Yes, we all do it. Every analyst, vendor and customer has referred to Internet of Things (IoT) as a technology. I have done it countless times, and so have my extremely talented and informed peers.
However, it’s a misnomer, a shortcut, and a cop out, and if we actually think of IoT as a technology, it’s ultimately harmful to the adoption of IoT.
IoT is actually a technique for solving business problems using a combination of technology components and services, rather than a technology in and of itself.
No one vendor does IoT alone - it’s not a deliverable, self-contained technology solution.
Rather, it often involves a “leader” company, generally a consulting company or an ISV, assembling a solution sourced from software, services and hardware components from partner companies.
My colleague Ezra Gottheil likes to use a construction analogy.
A general contractor will shop at Home Depot (the wide and increasingly saturated IoT marketplace) for all the components he or she needs to build a structure.
The general contractor will also hire subcontractors (partners and specialised vertical ISVs) who have certain expertise. Even as we move closer to prepackaged IoT or shrink-wrapped solutions, multiple vendors will continue to be involved in delivery.
Some of these components can be grouped into the “new technology” bucket.
As TBR closely monitors use cases and fills our use-case database, which currently has more than 360 entries, IoT projects are increasingly linked with augmented reality/virtual reality, blockchain and analytics. All of these new components, including IoT, are enhanced when used in cohesion.
But many of the components, such as servers, routers, mobile devices, sensors, connectivity, IT services and business consulting, have existed for decades.
IoT is a new shiny label slapped on a technique IT companies have been using for decades: pulling together IT components to build solutions and help customers achieve their goals.
TBR believes when a vendor tells a customer “you should adopt this new transformational technology,” it is usually met with eye-rolling. IoT is no different.
As soon as the “new technology” discussion comes to the table, customers instinctively rock back on their heels.
It sounds like a large and long-lasting commitment, which leads to rip-and-replace cost fears, technology lock-in consternation due to a rapidly evolving market, and a general lack of understanding about the benefits.
TBR believes vendors should change the message.
Begin with discovering what a customer’s business problems are, then suggest using the technique of IoT to begin strategically solving them in a stepwise manner.
It’s not a rip-and-replace approach; it’s seeing where improvements can be gradually made to increase connectivity throughout an organisation and ultimately deliver improved insight.
It might mean adding sensors to legacy equipment, using IoT components and new analytic tools to tie together legacy data and create new insight, or implementing tangential technologies such as blockchain to better inform customers on their supply chain. Eventually, it could mean all of these combined.
At a recent vendor event, the CEO of a Boston-based IoT solution vendor asserted that IoT is now passe.
True customer evolution, including problem solving comes from the bigger picture - using the technique of IoT, tangential technologies, and internal and external data sources to supercharge efficiency and gain insight.
IoT as a technology is a lazy oversimplification.
Let’s start messaging how the technique of IoT - a new way of thinking about and applying technology - can help solve current business challenges in an agile and cost-effective manner.
Daniel Callahan is a research analyst at Technology Business Research