Seeking solutions to the IoT challenge
THE INTERNET of Things World Forum 2017 (2017 IoTWF) went down in London last week. The event was hosted in what is widely considered Europe’s fastest growing tech hub, after previously being held in Barcelona, Chicago, and Dubai.
Global IT and networking giant, Cisco, convened the invite-only industry gathering to facilitate dialogue among key stakeholders and innovators in business, government, and academia, and to “bring industry leaders together to collaborate, network, partner, and solve the challenges facing IoT”.
In true British fashion, the event went ahead despite the tragic Manchester bombing taking place that same week, and mercifully, the forum wrapped a couple of days before British Airways’ dreadful IT collapse, which would have otherwise left me and at least seven hundred other 2017 IoTWF delegates stranded at Heathrow Airport as we made our way home.
To the organisers’ credit, 2017 IoTWF featured a balanced mix of speakers and panellists who did a great job of describing the global IoT scene from various angles.
Senior executives from major tech firms like Intel, Dimension Data, Rockwell Automation, IBM, GE, and of course, Cisco, took turns sharing dozens of potential IoT use cases and unpacking real-world case studies that revealed some dramatic wins being made courtesy of IoT deployments in commercial and non-commercial settings.
There were also independent voices, like those of accomplished author, consultant and speaker, Don Tapscott, as well as acclaimed futurist, Gerd Leonhard. Both men’s ideas cut through the conference’s “we are the world” façade to its capitalist core, provoking deeper thinking into some of the more serious societal implications of the IoT movement.
In a column I wrote several weeks ago, I wrote about how IoT basically refers to any object that allows for network connectivity through embedded electronics, software, sensors, or actuators.
I explained that such gadgets are often dubbed “connected devices” or “smart devices”. By that definition, even in the context of the developing world, where the adoption of this trend trails more affluent markets, it isn’t too far fetched to imagine a not-too-distant future where the term “IoT” becomes redundant owing to pretty much everything around us being “smart” or “connected”.
While in theory connected objects are designed and deployed by well-meaning individual and corporate users, as I write, the business interests that were represented at 2017 IoTWF are no doubt tirelessly strategising around how best to commercially exploit IoT as its adoption goes mainstream.
It would, however, be unfair to conclude that such commercial intent is inherently problematic. I believe that if handled with integrity, the deployment of, and the collection and processing of data by IoT-enabled devices, will not only deliver business efficiencies and macroeconomic benefits, but also lead to unprecedented levels of convenience and improved quality of living for the citizens of the world at large.
One of the more jarring points made at 2017 IoTWF came via Cisco’s vice president of enterprise solutions marketing, Inbar Lasser-Raab, who revealed that a recent international cross-industry study they conducted shows that only 26 percent of IoT projects, launched as part of broader organisational digital transformation initiatives, are completed successfully.
It appears that while C-suite executives the world over are convinced of the vital role IoT will play in moving the world from, as Don Tapscott puts it, “the internet of information to the internet of value”, there are many hurdles in the way of acting successfully on that conviction.
Speaker after speaker at the conference touched on the need to overcome the complexities of integrating the vast myriad of software regimes powering the literally millions of new and existing devices.
Cisco is looking to help organisations lower their IoT deployment failure rate by launching a hybrid transactional platform that will allow for IoT data to be tapped and analysed at any point within a company’s software architecture.
Doubtless they are hoping that their solutions will eventually constitute the default universal integration standard and bring the global industries one step closer to seamless IoT interoperability.
But I have a hunch that enterprise software biggies like Oracle and SAP aren’t going to take that lying down. Despite the surprisingly co-operative vibes I picked up flowing back and forth between Cisco and rivals such as Microsoft and IBM at 2017 IoTWF, I am certain that any software giant worth its salt is discreetly plotting a coup in terms of aiming to become the world’s enterprise partner of choice as IoT takes hold.
Another factor cited is the dearth of talent. It does appear that while the promise of IoT is real, bringing solutions online is more challenging than many companies assume. Often the penny drops only after they’ve sunk millions into ill-conceived, under-resourced or poorly managed IoT projects that leave them smarting.
According to Prathap Dendi, general manager for emerging technologies at the application performance management and IT operations analytics startup, AppDynamics, corporate leaders would do well to take the time to assess the IoT-competency of their internal human resources before diving head first into executing IoT-led initiatives.
Dendi admits that it would be unreasonable to expect a firm to outsource projects entirely and forego the opportunity to develop internal proprietary expertise, but he does say that has seen some of his more successful clients benefit from leveraging external expertise by engaging niche service players such as his company, as well as many other reputable software and hardware specialists.
Underlining the value Dendi’s company seems capable of adding when engaged, is Cisco’s surprise acquisition of AppDynamics for $3.7 billion (R48.5bn) in March 2017 – a deal which happened just as the AppDynamics was all set to go public in the US.
I gleaned a useful nugget regarding successful IoT-deployment during a quiet conversation I had with Alan Griffiths, an industrial IoT and cloud computing analyst at Cambashi.
In his experience, companies that develop a culture of treating in-house IoTled innovation as a series of measured, business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, rather than all-or-nothing, makeor-break undertakings, are not only more likely to succeed at figuring out how best to exploit the IoT opportunities presented in their industries more quickly and more cheaply, but also more likely to encourage resourceful, out-of-the-box thinking and a generally more open attitude towards change within their workforce. Andile Masuku is an entrepreneur and broadcaster based in Johannesburg. He is the executive producer at AfricanTechRoundup.com. Follow him on Twitter @MasukuAndile and the African Tech Round-up @africanroundup
Inbar Lasser-Raab, Cisco’s vice-president of enterprise solutions marketing, says a recent study shows that only 26 percent of IoT projects, launched as part of broader organisational digital transformation initiatives, are completed successfully.