Meet the three types of partners you need in your IoT ecosystem
As one of today’s fastest-growing and most complex segments, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not something a single company can tackle on its own. The speed of innovation, combined with the complexity of solutions and the need for scalability make IoT an impossible solo feat. Even for the largest companies, going IoT alone is too risky, too expensive and often hampers any acceptable return on investment (ROI). It will take too many internal resources, and may lead to the reinvention of multiple wheels.
To succeed with IoT, companies must embrace what I like to call a “co-everything” approach, which involves co-innovating and co-developing solutions with many different co-dependent partners, customers, vendors and startups. Because it is increasingly difficult for any one company to deliver a solution that solves a customer’s specific business challenge, co-innovation is far more effective than a traditional single-vendor, end-to-end solution methodology. Therefore, to succeed in IoT, you must focus on building a comprehensive ecosystem of IoT partners, interdependent on one another, with the ability to contribute particular technologies and experiences to create a complete solution. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these three broader categories of partners: horizontal, vertical and geographic. Let’s take a closer look at each.
To build a comprehensive IoT solution, you need several horizontal solution specialists working together. Here you may find large vendors, business consultants and even startups, which provide expertise in the horizontal technology categories such as networking, cloud/fog, data analytics, security, system visualization and device orchestration. Many of these horizontal players rely on best practices from the IT world, such as how to secure numerous devices, and deliver technologies that until recently, many industries did not implement.
For example, one partner may provide the unified, standards-based network infrastructure on which your IoT application platform of choice can run. This ensures security, interoperability and utmost flexibility for driving business value. You should also look for a data analytics provider, as IoT isn’t just about connecting as many devices as possible. Instead, IoT is about extracting value from the data the devices generate and applying insights in ways that can improve operations and processes. Data analytics partners will equip you with the power to make better business decisions and get the most from your IoT investment.
2. Vertical Partners
Vertical market applications are key drivers for IoT, as they solve market-specific business problems and address particular use cases. So, partner with vertical experts who provide solutions and services that complement horizontal capabilities. Vertical experts have the knowledge of specific business operational and technical environments and their unique requirements, allowing them to integrate IoT with legacy systems and existing business processes. In addition, vertical partners have valuable relationships with Line of Business, Operational Technology (OT) or Building Technology (BT) teams, specific market specialists (e.g. manufacturing, energy, healthcare, construction, etc.), market systems integrators, and providers of market solutions, devices and equipment (like automation/robotics, sensors, actuators, etc.)
Market system integrators, for example, will make sure all IoT components are connected and can interoperate — pulling together various technologies and services provided by other vendors, and combining them with existing or new customer business processes. The result is a complete, customized IoT solution you cannot obtain “off the shelf.” Remember that many successful IoT startups have an intense vertical focus, so it is worth giving them a closer look as well.
Not every IoT solution will work the same from one side of the globe to the other. In most cases, you can’t take a smart city or a connected factory solution from Europe and deploy it successfully in India, for instance. Instead, you must first understand local environments, laws (such as data privacy regulations), economics and use cases. To facilitate IoT deployments, you’ll need to partner with geographic specialists and domain experts, as well as hyperlocal vertical market system integrators and service providers. So, if you’re introducing a new automation solution in a manufacturing facility in Australia, you’d want to team up with a reputable, local telecommunications provider to enable system connectivity.
When you combine all three classes of ecosystem players and allow them to work together, you can realize powerful results. Consider the following example: Cisco, Bronze Labs, Leonardo and several other stakeholders recently came together to create and pilot an IoT disaster management solution, CONSERVE, in Glasgow. Cisco (horizontal technology provider) brought in the expertise in IT infrastructure, collaboration and security, as well as an IT Industry knowledge. Bronze Labs (also a horizontal expert) provided IoT software and Leonardo (vertical provider) offered high-tech aerospace and defense expertise. Lastly, organizations such as Scottish Water and Glasgow City Council (geographic players) helped ensure a smooth, hyperlocal deployment. The result is an IoT solution that none of the companies could deliver on their own — CONSERVE collects and visualizes data from assets (fire engines, ambulances, volunteer networks) during an emergency, such as a flood. With a real-time snapshot of what’s happening on the ground, response efforts are more streamlined, cost-effective and accurate, which could save lives.
By building a partner ecosystem with horizontal, vertical and geographic players, you’ll maximize the value of IoT: With horizontal partners, you’ll ensure scalable, interoperable and lower-cost solutions that offer repeatable results and withstand the test of time. With vertical partners, you’ll be able to seamlessly integrate solutions into existing systems and lines of business. And, with geographic partners bringing in hyperlocal requirements, you’ll more easily scale the solution developed by the horizontal and vertical partners with the right fit into specific geographic business and technology requirements.
As you begin working through projects with these partners, it will become clear how important the co-dependent relationships are for creating comprehensive, targeted solutions based on horizontal capabilities that are open, standards-based, repeatable and interoperable. Soon, you’ll see initial cooperation evolve into alliances, and eventually a fully symbiotic IoT ecosystem, where partners and customers co-create solutions. This “co-economy” of partners and customers is crucial to advancing the IoT market as a whole – and that’s something you can’t do alone.