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Signals of consolidation appear in the cloud IoT platform space

Infographic discussing signals of consolidation appearing in the IoT cloud platform space

The cloud IoT platform landscape consolidates around largest vendors as customers seek continuity, consistency and the best tools

Cloud services revenue grew 48.2% year-to-year and increased as a percentage of total benchmarked Internet of Things (IoT) revenue from 12.4% to 15.8% year-to-year in 2Q18. Growth is driven by customers, especially those without deep legacy ties, moving their workloads to the cloud. The public cloud ecosystem is beginning to consolidate, with the top vendors competing on best-in-class tools, partnerships and business-problem-solving messaging.

Software, while still a sizable portion of benchmarked revenue, is experiencing slowing revenue growth, from 19% year-to-year in 2Q17 to 4.2% year-to-year in 2Q18. Software, along with ICT infrastructure, will continue to play a role in IoT solutions with the advent of edge computing, but as providers’ cloud platforms mature and tie-in deals with application partners are cemented, demand increases.

ICT infrastructure revenue grew 14.1% year-to-year in 2Q18 due to increased IoT deployments as well as hybrid IoT becoming an increasingly common IoT framework. ICT infrastructure gross margin rose 80 basis points year-to-year. TBR believes the increase stems from the need for more specialized or powerful hardware to handle the more advanced needs of IoT and its components, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision. Despite the increased utilization of ICT hardware due to hybrid IoT and the need for specialization, the long view for ICT infrastructure will be complicated by commoditization. TBR expects most ICT infrastructure companies to deeply invest in software and service components to buttress the profitability of customer engagements as the threat of commoditization looms.

Vendors across the technology spectrum are all fervently trying to crack the code for the “killer app” within specific verticals that can solve common business problems and be widely adopted by customers. The vendors that win with building the first widely accepted solutions will be set up for success, while others in the oversaturated market will at best become acquisition targets and at worst become history.

For more information, contact Analyst Daniel Callahan at [email protected].

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.

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.

GE and Microsoft are getting more serious

General Electric Co. (GE) and Microsoft have been strengthening their Internet of Things (IoT) partnership for at least a year, and a July 16 announcement documents a new, closer stage in their relationship. TBR believes this partnership benefits both parties. GE makes its Predix IoT platform more attractive to the growing number of customers standardizing on Microsoft Azure for cloud services. Microsoft improves its industrial IoT (IIoT) and operational technology (OT) credentials, as well as its ability to go to market in the IoT world where the collaboration of IT and OT create challenges for IT companies.

GE and Microsoft announced their “largest partnership to date,” according to a Microsoft press release, with GE standardizing its Predix solutions on Azure, and both companies integrating the Predix portfolio with Azure’s capabilities, including Azure IoT and Azure Data and Analytics. The companies will also co-sell and go to market together. GE will deploy Azure across its business for additional IT workloads. This latest partnership builds on last year’s announcements in July and October of closer cooperation between the two companies.

GE first introduced Predix in August 2015 as an end-to-end cloud IIoT solution. While the Predix cloud was interoperable with other cloud platforms, the emphasis was on a complete solution. Following a large investment and marketing effort, it became clear that competing directly with general-purpose cloud platforms was both unnecessary and counterproductive. Providing a complete platform wasted GE resources and placed the company in direct competition with huge cloud vendors. In 2017 GE adopted a strategy of focusing on its differentiated capabilities and highlighting Predix’s interoperability. The July 16 announcement makes GE’s relationship with Microsoft much stronger than its partnerships with other vendors.

While the newly announced partnership helps GE, the future is not clear for GE Digital, the division that offers Predix. In November 2017 the company announced cuts of more than 25%, about $400 million, within GE Digital. Predix development is increasingly focused on GE’s primary businesses — aviation, power and renewable energy — but as of April, a company spokesperson said only 8% of GE’s industrial customers were customers of GE Digital. TBR believes that a sale of GE Digital to Microsoft is likely, as GE narrows its focus and Microsoft expands its footprint in IoT and IIoT.