Lenovo optimizes to gain share in a market poised for fragmentation by use case

TBR perspective

At Lenovo’s Transform 2.0 event, Chairman and CEO Yuanqing Yang (“YY”) laid out the Lenovo strategy crisply in his opening remarks, relying on multiple proof points from analyst firms in the process. The company has been gaining share in a market in the aftermath of consolidation, and it sees nothing but brighter days ahead. The source of Yang’s optimism rests on scale, a traditional lever that has pulled commodity component manufacturing to Asia for decades. How Yang believes Lenovo wins stems from the company’s supply chain best practices, where it can optimize the full stack of compute to serve the full stack of instances on the one hand and create a vast array of endpoint devices for humans and machines alike on the other.

The tight partnership with NetApp (Nasdaq: NTAP) was the biggest news at the event. The venture essentially melds the Lenovo and NetApp product lines in a manner similar to the scale advantage amassed when the former Dell and EMC merged to form Dell Technologies (NYSE: DVMT). The two companies have also created a joint venture in China, with Lenovo having 51% ownership as required by Chinese law, and plan to develop a line of storage products to meet the unique requirements of customers in China while leveraging Lenovo’s scaled manufacturing footprint in region.

Supply chain alone cannot help vendors differentiate, as many past Asian manufacturing giants have come to learn as overlapping channels confused markets and compressed middleman margins in the bygone era of transaction selling. Services selling requires an equally as deft and varied set of commercial offers to fit the financial strategies of the business entities Lenovo targets, and the seeds of these early “as a Service” commercial offering wrappers have been in flight for several years.

Commercial flexibility, while lagging the supply chain competencies, remains far ahead of the professional services wrapper commodity components required in the pivot to selling outcomes or solutions. Lenovo’s partnerships with leading systems integrators will be imperative for enterprise adoption as the business translation and advisory services increasingly relegate the compute and device acquisition to a derived decision.



Canonical’s growth play: Make customers’ and partners’ lives easier (and more economical)

TBR perspective

At Canonical’s 2018 Analyst Day, CEO Mark Shuttleworth laid out a very compelling construct for Canonical’s vision of being the link between the operating system (OS) layer and the cloud control planes. Canonical has Ubuntu OS versions to run from the largest high-performance computers with NVIDIA graphics processing units to the smallest device OSes at the heart of offers from niche vendors such as Rigado. Throughout the event, Canonical stressed multicloud interoperability through Kubernetes. The big unknown on the horizon is how to provision infrastructure for edge analytics, which sits at the heart of the strategic relationship Canonical has with Google Cloud as Google donates Borg to ensure Kubernetes does not challenge Borg the way Hadoop forked from MapReduce.

Existing virtualization economics has stalled, with premium pricing models emerging from the major and better-established competitors Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and VMware (NYSE: VMW). The Canonical play further compresses the economics of the infrastructure abstraction and OS components, where parts will be provided for free and the services and update provisions will become the basis for the monetization model. Akin to how free Android disaggregated the device OS space and gained share against Microsoft, Canonical bets on market projections showing devices used/owned per person growing from two to three devices today to as many as 20 devices within the next five years.

It is from this vantage point that one open-source Linux distro, Canonical’s Ubuntu, was taking direct competitive aim at another (Red Hat), while likewise suggesting VMware’s time as the market maker would quickly start to fade as more and more app modernization efforts move code from virtual machines (VMs) into lightweight Kubernetes containers (clusters).


Canonical hosted its 2018 Analyst Day in New York City on Sept. 20, 2018. The event featured presentations from the top leadership at Canonical, including Shuttleworth, Finance Director Seb Butter, SVP of Global Data Centre Sales Jeff Lattomus, and VP of Global Sales, IoT & Devices Tom Canning. Canonical focused on business and go-to-market updates as well as key presentations by partners, such as Paul Nash from Google Cloud, outlining how Canonical has accelerated or added value to their businesses. At this year’s event, there was a noticeable blurring of the lines between cloud and IoT discussions in comparison to years past where there were more definitive tracks. Regarding both Canonical’s own strategy and its conversations with customers, it is exceedingly difficult to have a discussion about one and not the other, which is reflected in the broader IT landscape as of late.

Increased market clarity drives 16.1% year-to-year growth in commercial IoT revenue

Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) 2Q18 Commercial IoT Benchmark recorded revenue growth of 16.1% year-to-year, to $10.3 billion, in 2Q18, among the 28 IT and operational technology (OT) vendors we benchmark. The revenue growth is largely a result of continued implementation of Internet of Thing (IoT) and growth of installed IoT solutions.

