IoT Channel Chronicles: How Zones Built A Successful Team To Keep Ahead Of The Internet of Things Curve

Zones' Unique IoT Go-To Market Strategy

Zones, an Auburn, Wash.-based solution provider, got in the Internet of Things game early with "unique strategies," said Stephen Lurie, vice president of IoT Solutions.

"We've been early adopters -- our go-to-market strategy opened opportunities for Zones to provide unique solutions to problems that have never been addressed by either information technology or the … the operational technology providers that are out there," he said.

CRN talked with Lurie about Zones' approach to the Internet of Things and how solution providers can succeed in this space.

Note: CRN's weekly IoT Channel Chroniclesseries of in-depth interview with solution providers to dig into opportunities and challenges the channel is facing with the Internet of Things.

Describe how Zones has been approaching the Internet of Things.

We align ourselves with industry-leading best-of-class and best-of-breed providers that are out there. We combine those offerings with our professional services for planning, designing and deployment and operations for an individual client. The result of that is having a portfolio of solutions that are repeatable reference architectures for a variety of use cases and verticals out there today. You see that these differential capabilities allow Zones to be an early mover and give us more of a competitive advantage, positioning us to be a business transformation adviser to customers out there.

What did you focus on while building an IoT team at Zones?

My team is built outside of the IT individuals. I have built that for the OT [operational technology] side. I have facility managers, SCADA operators, people that understand HVAC lighting systems that are out there. They have that basic understanding before they go into an opportunity because it stretches beyond traditional technology of just routing and switching. You have to be able to bridge that gap with the OT side of the business. That is one of the things that Zone has done for many years now.

We have different types of architectures that are in place that aren't traditional, so every solution is custom and we created a repeatable product or solution in order to satisfy the needs of products.

Who are some of the key vendors you work with in IoT?

If I had to pick leaders in the industry that are truly IoT players that we partner with, it would be Intel, Cisco, Dell, Oracle. Those would be the major OEMs with the name recognition out there.

Then you have the other routing and switching manufacturers that tie into OT. And on the OT side of business, you have the HVAC companies like … the Rockwell Automations, the Johnson Controls, the Siemens, that have been in that industrial business for many decades.

Talk about the importance of operational technology for IoT.

In the industry when you have a service integrator like Zones … we're trying to talk to an IT director, talk to a CIO of a corporation. The conversations we have now around IoT are on the OT side. I want someone who understands boilers and chillers, HVAC systems and lighting systems and variable control valves. You can't have that conversation if you're a traditional Cisco, HP, Dell kind of integrator. You don't understand that world.

I've been hiring that world within the group, so I have an established group of people with me today. We call them PSS, practice solution specialists. These guys are not traditional IT, they're OT engineers that can have those intelligent conversations when we sit down and talk to a facilities manager around physical security, access control, access and perimeter security, digital fencing. Those are the conversations we're having with those OT customers today.

So how would an IoT project be different for Zones than a typical IT project?

I'm getting handed blueprints -- that doesn't mean I can go out and sell a whole bunch of gear today. A foundation has to be poured, pipes have to be done, the building has to be constructed before we can start putting any sort of technology equipment inside there. The neat thing about that … is that I am in the inception of that project, so when I do get a chance to sell that equipment I help architect and design that actual construction phase of things. The life cycle of that project – traditionally regular service integrators we're looking at between six to eight months before we close the deal – these deals are 18 to 24 months out.

Can you talk about one IoT application that Zones has deployed?

One [application] is in elevator controls. We partnered with Intel and Cisco, and the elevator manufacturer. And what we were able to do is a retro-fit of a building that would be able to give any type of building with an existing elevator the ability to do destination control.

We used a gateway from Cisco -- that gateway was installed with Intel chipsets inside of it. We were able to do the architectural design and the software that was needed for that was done by Zones. That allowed us to integrate and control the elevators through that Cisco gateway, being able to write code to that Intel chipset.

How did this solution benefit the customer?

So you would be able to get into an elevator and swipe a badge, and you can only go to a certain floor that your access allows you to go through. Usually you would have to put in new elevators and new controls out there, you'd have to get with multiple vendors to see who has what badge for what building. We have a quick integrated solution that ties those manufacturers – Intel and Cisco – we can take any elevator manufacturer and be able to offer destination control for all of their elevators, and it would be a retrofit, not a replace.

What's the 'secret sauce' to IoT in the channel?

The secret sauce is the adoption rate. There's so much to IoT. You see the internet, it's exploding with it. Everyone has a seminar, an opportunity or a new software or sensor. What a partner like us has to do is have a dedicated practice within the organization – not someone who sells an IoT SKU. You have to have a dedicated practice that creates a repeatable, sellable solution to your sales organization. Because if not, they'll start to take it in different directions.