Let us begin with the bad news: Many IT and operational technology (OT) vendors were disappointed — and some incurred damage or had to scramble to realign — as the IoT opportunity failed to live up to inflated expectations prevalent between 2015 and 2017. Many anticipated far more rapid growth than was reasonable, given that IoT is neither a technology nor a market, but a technique or a class of solutions. Many also thought that version 1.0 of horizontal IoT platforms was a fast and easy sell. An early victim was General Electric (NYSE: GE), but TBR expects other large names to narrow their IoT businesses and investments, if they have not already, and several smaller names to disappear or get eaten by bigger fish as they find themselves spinning their wheels in the mud with nondifferentiated portfolios.
The good news: Starting in late 2018 and continuing into 2019, TBR has observed the IoT opportunity recovering as lessons from the difficult times have led to increased sanity and smarter messaging around IoT. We believe that the pace of IoT project implementation is increasing, but that the mix has shifted to smaller projects. Over time, however, the number of active projects will grow and the amount of data they produce will also grow, leading to an accelerating growth curve.
TBR believes a few significant realizations and realignments are driving acceleration:
- IoT really is not a market (although that is the easiest way to describe it) nor a technology. It is a technique for applying technology. It is not a very novel technique, but rather an evolution of IT solutioning that includes sensors. More vendors and customers are coming to understand what IoT is and are avoiding the perception of IoT as something that is new, novel and complex, making it easier for vendors to leverage IoT to help customers overcome business challenges. With IoT being treated as one tool in the larger IT solutioning toolbox and the focus turning to solving the end problem, rather than defining the technology needed to get there, vendor-customer relationships are back to business as usual. Vendors do not have to get bogged down in education cycles as much because customers understand IT solutioning, and vendors can focus on delivering solution components instead of getting embroiled in discussions on the perception of IoT as a discrete and transformational technology and the complexity, hesitation and perceived risk that stem from that.
- IoT is not easy. This is true for two reasons: because customer organizations are complex and have numerous stakeholders with differing priorities, visions and systems, and because IoT is rarely implemented in and of itself. IoT is more often tied with existing or new systems, such as product lifecycle management, supply chain management, enterprise resource planning software, or a multitude of specialized software from ISVs. Adoption is largely from the bottom up in organizations, but customer IoT champions and vendors are realizing that adoption must be supported from the top down to extract maximum value from IoT. Customers are increasingly adding CIO and chief digital officer (CDO) roles to guide holistic, consistent transformation, and vendors are investing in sales strategies targeted at the C-Suite, such as innovation centers and improved messaging. To answer the second challenge, vendors are learning that they cannot address everything alone and must partner to tackle the variety of interconnected systems and build best-in-class solutions.
- Being the best at a few select components of IoT is better than being OK at everything. Thousands of vendors are attacking the IoT opportunity, culminates in a busy, confusing and hypercompetitive market for customers. Winning vendors are finding their swim lanes and exploiting their niches, such as self-service Amazon Web Services (Nasdaq: AMZN), application-focused Oracle (NYSE: ORCL), embedded-driver Dell Technologies (NYSE: DELL) and things-focused Bosch. These vendors are increasingly known for being the strongest in their chosen niches, and their narrower focuses not only make them prime targets for systems integrators to pull into solutions but also make partnerships easier, with joint go-to-market efforts proving to be a winning strategy for vendors to employ beyond their legacy customer bases.
- Packaged solutions are emerging. With customization comes cost and complexity, anathemas to the customer base, especially large customers. As vendors begin packaging components together for shared applications or to address common challenges, costs are beginning to develop boundaries, helping customers understand exactly how IoT can be used and what to expect in terms of ROI. TBR expects packaged solutions to drive steady market growth moving forward. Each solution has its own growth curve, with some being quite rapid—but taken together, these solutions are delivering accelerating but moderate growth.