Advances in connectivity bring great opportunities for more companies to develop solutions for the IIoT. But doing it alone may not always be the best way forward.
Bringing IIoT to everyone
What was once the preserve of huge corporations is now open to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on both sides of the equation. More companies can now develop such solutions and more companies can utilize them.
Even so, making offices, factories and cities smarter requires the design and deployment of highly specialized and complex solutions, encompassing many different technologies and disciplines. The competencies required to design, build, sell, install and maintain such a system are unlikely to be found within a simple company, at least initially.
In fact, the IIoT can amplify the lack of technical competency within single entities.
Until you start to develop such systems, you won’t know what you don’t know. When you find out, it may be too late to do anything about it. For SMEs looking to enter into new markets and exploit these new technologies to their fullest, partnerships are likely to be the best route to market.
Democratizing the airwaves
Cellular IoT is the biggest enabler of both the IIoT itself, and of companies being able to get involved. With easy, fast access to the Internet, through protocols specifically designed for ‘Things’, companies no longer have to look to develop their own wireless communications networks to take advantage.
Smart utility meters – meters that automatically supply readings to utility companies without needing to be read manually – are a good example. Up until now, the systems needed huge investment in wireless infrastructure that proved a barrier to all but the largest meter manufacturers. Now, with Cellular IoT, all manufacturers can develop and sell smart meters in the knowledge that the difficult part has been done for them.
> Read more: Cellular IoT to power smart meters
This huge increase in the wide availability of useable connectivity brings the possibility of lower cost solutions for everyone, from manufacturers all the way to end users.
Now that barriers to entry have been lowered, there are two choices to address any lack of competency in designing, building, installing and maintaining IIoT products.
You can choose to go your own way and develop the skills required internally. This approach can bring the greatest rewards as you maintain complete control over the process from end to end. It can also, however, carry risks. It can take a long time to acquire the necessary skills and any delays could allow others to gain control of the marketplace more quickly.
A better way forward is to build partnerships with existing companies that already have the knowledge to fill any gaps in skills required to bring products to market. This is the approach that is already being adopted, successfully, by most companies.
The companies you choose to partner with will depend on where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you have great product design and marketing skills but need help with the communications side, then a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) could provide the support you need. Conversely, if you need assistance in product design and marketing then you could choose to partner with a design house that has the necessary product development skills to realize your ambitions.
Lack of standards
One of the biggest problems with IIoT at the moment is the lack of standardization.
As the market undergoes rapid expansion, so many different ecosystems are developing. When building your partnerships it’s important to bear in mind these different ecosystems and how they work, or don’t, together.
> Read more: End-user factors impacting Industrial IoT connectivity
Developing products using as many standards as possible, that can fit into as many different ecosystems as possible, will help your product withstand the inevitable consolidation that will take place within IIoT. As we’ve seen with every single other tech market in the past, standardization will eventually happen and sometimes it can be a simple coin toss as to which systems win or lose.
Other options for partnerships, aside from companies, include consortiums. These tend to be groups of ‘interested parties’ working towards a common goal. The TALQ Consortium, for example, is working towards the standardization of software to control smart cities so that different device networks can all operate together from a single management system.
The consortium comprises vendors in the IIoT smart lighting market, as well as many other businesses and groups such as construction companies and other stakeholders in the design, development and installation of smart infrastructure. If you’re developing products for smart cities, partnering with an organization such as TALQ could help you get halfway to where you need to be without repeating the mistakes that others have already encountered.
Lead or follow
It’s clear that IIoT brings huge opportunities for vendors that were previously blocked by barriers in infrastructure. It’s important, when building partnerships and developing products, that you know where you want to go, how you’re going to get there and who else is trying the same thing.
If the technology has opened doors to existing markets which are new to you, building technological and commercial partnerships and joining consortiums will shorten the time to market and fill the knowledge gap.
If the market is new to everyone and you are ahead of the competition, you can start thinking about creating your own ecosystem. Focus on building strategic partnerships with suppliers and system integrators along the value chain in order to build commercial barriers to external companies.
In this phase of IIoT deployment, the best approach is to develop versatile products and build strategic partnerships that could give you an edge over the competition. Choosing the right partners and joining the right ecosystems could make the difference between winning or losing.