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The IoT market has begun sorting itself out in 2019 — a vast improvement from its disorganized past

It has been a wild and chaotic ride for Internet of Things (IoT) vendors, with many placing big bets on IoT in the past and entering 2018 largely disappointed by the results. While IoT will likely never meet the expectations placed on it in 2015 and 2016 — the peak of hype — IoT’s contribution to IT vendor revenue will increase, with IoT ultimately becoming a core revenue driver. IoT, as a technique to solve business challenges through the assembly of technology to drive results, such as predictive maintenance, resource efficiency, value-added services or generally, increase insight, is not going anywhere.

The good news for vendors is IoT is getting a lot easier as the ecosystem sorts itself out. The increase in portfolio focus and partnering is making the market easier to navigate for vendors and customers. Offerings are becoming easier to implement and integrate as vendors begin to converge on architectures and standards, as well as orient go-to-market strategies toward coopetition rather than “winner takes all.” Customers are coming to market with a greater understanding of what they are looking for thanks to efforts by vendors and early adopters educating the market and cutting through the hype pays off. TBR believes 2019 marks the emergence of “go-to-market 2.0” as an evolved strategy for both IT and OT vendors seeking to better profit from IoT.

 

The 1Q19 Commercial IoT Market Landscape looks at technologies and trends of the commercial IoT market. Additionally, TBR catalogs and analyzes by vertical more than 450 customer deals, uncovering use trends, identifying opportunities, examining maturity, and discussing drivers and inhibitors.

IoT Customer Spotlight: Colfax survived the stormy seas of IoT after righting its ship, and its story can serve as a navigational aid for peers still caught in the squall

Colfax is an industrial conglomerate with two operating companies under it, ESAB and Howden. ESAB produces equipment and filler metals for most welding and cutting applications, and Howden delivers precision air and gas handling equipment for numerous industrial applications. Both are worldwide industrial suppliers with multiple manufacturing plants and globally distributed support apparatus.

I learned about the conglomerate during a PTC customer panel at PTC’s LiveWorx 2018, where Colfax was represented by Ryan Cahalane, the company’s vice president of digital growth. I found his story, among others, to be an intriguing view into the development and deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) applications by an actual customer of vendor IoT solutions. Often, the real stories get lost in the marketing morass of the larger IT and operational technology (OT) companies pushing solutions. Cahalane and I connected over our thoughts on the importance of solving “the business problem” (and our intriguingly similar last names), and I took the opportunity to learn about Colfax as a customer (one could argue it could increasingly be placed as an ISV) and its experience implementing IoT.

Colfax began its journey like many of its peers: IoT was the buzz, and the company tried to react as fast as it could. Like many manufacturers or those in heavy industry, Colfax’s leadership kicked around the idea of harnessing IoT to drive new growth and differentiate from peers in a competitive marketplace, primarily via new IoT-enhanced products or digitally enabled service offerings. However, Colfax ran into challenges.

Internally, Colfax experienced the same roadblocks that plague most companies investigating IoT, especially federated ones like itself:

  • Colfax had a sizeable number of people working on IoT, but the company lacked communication and alignment across the various business units and initiatives.
  • Plenty of good ideas were being developed via shadow IT, but the company lacked cohesion and developments were technology-focused — not guided by business problems. This failed to differentiate the company, and Colfax’s messaging got lost in a crowded market.
  • Colfax initially tried to go it alone with a do-all solution, but that led to generic offerings that were not best-in-class, and handling all of the components, including design and management, was difficult for a diverse, distributed organization.

Externally, the company faced the usual challenges of the market. Its customers were interested in IoT, but Colfax found itself in proof-of-concept limbo as customers continually kicked the tires on IoT but never walked away with a key in hand. Cahalane explained that Colfax had trouble navigating customer cultures, such as garnering agreement from line-of-business, OT and IT managers from a technology viewpoint, and ultimately proving ROI for its digital solutions, from a business viewpoint, to C-level executives.

Many companies have shared the same struggles, and are now washing out, including behemoths such as General Electric, indicating no company is safe from the volatile and hypercompetitive IoT market. Colfax has persevered, however, because the company was quick to perceive the changing market dynamics. Here are my takeaways from my conversation with Cahalane around the company’s pivot:

