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MSP Touts IoT Opportunities To MSPs

MSP Urban Digital Solutions' Anthony Pisano said that MSPs, who already own their customers' networks, should quickly embrace IoT, especially the "low-hanging fruit" such as IP-connected video, audio, and security devices.

The Internet of Things offers managed service providers a potential way to add multiple new services to their offerings, according to one MSP who has completed several large and small IoT implementations.

MSPs already own customers' networks, which are the backbone of their services business, and should move to grab some low-hanging IoT fruit before their competitors do, said Anthony Pisano, president and CEO of Urban Digital Solutions, a Uniondale, N.Y.-based MSP offering a wide range of services, many of which piggy-back onto the IoT world.

Pisano on Tuesday told an audience of MSPs at this week's XChange 2019 conference in Las Vegas that the SMB market is ripe for IoT.

[Related: The 2019 Managed Service Provider 500 Complete Listing]

"You want to bring IoT to smaller clients, the ones that don't know they need it," he said.

Urban Digital Solutions moved from a focus on networking and security into IoT, and it is a move that any MSP can make, Pisano said.

IoT comes in many plans and sizes, he said. "It could be the size of a truck, or the size of a fingernail," he said.

The IoT ecosystem consists of five steps, moving from understanding the context of customer requirements to interaction with the customer to acquiring the components to analyzing the related data to integrating IoT to the customer's business, Pisano said.

MSPs who have not embraced IoT as part of their managed services have in all likelihood already worked with some parts of IoT, including Nest sensors or smart outlets in the home, which initially form a kind of "comfort zone" for MSPs. Pisano said.

However, he said, it is time for MSPs to get out of their comfort zone. "We are MSPs," he said. "We work in the world of digital ones and zeros. Sometime we just need to get away."

He did acknowledge some potential risks for MSPs who have not worked with IoT previously. However, he said, there are a couple of things that make IoT right for MSPs. The first is that MSPs are trusted advisors to their customers, and own their customers' network. The second is that MSPs are the first place clients call with any network problems.

MSPs' common denominator is the network, Pisano said. "Take as much ownership of the devices as you can," he said. "Get to know all the devices on the network."

More and more devices such as video cameras and Power-over-Ethernet lights, are being connected to those networks, and those devices often run a lot of applications, Pisano said.

"This is low-hanging fruit," he said. "These are the items customers want anyway."

For examples, he cited IP video, IP access control, and IP audio devices, all of which can be powered by the same Power-over-Ethernet, or PoE, infrastructure and can be used by clients or managed by MSPs via the cloud.

"Easy, low-risk deployment is essential," he said. "PoE, cable, edge devices: less is more."

In addition, many of these devices offer multiple capabilities, Pisano said. For instance, an IP audio device can simultaneously serve as a speaker, as a public address system, and as a door bell when connected to an IP lock, he said. "It can add value to the customer without adding hardware," he said.

Despite the benefits of getting into IoT, MSPs must remember that IoT devices are vulnerable to security issues and as such it is important for MSPs to respect the devices, vet the manufacturer, and make sure their firmware can be updated or, better yet, have automated updates, Pisano said.

"It doesn't matter your size," he said. "Security is paramount."

Once MSPs get comfortable with IoT, they may be ready to advance to the next level, which Pisano said includes advanced analytics and data mining.

"IoT should not be deployed for one purpose," he said. "It should be deployed for as many applications as possible."

IoT is also a path to increased recurring revenue opportunities, Pisano said. "All of these devices should be part of your services bundle," he said.

MSPs can also get make updates such as adding new users, adding new devices, or support as part of their managed services, Pisano said.

"And in our experience, the touch on these devices is next to zero," he said. "You add them then forget them."  

Jeff Spalla, a partner at Reel Data Technologies, a Hollywood, Calif.-based solution provider and MSP which has just started scratching the surface of IoT opportunities by working with devices such as intelligent lighting and Amazon's Alexa, said security is a big issue.

"Alexas are not necessarily that secure," Spalla told CRN. "We still haven't figure out how to do these yet."

Spalla said he sees a lot of possibilities in IoT, including in some big projects he does with his entertainment industry clients, but there is still much study to be done.

"Pisano did a great presentation on why do IoT, but did not have enough time in his 30-minute presentation to go into detail about how to do it," he said.

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