10 Steps To Building A Successful Internet of Things Practice In The Channel

Recipe For IoT Success

What must solution providers do to build out a successful Internet of Things practice? The IoT is more than just a product that can simply be deployed into the enterprise; partners need to juggle multiple technologies and adopt new skill sets to successfully deploy IoT solutions.

Washington-based New Signature, a Microsoft partner that uses Azure IoT to deploy solutions, and Sturdy Networks, an Irvine, Calif.-based Amazon Web Services IoT partner, are two examples of solution providers that brought their A-games to IoT – despite using separate platforms.

The two solution providers, speaking at the NexGen Cloud Conference hosted by CRN's parent, The Channel Company, discussed what channel partners need to do to build out an IoT practice.

Outline Goals Around IoT Practice

One first important step in planning an Internet of Things strategy is taking a step back and defining what a successful IoT practice would mean, in terms of budget and strategy, in the next six months.

In New Signature's case, the company made an outline to deliver three IoT strategy projects and one IoT implementation, as well as $500,000 in revenue from analytics projects.

"We wanted to start by focusing on one specific IoT implementation where we could walk that customer from start to finish," said David Geevaratne, chief sales officer at New Signature.

On the marketing and sales side, the company outlined several goals as well, including launching IoT webinars, events, case studies, sales trainings, and sales materials.

Six-Month Strategy

Once they have mapped out their goals, Geevaratne said solution providers should map out a six-month strategy plan for how they plan to achieve them.

As part of this strategy, New Signature looked at starting where they were strongest – by leveraging their largest existing customer base, building out practices and partnerships around business intelligence and IoT, and growing organically with an existing analytics practice.

The company planned out a focused effort to fund IoT for six months in a defined segmentation, targeting and positioning with the aim of showing "measurable results."

The key, stressed Geevaratne, was tapping into the company's existing technology offerings, services and customer base. "We leveraged the fact that we had an existing knowledge around technology so we could go to businesses and tell them 'It's not about devices or things – it's really about analytics,'" he said.

Focus on Services For Engineering Solutions

When hiring people for the Internet of Things, Sturdy Networks' chief technologist, Tolga Tarhan, said it was important to realize that there is a "huge focus on engineering."

Sturdy, for its part, hired engineers as part of its IoT team to build out customer engineering solutions.

"Our companies are building some product – whether it's hardware or software, the buyers are engineers, not people in the IT department," he said. "IT supports the operation, but doesn't build the actual device."

Choosing A Platform And Leveraging A Relationship

IoT solutions use components from different vendors, but both Tarhan and Geevaratne stressed that solution providers should look at a platform to build on – whether it's AWS or Azure.

"We wanted to grow organically with our existing capabilities, and we also wanted to use our existing strong Microsoft relationship," said Geevaratne.

While Microsoft and AWS have different pricing models, both platforms provide the organic building blocks and raw infrastructure behind IoT solutions, as well as services for analytics, edge cloud compute and security.

Create An IoT Team Of People Who Can "Speak The Language"

Building out a team that can "speak the language" of customers for IoT solutions is also critical, stressed Geevaratne. New Signature hired an advanced analytics player who could lead the charge around IoT solutions, as well as developers, solution architects, project managers and sale directors to own the sales process around IoT solutions.

In Tarhan's case, he hired UX designers and analysts, as well as solutions architects, to focus on planning and building out IoT solutions, along with a team of fimrware, software and DevOps engineers to build out the back ends of solutions.

Have A 'Secret Sauce'

All solution providers who will make a difference in IoT need some sort of "secret sauce" that differentiates them, stresses Tarhan.

"Over time, if you specialize in a vertical, you would build solutions to reuse and scale in that specific vertical," he said.

In Tarhan's case, one specific vertical he focused on was the medical field, which gave Sturdy Networks a competitive edge when deploying IoT solutions in that vertical because the company already knew the problems customers in the market were facing, along with regulatory compliance issues.

Geevaratne agreed, saying that when New Signature started in IoT, the company looked specifically at its existing customer base for a client in a specific vertical.

"We knew that, as a solution provider, we didn't want to go to everybody, we wanted to take care of specific customers in very specific verticals," he said.

Build New Business Model To Support IoT Apps

Tarhan said partners can create new business models to support IoT apps with ongoing costs to maintain support for cloud infrastructure.

"With an IoT app there will be cloud-specific infrastructure, and on top of that, consumers expect IoT to get better all the time – to get software updates, to improve," he said.

Tarhan's favorite way to address this problem is by building the service into the product price based on lifetime; "build it into your operational expense of your cloud," he said.

Partners can also monetize IoT apps based on advertisements or sponsors or make the ecosystem apps pay for access to the IoT solution. Finally, solution providers could charge monthly service fees for customers who are using the IoT app. But, Tarhan warned, "I don't think someone would pay a monthly service charge for Nest, so you have to be careful, because I don't think it would be a good option for some."

Look Closely At Your Analytics Offering

Both Tarhan and Geevaratne stressed that analytics was a huge opportunity for the Internet of Things, and something that solution providers just starting in the IoT should take into consideration.

New Signature, for its part, already has a strong analytics practice, so the company worked on building out that practice with a renewed focus on analytics strategy, implementation and support as part of its IoT offering. As part of this process, New Signature vowed to deliver four executive dashboards and an Intranet Insights tool for its customers within its six-month strategy plan.

Sturdy Networks, meanwhile, looked at the analytics services AWS had to offer, including EMR and Athena, to leverage big data and analytics.

Check Out What Your Vendor Has To Offer

Another step in picking a specific IoT platform is seeing if that vendor – whether its AWS or Microsoft – has any particular training, competencies or other resources to offer.

For instance, AWS just launched a new IoT competency for partners to differentiate themselves as specialists in the IoT market. Sturdy Networks is an AWS IoT competency partner, and also took advantage of AWS training and certifications, said Tarhan.

Microsoft has a similar incentive program for partners formerly dubbed the IoT Red Carpet program, in which eligible partners can access training and marketing materials. New Signature holds a silver-level competency from Microsoft in data analytics and a gold-level competency in cloud platform and cloud productivity.

Leverage Your Relationship With Customers To Deploy IoT Solution

After building out an IoT strategy and practice, solution providers will be prepared to take the first step and work with customers to deploy their first IoT solutions.

New Signature made its foray into IoT by helping The Hershey Company wire its existing production equipment. The company helped Hershey save hundreds of thousands of dollars, decrease waste, and create a leaner operation through connecting its infrastructure so that popular candy – such as licorice – could be tracked digitally for weight and other factors along every stage of production and packaging.

Sturdy Networks worked in the medical vertical, a market in which it already had many customers, to digitize an arthroscopic camera used in the operating room. Where doctors once had to print images from the camera and copy them to a USB stick, Sturdy Networks automated the process by sending the images and video from procedures to the cloud. They were then available on mobile apps for doctors to annotate or edit.