CRN Interview: GrayMatter CEO Talks About GE's Investment In Partners And How He's Successfully Pitching IoT To Customers

How GrayMatter Is Addressing The 'Digital Gap'

James Gillespie, CEO of GrayMatter, a Pittsburgh-based solution provider and GE partner, is definitely seeing interest in the Internet of Things grow over the past year , and he expects that interest to continue to grow among industrial customers.

However, the CEO told CRN during GE's Mind and Machines conference in San Francisco last week that he is seeing a "digital gap" in industrial companies that want a better digital strategy but don't know where to start.

According to Gillespie, that's where GrayMatter can step in to provide its knowledge around IT and operational technology and help customers pull together IoT solutions. Following are excerpts from CRN's discussion with Gillespie.

What kind of message are partners getting at this year's GE Minds and Machines conference?

[GE CEO] John [Flannery] stopped into Partner Day yesterday and had two focuses. Basically, he wanted to tell us he's super focused on digital and that he loves the partners and wants to do more with the partners. He said, 'We want to focus in on what we're doing but also do that with the partners and have other partners lead in other areas.'

What top trends are you seeing right now in the industrial IoT space?

It's this digital gap … 85 percent of the people say it's important to solve, but only 13 percent of the people have a plan. That mirrors what we see in the real world, talking to clients about how to go from aspirational goals to where we are or how we get started and how do we bridge OT with IT. It's good to have some independent verification of what we believed already.

Another trend is this whole new world of connecting the products out there and closing the loop with the field service transformation. You could transform the service first and then connect the products, or vice versa – that wasn't really possible five years ago, so the art of the possible is a trend.

What's causing the digital gap? What challenges are industrial customers facing?

I think the gap is made up of a lot of subparts – a skill gap, knowledge gap, people, culture, execution – it's sort of a perfect storm of all those things.

We have a lot of manufacturing clients, so there's a lot of legacy challenges that came before them – what's legacy-installed, and getting it up into that digital world and integrating the supply chain. So an overall view of the supply chain is a big deal. And our second biggest client is digital utilities – we think a lot of wastewater and power are working through that as well.

What kind of language do industrial customers use when they talk about IoT? Do they actually say 'the Internet of Things?'

I think that lingo is interesting because we've done edge connectivity for 25 years but that term has only recently come into the OT space. That was a networking term that is now used for OT connectivity. We do see clients using industrial IoT and IoT lingo – some people in manufacturing think of the term 'Industrie 4.0' as sort of a way to think about it. In the utility space, people are thinking of digital utilities.

What's one use case where you've successfully deployed an IoT solution?

We did a connected smart water fountain [with DC Water in Washington, D.C.] – people think of that as an IoT application. That's a good example because it combines a whole bunch of innovation. It's IoT and the value of the network, so when you have multiple drops on the network you can now get like a Google map picture of the water quality instead of the traffic with blue, yellow and red signifying how the water quality is in different points of consumption. At the same time, we've made the devices intelligent so they check their own quality, and they try to clean themselves and let someone know if they need help being cleaned. It's kind of a confluence of all these things that weren't possible coming together.

What's another use case where you're working with GE to help a customer transform operations?

We're working with GE Current – it's energy savings combined with IoT, so the lights are intelligent. The byproduct is the lights can tell you if your real estate is being used as efficiently as it could be, so it's almost the practices we have in manufacturing of efficiency, but applied to conference rooms or gathering spaces at a university, or bank branches wondering about the pattern usages of customers – so we get new applications from IoT. Energy savings pays for it but then you have the cool additional efficiencies.

How are you first bringing up the discussion around IoT projects with industrial customers?

I think there's two ways – when we work with someone like DC Water, we're really a co-innovation partner with them, so if you asked them they'd say they come to us when they're looking to solve a problem they couldn't solve before, and they come to us to find out the art of the possible.

The other way is we think about what are the outcomes the customers are looking for, and what's the best way to achieve those outcomes.

What kind of demand are you seeing around edge computing and analytics in the industrial market?

Edge is almost a continuum of possibilities, from server with tons of edge computing power and storage, down to a really simple not expensive lower intelligence to just bridge the data up to the cloud – so it depends on how much latency you can handle in an application, how much local intelligence needs to go on. For a manufacturing plant, it's very important to close the loop locally, for other applications like lighting going up to the cloud, you don't need as much at the edge.

It's a conversation around the outcomes, so you really have to understand the right questions to ask and the right way to design [a solution]. We would weigh in with the client and design something that meets the outcomes they're looking for.

Almost everything has edge computing, and then it depends where the analytics need to happen, and there's some sort of connectivity or either local buffering or on ramp to the cloud.

What kind of security services do industrial customers want for their industrial control system and assets?

The two main areas of interest that clients are driving for us – an easier, better way to segment the networks, and protect the things that can't be upgraded – so there's a whole area around how do we harden, temper and better segment the industrial control systems. And then number two is almost an ADT monitoring approach – how can I have something watch over those assets and keep a software watch on what's going on, so segmentation and monitoring are two places where we're seeing more interest than anywhere else. A third thing is customers might not know what they have or how vulnerable they are and want it assessed. We still find that here in 2017, it's not surprising to us to find that.

What kind of priority level are customers giving cybersecurity and IoT in their budgets?

There's operational parameters, like downtime, there's formulation theft possible, and it could be expensive to repair assets if they're damaged by a bad actor.

I would say we're starting to see a trend… more people are prioritizing it as strategy level now, and how do we go from where we are to where we'd like to be. We're seeing more conversations at a strategic level, and that's a high-level conversation we're having much more frequently in 2017 than we did last year, and we're super pleased with it.