  • I’ll begin with something that Cahalane, being humble, didn’t share with me but that I believe was an important step for Colfax: The company established Cahalane’s position of digital growth VP to coordinate IoT initiatives across the company and foster knowledge sharing, ultimately helping Colfax organize for IoT. Instead of offering a number of distributed, unfocused and perhaps competing IoT initiatives, Colfax, with Cahalane’s help, is focusing and acting on key opportunities.
  • What are those key opportunities? Colfax’s competitors would certainly like to know! Cahalane did share, however, the company’s new thought process for developing them: focus on the business challenges of its customers and narrow them down to what Colfax can best service with its technology and expertise. It’s no longer about developing fancy new technology and telling customers why they need it. It’s about listening to customers and solving their problems.
  • Colfax is going to market with the technology discussion on the back burner. Instead, the company is approaching customers with a business-problem-solving outlook, fishing for the all-important CEO buy-in and leaving the technology details to be sorted out later. As Cahalane stated, “We are staying very focused on the business message, the real value that you get from the solution. The tech is just a vehicle. A business message allows us to really spend time on bringing our knowledge to more customers. The customers finally see how it all fits together. It’s in their language.”
  • Cahalane noted that companies, such as Colfax in its early days, are often afraid of working with vendors or partners. Cooperation and coopetition among partners or working with a new vendor can be intimidating when a company knows it’s on the verge of a vertical breakthrough or solving the next use case, causing companies to keep their cards close to their vest. Laying the cards on the table and sharing technology, techniques, and customer relationships or entry points is a daunting step. Cahalane emphasized how Colfax had to shift its thinking from “How do we compete?” or “How do we keep this in-house to avoid paying for technology?” to “How could [a partner or new vendor] help?” or “How can they accelerate our goals?” Using the technology, expertise and capacity of Microsoft, OSIsoft and PTC now allows Colfax to focus on the solution components it knows best and to layer them on best-in-class platforms and tool kits provided by its vendors. This approach not only provides customer validation — for example, attaching to a well-known brand such as Microsoft for IaaS makes customers more comfortable — but also spreads out development and management. Instead of trying to support the entire load, which would be a challenge for an organization of Colfax’s size and structure, the company relies on its partners and vendors to take responsibility for their own components.
  • Finally, Cahalane emphasized the need for companies such as Colfax to remain agile in the quickly moving and erratic IoT-enhanced products market. The company constantly looks for acquisition candidates that can not only increase its expertise in its core digital initiatives and target verticals but also deliver new business models.

What is next for Colfax? Cahalane noted that there is still a lot of work for Colfax and its partners to do to develop, and educate customers about the power of data. This means not only tying data together inside one organization but also sharing data across organizations. For example, Colfax’s welding solutions could be used by customers to apply predictive and prescriptive analytics to real-time operational data to have alerts sent to supplies manufacturers for automatic resupply. Cahalane also hinted that Colfax sees the importance of shifting toward prepackaged solutions, which reduce customization costs and complexity and are built around proven ROI, to induce more customers to buy Colfax IoT solutions.

That’s the Colfax story. Why is it important? Not only does it validate concepts we have been sharing since we began our IoT coverage, but more importantly, it serves as an example to companies similar to Colfax across all verticals that may still be spinning their wheels with IoT. As Cahalane explained, true IoT success stories can be few and far between, with numerous IoT projects stuck in the mud due to vagueness, overambition, immature IoT, or lack of organization or maturity among vendors and customers to apply IoT.

However, TBR’s survey work and the insight gained from my discussion with Cahalane, among others, suggest that many projects that start with a specific business challenge, are smaller in scale or divided into digestible parts, and are led and received by companies mature in IoT, are working and delivering actual IoT revenue. TBR believes vendors and customers should take lessons from companies such as Colfax: focus on the business message, organize your business’s digital and IoT efforts around key opportunities, and use vendor partners to fill gaps while focusing initiatives around core strengths. While Colfax, as Cahalane noted, isn’t gaining explosive IoT revenue, TBR believes it’s certainly on the right path.

Time to get industrial about healthcare

Internet of Things (IoT) hesitation in the healthcare vertical stems from the industry’s complexity, as it is chained by liability and privacy issues, a general unease about change, legacy equipment, and unevolved processes. These complexities are all rooted in real concerns of customers and vendors in the healthcare space. However, the “Industrial IoT Analytics for the Healthcare Industry” presentation by Glassbeam employees Gopal Sundaramoorthy and Puneet Pandit at PTC’s LiveWorx event highlighted that it is time to shift how vendors go to market within the healthcare industry.

Sundaramoorthy indicated there are not a lot of high-level analytics, or grand-scheme IoT implementations, in healthcare. The challenges mentioned above, especially privacy issues, including healthcare organizations’ desire to keep data internal, prevent it. Instead, Sundaramoorthy explained vendors need to talk to healthcare organizations like they talk to manufacturers, focusing on how healthcare organizations can connect equipment to improve asset utilization, save costs and increase efficiencies. This is the operational technology (OT) discussion instead of the IT discussion.

With asset utilization, for example, how is a medical scanning device being used? How many scans are being done and in how much time, what types of scans are being done, and when are the scans happening? Or, a conversation around operator utilization could include aspects such as determining whether operators are fully trained by measuring what functions they are using and how long they take compared to average or trained users. Likewise, predictive maintenance, such as noting when a bulb needs to be replaced in an MRI machine, helps avoid costly or dangerous downtime. These simpler-to-implement OT-based measurements will help hospitals run more efficiently and save money just through connecting machines and adding straightforward analytics. It also helps medical device manufacturers better understand why things are going wrong and how to best improve diagnostic time, shorten repair time and relieve frustration for medical professionals.

