” for the budget expenditure for a lot of the activity.
Another factor driving the accelerated pace is that connectivity has gotten a lot cheaper over the years and some carriers are good at providing aggressive pricing that recognizes that a lot of the IoT devices use low bandwidth. So the carriers’ business model isn’t trying to gain on a revenue-per-device but instead is based on overall use. This makes it easier for enterprises to talk to carriers about massive deployments of systems.
And it’s amazing how many software standards bodies are getting involved in the IoT. IBM and Eurotech, for instance, developed MQTT, which is now MQTT.org and is being further developed by the Eclipse Organization eclipse.org. And TR-39, the Java script standards body for PIN security and key management, is going through IoT discussions right now. And a whole bunch of people looking at development standards are also asking, “What else can we do?”
Q: At your IoT Evolution conferences, do you see a difference in areas of interest based on company size of the attendee?
Carl Ford: Bigger companies find bigger efficiencies. And they find more opportunities to do things for their customers and internal to themselves.
To be candid, I’ve been shocked at how many small boutique businesses have been created in the IoT space. They actually have found a nice niche and are doing some things in all sorts of places that you might not immediately think of as being places where small businesses survive. But they have a suite of capabilities that make these companies just right for a marketplace that is very ready for their services.
One of the most fun sessions at our IoT conference is the Battle of the Platforms where companies show us their wares. In the long run, I think a lot of companies in niche marketplaces will become niche system integrators for bigger players – much like dial-up ISPs years ago were acquired as billing systems for the big players providing broadband.
Q: Please share some examples of IoT opportunities.
Carl Ford: I think one of the more interesting aspects in the product maintenance area is how companies are leveraging the IoT so they can provide pay-as-you-go pricing models for their customers.
ABB, which specializes in automation technologies, is an example. They are minimizing truck rolls by placing a cage of their manufacturing equipment supplies at their customers’ locations. The engineers just go into ABB’s cage and grab the parts they need, repair the machines and restock the cage.
That same kind of model is now in place at New England BioLabs (NEB), which develops and commercializes enzymes for genomic research. They provide a receptacle (sort of like a refrigerator) for availability of commonly needed resources (such as test tubes), from which customers access what they need and use the items where needed. And NEB restocks based on the feedback from the receptacle.
Some insurance companies are doing the same kind of thing with a buy-here/pay-here model involving Uber and Lyft car drivers. The IoT device minimizes risks for car dealerships. With the IoT device tracking a car for the insurance company, car dealerships are more willing to sell the cars to people who may not have a long history of credit.
That’s a great thing about the IoT. People are slicing and dicing information in brand new ways and finding all sorts of new angles to turn things into managed services as well as more satisfactory pricing models for customers. And I’ve only given you examples of improving efficiency through deployment of maintenance services.
Q: What are trends you’re seeing in the analytics space in the IoT?
Carl Ford: The analytics side of the equation is really interesting. The beauty of IoT analytics is that you’re getting a lot more data, and it comes from a lot more resources; therefore, you can verify your trendsetter because of the fact that the analytics are going to self-identify in more places. It’s no longer a case where you have one point on the graph and you try to make a projection. You get to see the repeat patterns, and you get better at doing the analysis as to the root cause of why things are going the way they are and what you can expect. And this enables doing a lot of projection in various business aspects. The result is making better choices through figuring out what the future holds.
Q: Speaking of future projections, where do you think we’re headed with the IoT?
Carl Ford: I think a case can be made that eventually we’re not going to talk about Internet of Things; instead, it will be the Internet of Services. Fundamentally what’s going on is connecting all these things, and we’ll be able to use analytics to help us to maintain them. I fully expect that more and more businesses will move away from looking at the bottom-line efficiencies and look instead to top-line opportunities.
I’m amazed at all the innovation that’s possible and that it’s spreading all over the place, and a lot of interesting things are going on in the IoT space.
I recently had a conversation with a gentleman who is into the industrial aspect of wearable technologies – things like medical vests, emergency devices, how you deal with worker helmets and solutions like that. These wearables enable tracking injuries, monitoring overall through the medical vests and tracking a worker’s productivity.
Another example is how some oil and gas companies are using drones for remote management of their pipelines and monitoring illegal taps on pipelines. There are a lot of issues with illegal taps. For instance, companies need to make sure the person who does an illegal tap doesn’t leave the pipeline open and keep the spill open; that makes the company have to repair the spill rather than chase the bad guy.
So there are a lot of interesting nuances of how things are getting done these days, and I expect we’re going to keep seeing more and more interesting deployments of technologies in the IoT space.
Q: At your conferences, are attendees mainly looking for ideas on how to do what they’ve already decided they want to do, or are they looking for inspiration or an opportunity they haven’t thought of yet?
Carl Ford: I try to make sure business decision makers at the show don’t hear only from people in their part of an industry but also hear from other people so they can transfer that knowledge into their own needs and requirements. ABB and the New England BioLabs, for example, are examples of two companies that are basically doing the same thing but with very different components and in different industries. At the conference, attendees gain knowledge of models that can be applied in a lot of other places.
Q: Who should attend the conference? Decisions makers? Influencers? IT folks?
Carl Ford: Some large companies have strategists that report directly to upper management and don’t have responsibility in IT or in Ops but have a viewpoint of what trends their organization can take advantage of and make money. If a company has those types of people, the conference is a great place for them to focus their efforts.
Absent that, then comes the battle of IT versus Ops. Both care about business intelligence and will find our conference helpful. But the Ops folks will also find it useful because they’ll get the “aha” of what other companies are doing.
There are also networking opportunities to find channel partners, as well as system integrators and people who will deliver directly to the customer.
Click here to register or learn more about the IoT Evolution Conference & Expo, August 17-20, in Las Vegas. Mention discount code “SANDHILL” for a 20% discount. SandHill.com is proud to be a sponsor of the event. The conference draws an international audience of IoT software companies, large enterprises, SMBS, network service providers, platform providers and device manufacturers.
Carl Ford is CEO and co-founder of Crossfire Media and is focused on the impact of communications technology on consumers and industry. Carl’s 20+ years in advancing the commercial Internet focus on the impact that service cost, regulatory and marketing issues have in rolling out new services. He works closely with the Internet of Things ecosystem developing programming for IoT Evolution media properties including the IoT Evolution Magazine, IoT Evolution Expo, webinars and the IoT Evolution news portal.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com.