The Internet of Things is still the "wild, wild west" for the technology industry, but if solution providers can hone the right set of skills, they can be major players in the nascent market.
A panel of executives from three companies with different roles in IoT – Cypress Semiconductor, Lantronix, and Zentri – discussed the partner of the future as things become increasingly connected, during NexGen, a cloud conference hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company in Anaheim, Calif.
"Customers have heard of IoT at this point, but now there's an opportunity for the VAR community to help them with IoT integrations," said Jeff Benck, president and CEO of Lantronix. "Customers want to know what software stack to use, how do they connect to the cloud. They need help sorting through different new problems while implementing IoT."
The Internet of Things is rapidly growing. By 2020, the number of connected devices will reach 20.8 billion, up from 6.4 billion in 2016, according to market research firm Gartner. For solution providers, this means clouds will have to be more robust and handle more compute power, said Stephen DiFranco, senior vice president of IoT at Cypress Semiconductor. "The IoT network is different than the IT network – we'll see greenfield environments that we have never been collecting data from before," he said.
For solution providers specializing in the cloud, IoT clouds will need to manage data from unconventional sources, including nodes sending millions of very short messages, sensors sending non-scheduled data, and cameras sending metadata, he said. Meanwhile, data will need to be delivered from the cloud to gateways, beacons and nodes at precise times.
Nick Dutton, vice president of the Embedded business at Zentri, said solution providers of the future can keep up by focusing not so much on the technology, but on clients' overall business goals and what customers want to make more efficient or cost effective.
"The problem is that IoT runs across a lot of disciplines, so solution providers will need to talk to different parts of their customer's company to work out what the overall big picture, what the company is trying to achieve," he said. "IoT is not really about sensing data – it's about opening up new business opportunities."
This means that channel partners will need to talk to more than the IT department – they will need to interact with marketing departments or operational executives, said Dutton.
One real opportunity for solution providers will be in the industrial IoT space, said Dutton, particularly because operational technology (OT) managers are expressing more interest in connecting their factories.
"The industrial manufacturing space is one of the biggest growth areas we're seeing right now," he said. "Industrial players want to reduce their downtime, remove the costs involved and save time."
Solution providers of the future will be able to collaborate and speak the language of OT executives in order to implement IoT solutions on the manufacturing side, said Benck, of Lantronix.
"OT managers have an expanding network of sensors and gateways they need to contend with … industrial customers want to connect machines, but don't know where to start," he said. "It's an opportunity for the solution providers because they can work to design a reference architecture for smart devices to monetize the data coming off machines."