Sundaramoorthy indicated that simple connectivity is healthcare’s biggest problem. To break the hesitation barrier, vendors should focus on solving the first step in IoT: connecting the often woefully out-of-date machinery and building in IoT, in the spirit of OT, to prove ROI to medical organizations. After machines are connected and OT-based IoT is proving consistent ROI, the discussion to move to more transformative IT use cases will be a much easier sell.

Smart city solutions have to think outside the trash bin

The “Connecting Your Business to the Smart Cities We All Live In” panel during PTC’s LiveWorx event included ideas consistent with TBR’s previous views on smart cities. One of the most interesting speakers was Nigel Jacob, the co-founder of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, an R&D organization within Boston’s City Hall. Jacob gave a presentation on the “Boston Smart City Playbook,” compiled by his organization, which lists the following rules for vendor engagement:

  1. Stop sending sales people.
  2. Solve real problems for real people.
  3. Don’t worship efficiency.
  4. Better decisions, not (just) better data
  5. Platforms make us go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
  6. Toward a “public” privacy policy

All of these points align well with TBR’s view of how vendors need to improve their go-to-market strategy, but a few stood out. “Stop sending sales people” translates well inside and outside smart city applications. Internet of Things (IoT) is a complex technology, and it is difficult for end users to really understand what IoT can do for them. Public sector officials, just like the CEO, CIO or CTO of any private organization, do not want to listen to a sales pitch about why a technology is great. Instead, in the example of Boston, decision makers desire vendor engineers or consultants to be on-site to explain why IoT is good for their city’s particular challenges, how it can be implemented and how it has worked for others, as well as to provide concrete evidence of what Boston can expect to gain in the long run. Only then will a vendor’s solution be taken seriously.

“Better decisions, not (just) better data” is a point TBR believes vendors should take to heart. Data is a building block to insight, but piles of data with no feasible way to turn the data into actionable insight is little more useful than no data at all. Customers seek insight through data, but if there is not an easy path to achieving insight, its value is significantly reduced. Customers believe that to get value out of IoT, they need to bolster their IT, operational technology (OT) and data scientist staff. TBR believes incorporating artificial intelligence and improving user interfaces to simplify IoT products is a path to unlocking value for business decision makers, enabling them to make better decisions without incurring huge selling, general and administrative expenses.

“Platforms make us go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” is also parallel to customer concerns recorded by TBR. Platforms are exciting to techies, but they do not mean much to customers. Instead, they generally raise fears of platform lock-in, where customers will be unable to access outside technologies or risk becoming a member of a dying standard. Also, the platform level is often too high for customers to understand how IoT will benefit them. Vendors must continue to boast interoperability and focus on use cases or small deployments. Small deployments that solve immediate problems — not technical and platform-based discussions — will be vendors’ gateways to customers. After a few successful small projects, vendors can introduce customers to the grander view centered on a wide platform.

Bigbelly vice president of North American Distribution and Global Marketing Leila Dillon, another presenter during the panel, explained how Bigbelly solved multiple problems for individual cities by thinking outside the box. The company sells solar-powered waste systems, mostly bins, that automatically compact trash and alert waste management when they need to be picked up. This granted cities substantially increased efficiency not only because automatic compacting eliminated waste buildup but also because the alert system saved wasted time having trucks on routes checking all bins instead of only those that are full. Additionally, Bigbelly observed that by thinking creatively, it could further cities’ smart city goals. It started working with cities to equip waste bins with small-cell technology to enable ubiquitous citizen connectivity. In other cases, the company equipped cameras or sensors to track foot or street traffic to help cities understand congestion. Bigbelly is a great example of a company helping to solve a pointed problem — in this case, making waste collection more efficient — and then working with the cities to build additional IoT use cases one success at a time.

‘Popcorn market’ and ‘shrink-wrapped’ IoT: TBR gets creative with industry terms

Observers of emerging tech trends often seek the “hockey stick” moment, or that period when the market takes off following an explosion of activity. However, as TBR Principal Analyst Ezra Gottheil explains in his special report ‘Shrink-wrapped’ IoT will drive accelerating growth; an explosion of activity, or huge moment of growth, will likely never occur in the overall commercial IoT market. Gottheil writes:

Each IoT [Internet of Things] solution comes to market at a different time, meaning that as more packaged solutions become available and as some experience rapid growth, the total growth accelerates. The IoT market has been described as a “popcorn” market, in which each submarket “pops” at its own pace — some smaller markets grow explosively, but the total market (the “pot of popcorn”) expands more uniformly.

A popcorn market leads to slowly accelerating overall growth, generating frustration for companies that had anticipated rapid adoption. This is especially true in the IoT market for horizontal IT companies such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Dell EMC that are finding themselves selling into new markets, including product development, operational technology (OT) and data science organizations, instead of traditional IT department constituencies. Gottheil notes that for organizations that are seeking to benefit from IoT, the key to accelerating growth is developing packaged “off the shelf” — or “shrink-wrapped” — IoT solutions. The increased availability of IoT solutions targeting specific use cases and business processes in industry subverticals will be key to generating IoT-driven vendor revenue for the foreseeable future.