Solution Providers Should Start Small, Think Big When Starting In IoT

Solution providers who want to build an Internet of Things practice need to focus on "start small but think big," according to several channel partners at the NextGen IoT Roadshow, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

The IoT market is on track to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020, according to market research IDC – but many solution providers still don't know how the first steps they can take to engage their customers, leverage the abundance of IoT products on the market, and ultimately make money.

Luis Morinigo, practice lead and business development director for the Internet of Things and Advanced Analytics Group at New Signature, a Washington D.C.-based solution provider, said his firm got off the starting block by developing a go-to-market strategy that is vertically and regionally focused, and by targeting existing customers, he said.

[Related: IoT Hiring Spree: Solution Providers On The Hunt For Team Of 'Problem Solvers']

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"From day one we've always focused on 'start small, think big,'" Morinigo said. "Look at this holistically; it's not just about the technology, it's about transforming organizations. Focus on the business problem, because if you do that, you can use technology as the right set of tools to bring the solution to market."

To stay laser focused on the line of business needs for vertical markets, solution providers should look to add domain experts and problem solvers on their IoT divisions, and build up a focused sales team and cross-functional delivery team, he added.

Brian Blanchard, vice president of Cloud Solutions at 10th Magnitude, a Chicago, Ill.-based solution provider and AWS partner, agreed that a sharp vertical focus is essential for success in starting an IoT practice. 10th Magnitude began with its customers because it knew them best.

"What we've done in the IoT space with our customer relationships is extend that conversation with existing customers," said Blanchard "If I'm monitoring your PCs – what other connected devices also can be monitored? Is it something on the factory floor? Is it a box? Essentially, the conversation is asking customers how can I help them do the thing I do now with a broader set of devices?"

Most companies spend between 3 to 5 percent on their IT budget, said Blanchard. Tapping into the other 95 percent of companies' budgets are what solution providers need to tap into: "There's something there where you can double your business," he said.

Tolga Tarhan, founder and CTO of Sturdy Networks, an AWS partner based in Irvine, Calif., said that in his case, his company worked with a Lousiana-based supplier for fracking chemicals to optimize its process of shipping chemicals. A large part of this process involved sitting down with the customer and asking problem-solving questions, including: Are quality chemicals coming out of the machines? Are we optimizing the lifetime of the machine? When will the machine fail?

Only after solution providers have developed a strategy around a vertical market and built up a team that can solve line of business problems can they begin to look at the technology platforms – and vendor tools and resources – available on the market, said Tarhan. Tarhan said Microsoft Azure and AWS were the two big IoT platform offerings available for solution providers interested in IoT.

"The IoT platform is the entry point into the rest of the ecosystem… the important thing here is, you need a platform, and then you need people to build on it," he said. "AWS has training, certifications and competency programs… and we find those invaluable. Those are definitely places to go look."