The dousing of rampant IoT hype, which only served to confuse and overwhelm customers and vendors, is helping drive the growth of installed IoT solutions. As the hype dies out, a wave of increased clarity and maturation is forming with vendors rationalizing their go-to-market strategies and messaging, leading to customers better understanding how to apply IoT and vendors learning how to assemble solutions. Packaged solutions are emerging as vendors cooperate, focusing on their strengths, and assemble components sets that solve verticalwide challenges. TBR believes these factors are driving tactical business-focused IoT projects to supersede overambitious projects stuck in proof-of-concept limbo.

However, while easier than in the past, IoT design and implementation are still a challenge. TBR does not expect a huge explosion of revenue beyond midteen growth going forward.

Total 2Q18 commercial IoT benchmarked gross profit increased 16.6% year-to-year to $5.1 billion. Reduced complexity in IoT due to increased knowledge around building and applying IoT as well as the streamlining of portfolios as a result of increased partnering is improving vendor profitability. Also, vendors are leveraging specialized tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to justify higher pricing.


TBR’s Commercial IoT Benchmark highlights current commercial IoT revenue and gross profit for vendors. TBR leverages financial models and projections across a diverse set of IT and OT components. Additionally, the benchmark outlines the major vendor drivers and trends shaping the market.

IoT customer maturity

Customers, like vendors, are just beginning to figure out IoT

While Internet of Things (IoT) has been around for decades, for most customers, like most vendors, IoT is still very new. To derive the greatest value from the IoT approach, a customer has to have integrated, coordinated, cross-disciplinary teams creating solutions. Even experienced companies are challenged by the mountain of opportunities presented by current, much less expensive IoT technologies. For vendors to sell effectively and best serve their customers, they must assess their customers’ IoT maturity. Join Ezra Gottheil and Dan Callahan as they discuss how assessing customer maturity can help both vendors and customers.

Don’t miss:

  • What customer capabilities are needed for IoT
  • How to assess customer maturity
  • The implications of customer maturity in go-to-market tactics and delivery


TBR webinars are held typically on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. ET and include a 15-minute Q&A session following the main presentation. Previous webinars can be viewed anytime on TBR’s Webinar Portal.

For additional information or to arrange a briefing with our analysts, please contact TBR at [email protected].

Technology Business Research, Inc. announces 4Q18 webinar schedule

Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR) announces the schedule for its 4Q18 webinar series.

Oct. 10         Crossing the chasm: Transforming from a CSP to a DSP

Don’t miss attributes of a CSP versus a DSP, operators leading in the market, vendors successfully enabling transformation and more.

Oct. 17         IoT customer maturity

Don’t miss customer capabilities needed for IoT, implications of customer maturity in go-to-market tactics and delivery, and more.

Oct. 31         IT services expectations for 2019: Assets, industries and human transformation

Don’t miss IT services expectations for 2019, including how vendors and their clients will manage co-innovation’s impact on services-related assets.

Nov. 14       Customer-centric digital transformation: What’s up with that?

Don’t miss the state of adoption of digital transformation technology and services, marketing maturity and opportunities, and more.

Nov. 28        2018: The year multicloud and hybrid cloud became inevitable?

Don’t miss shifts in cloud consumption, cloud vendor adaptations and expectations for 2019.

Dec. 5          Can management consulting survive digital transformation?

Don’t miss the next evolution of digital transformation and co-innovation centers, management consulting, and more.

Dec. 12        Why asset-based IT services will rule 2019

Don’t miss how vendors will adjust to asset-based services, changes observed in 2018 that will gather steam in 2019 and more.


TBR webinars are held typically on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. ET and include a 15-minute Q&A session following the main presentation. Previous webinars can be viewed anytime on TBR’s Webinar Portal.

For additional information or to arrange a briefing with our analysts, please contact TBR at [email protected].

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.

It’s time to stop calling IoT a technology

Yes, we all do it. Every analyst, vendor and customer has referred to Internet of Things (IoT) as a technology. I have done it countless times, and so have my extremely talented and informed peers. However, it’s a misnomer, a shortcut, and a cop out, and if we actually think of IoT as a technology, it’s ultimately harmful to the adoption of IoT. IoT is actually a technique for solving business problems using a combination of technology components and services, rather than a technology in and of itself.

No one vendor does IoT alone ― it’s not a deliverable, self-contained technology solution. Rather, it often involves a “leader” company, generally a consulting company or an ISV, assembling a solution sourced from software, services and hardware components from partner companies. My colleague Ezra Gottheil likes to use a construction analogy. A general contractor will shop at Home Depot (the wide and increasingly saturated IoT marketplace) for all the components he or she needs to build a structure. The general contractor will also hire subcontractors (partners and specialized vertical ISVs) who have certain expertise. Even as we move closer to prepackaged IoT or shrink-wrapped solutions, multiple vendors will continue to be involved in delivery.

Some of these components can be grouped into the “new technology” bucket. As TBR closely monitors use cases and fills our use-case database, which currently has more than 360 entries, IoT projects are increasingly linked with augmented reality/virtual reality, blockchain and analytics. All of these new components, including IoT, are enhanced when used in cohesion.

But many of the components, such as servers, routers, mobile devices, sensors, connectivity, IT services and business consulting, have existed for decades. IoT is a new shiny label slapped on a technique IT companies have been using for decades: pulling together IT components to build solutions and help customers achieve their goals.

TBR believes when a vendor tells a customer “you should adopt this new transformational technology,” it is usually met with eye-rolling. IoT is no different. As soon as the “new technology” discussion comes to the table, customers instinctively rock back on their heels. It sounds like a large and long-lasting commitment, which leads to rip-and-replace cost fears, technology lock-in consternation due to a rapidly evolving market, and a general lack of understanding about the benefits.

TBR believes vendors should change the message. Begin with discovering what a customer’s business problems are, then suggest using the technique of IoT to begin strategically solving them in a stepwise manner. It’s not a rip-and-replace approach; it’s seeing where improvements can be gradually made to increase connectivity throughout an organization and ultimately deliver improved insight. It might mean adding sensors to legacy equipment, using IoT components and new analytic tools to tie together legacy data and create new insight, or implementing tangential technologies such as blockchain to better inform customers on their supply chain. Eventually, it could mean all of these combined.

At a recent vendor event, the CEO of a Boston-based IoT solution vendor asserted that IoT is now passe. True customer evolution, including problem solving comes from the bigger picture ― using the technique of IoT, tangential technologies, and internal and external data sources to supercharge efficiency and gain insight.

IoT as a technology is a lazy oversimplification. Let’s start messaging how the technique of IoT ―a new way of thinking about and applying technology ― can help solve current business challenges in an agile and cost-effective manner.


Predix is looking for a new owner

Reports surfaced on July 30 that General Electric (GE) has contracted an investment bank to auction off the company’s GE Digital unit.

When former CEO Jeff Immelt aimed to diversify GE into the software space to take advantage of the synergies between Internet of Things (IoT) and the company’s industrial machinery footprint, GE Digital was created. The unit got some things right. It was one of the first IoT vendors to message the importance of operational technology (OT) inside the IoT technique, emphasizing that IT vendors couldn’t do it alone. It was also one of the first companies to highlight the digital twin, allowing engineers to run simulations or see the effects of an asset via its digital doppelganger, a technique now utilized by most IoT solution companies. It also promoted the idea that almost everywhere across a customer’s organization, from light fixtures to robots on the manufacturing floor, the addition of IoT could deliver insight. The unit carved the path forward for its OT peers, most of which were fast followers that gained an advantage by first witnessing GE’s successes and challenges.

TBR believes there were a few missteps. GE Digital made one of the more fatal mistakes among early IoT companies caught in the hype wave: It advertised that it was able to provide solutions for everything from manufacturing to healthcare and from utilities to transportation. It is understandable that GE Digital wanted to mirror GE’s wide industrial reach, but it led to a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none messaging. In actuality, GE Digital likely focused on its Oil and Gas, Manufacturing, and Energy and Utilities segments, however, TBR believes the pivot to specialization in specific industries was too late.

This phenomenon of overextending can also be seen in the mechanics of Predix, which was marketed as a broad, do-all, edge-to-cloud platform with analytics. In reality, Predix was a do-all generic platform that needed a lot of expensive customization and developer time to build tailored solutions for customers. Because of this complexity and platform breadth, GE Digital had problems messaging what it was best at and how it could help customers. We believe the company overemphasized the platform’s  wide set of capabilities and underemphasized packaged IoT applications that solved real business problems. Ultimately, messaging of the platform got mired in discussions of technical features and functions, rather than the outcomes and differentiation of the company’s analytics and platform versus those of competitors such as IBM.

However, what tripped GE Digital up the most was that it wasn’t a great partner in a market that thrives on partnerships. Large IoT deployments will often have a multitude of vendors involved, all with expertise in a specific component of the holistic solution. Instead of focusing on enhancing areas where IT companies are weak, such as OT knowledge, GE Digital tried to do IT and OT. Because GE Digital wanted to do it all, it didn’t play as well as it could have with IT companies boasting deeply established roots in customer companies.

GE’s initial go-it-alone stance also had the company building from scratch, with its tools, such as analytics or cloud platforms, and feature sets always playing catch-up with IT companies that have been building these technologies for decades. For example, GE Digital initially tried building out its own cloud services mirroring Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBM Bluemix. It ultimately ended up partnering, but we think the company’s initial focus on creating a PaaS cloud kept the company bogged down in services that didn’t add a lot of value. Ultimately, GE Digital proved to be an unattractive partner to bring into an IoT solution, and its platform failed to differentiate it enough to remedy partner apprehension. The platform was also much more expensive to build from scratch than just partnering with peers, making running-at-a-loss GE Digital look like a huge drag to GE leadership, which ultimately sealed its fate.

Where are GE’s Predix assets going? It’s hard to say for sure. As my colleague Ezra Gottheil noted, GE Digital announced it was standardizing on Microsoft less than two weeks ago. Microsoft has been looking for ways for Azure to outpace AWS in IoT and other emerging technology, and being a long-standing IT company, improving its OT expertise would make it more attractive in the industrial space. Perhaps Microsoft, or a Microsoft partner, such as Rockwell Automation or ABB, may be a purchaser.

TBR is seeing other large OT companies, such as Siemens, thrive as they focus on their strengths as OT-whisperers and enhance, not compete with, IT brethren. We are also seeing vertically specialized small ISVs pop up, in the OT and IT domains, that are focusing their expertise on a narrow set of business problems and are being brought in as essential partners. GE Digital blazed the trail for these peers, but also became a cautionary tale for those following in its wake: Enhance partners, don’t compete; be interoperable, not closed; message and provide expertise in your strengths, don’t provide a broad generic solution.

Customer IoT maturity: A key market driver

One of the most important governing factors in the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) is the maturity of the companies considering, buying and implementing IoT. While these companies have varying degrees of maturity in IT and in operational technology (OT), maturity in implementing IoT is a different matter, requiring additional organizational capabilities. This report looks at IoT maturity — what it is, how it can be assessed, and what the implications are for vendors and for the market.

Google goes after IHVs with Cloud IoT Edge

Google’s Cloud IoT Edge hardware-software package for edge devices, announced on July 25, aims to be a comprehensive bundle for the edge ― for devices and for gateways. In this offering, Google leverages its two big assets in machine learning, TensorFlow software and the tensor processing unit (TPU) processor, to stake a position in edge hardware and software.

TBR believes the edge is the leading edge of Internet of Things (IoT) growth. There is competition for both edge hardware and edge software, but few vendors can offer both. There will be consolidation in hardware and software, and the companies left standing will have large and growing businesses and opportunities to expand. In the case of Google, as well as Microsoft and Amazon, capturing the edge helps drive the core cloud offering. By staking a big claim on the edge, Google is better positioned to compete with the other big clouds.

TensorFlow and the TPU processor are the keys to Google’s offering. TensorFlow is one of the most popular machine learning software libraries while the TPU processor is optimized for machine learning. Google claims advantages of the TPU over GPUs for machine learning tasks include lower power consumption and better performance on inference as well as learning tasks. These two benefits, power consumption and inference performance, are critical on the edge. Power consumption is important in edge devices, especially mobile and remote devices. Machine learning training is best suited to the cloud; edge devices need fast inference.

Google is targeting this offering to companies making IoT hardware, devices and gateways, ranging from narrowly specialized to broadly applicable, from custom-built to off the shelf. Companies producing off-the-shelf products are independent hardware vendors, and their offerings range from components for IoT solutions to end-to-end hardware and software solutions. Google’s Cloud IoT Edge is attractive to this market; it is a hardware-software solution with differentiating hardware and familiar software.

In the enterprise market for custom-built devices, Microsoft will often leverage its incumbency. However, there remain many market opportunities, especially in off-the-shelf smart devices with built-in machine learning. Video is a likely market for this technology, and Google will continue to make it easier and less expensive to build smart cameras.

Google’s Cloud IoT Edge is a well-conceived response to the challenge of the edge, and there is potential additional upside. The new Edge TPU is very small, and Google claims very low power consumption. Google will introduce tools and applications that leverage the processor to provide tangible benefits on smartphone, tablet and PC platforms. If successful, Google could own the IP to be a necessary component of edge computing.