IoT World 2016 — an ecosystem in flux

IoT World 2016I recently attended IoT World, held May 11-13th in Santa Clara. As you might expect, there was a lot of energy at the event, and enthusiasm for IoT. And it was well-attended, with reportedly more than 10,000 people expected over the course of the three days of the exhibition.

It's hard to pick out a central theme that emerged, however, here are a few thoughts that I took away from my time at the event:

The IoT ecosystem is large, and diverse

This should come as no surprise, but IoT World reinforced the notion of a diverse, and large ecosystem. A broad spectrum of firms was represented in the keynotes, tracks and exhibits. Companies big and small, young and old were all represented. You had giants such as Hitachi — which used the event to formally announce the creation of Hitachi Insight Group, an organization dedicated to accelerating IoT both within Hitachi and for its customers. And you had other large companies such as Microsoft, SAP and AT&T, all discussing their existing IoT solutions and strategies.

At the same time, there were plenty of startups and emerging firms, with the requisite intriguing names — such as Electric Imp and Buddy (a gold star goes to Buddy for the more innovative IoT demo on the show-floor: they set up a Lego Smart City, complete with a variety of sensors, to demonstrate how their platform works. It certainly generated a bit of buzz and a lot of foot traffic to their booth). And you also had companies who have been in the IoT space a long time, albeit under-the-radar: companies such as Aeris, who have been doing Machine-to-Machine solutions such as fleet management and asset tracking going back to analog cellular network days.

I'm going to pause here to share the video I shot at the event:

The IoT ecosystem is in danger of confusing the heck out of everyone

The second observation is this: it’s also a potentially confusing ecosystem. It seems everyone and their mother has an IoT platform. The countless companies using the term IoT platform has rendered it virtually meaningless. It’s the same with analytics. Because data is so crucial to IoT solutions, almost every vendor claims they do some form of analytics in their IoT product/solution/platform. But exactly what they do, and how they do it is unclear.

Some of this confusion is due to the immaturity of the market. There’s a certain amount of white-washing occurring in marketing messages as vendors are still evolving their strategies and products. But it’s definitely not helpful for organizations looking to invest in IoT-related technologies, since they’re left to sort out what’s real and what’s vaporware. In fact, the most refreshing briefings I had at the event were those where vendors where clear in what they did — and most importantly, what they didn’t do.

We need to get under the hood of real-world IoT implementations

The last takeaway for me was the unfortunate lack of real-world IoT implementation examples. By now, we all know the potential for IoT, and there was no lack of vendors talking about use cases or the potential for business transformation. What was missing, however, were organizations talking about IoT solutions that they’ve launched themselves. And that’s a shame, since we need to hear not only about the real-world benefits of IoT, but how organizations have solved the technology complexity associated with building out solutions. There are a lot of pilots, a lot of high-level examples, but the industry is in danger of getting stuck in the hype of IoT versus what it really means for enterprises.  We need to start getting under the hood to understand more clearly how IoT solutions are being built, what components and value-chain partners are being put together. 

These observations may seem a bit negative, and I don't want to leave the impression that it was a frustrating experience at IoT World. Overall, I really enjoyed meeting new companies and speaking with other people as excited about IoT as I am. As I mentioned, there's plenty of enthusiasm, and the investments being made in IoT by large ecosystem vendors is a positive sign for the market. However, I'm looking forward to seeing how the ecosystem further to make it easier for buyers to understand how technologies can be combined to make IoT solutions come to life.

Video transcript:

Hello, I'm Gene Signorini, senior analyst at ESG, leading our research into the Internet of Things. I had the opportunity to attend IoT World in Santa Clara last week, and wanted to share a few observations I had from the show.

As you might expect, there was a lot of energy at the event, and enthusiasm for IoT. And it was well-attended, with reportedly more than 10,000 people expected over the course of the three days at the exhibition. It's hard to pick out a central theme that emerged, but there are a few things that I thought were notable.

The first thing was that the event really reinforced the notion of a diverse and large IoT ecosystem. A broad spectrum of firms were represented in the keynotes, tracks and exhibits, companies big and small, and old and young. So you had giants such as Hitachi, which used the event to formally announce the creation of a Hitachi Insight Group, an organization dedicated to accelerating IoT both within Hitachi and for its customers. You had other large companies. Microsoft, SAP, AT&T, all discussing their existing IoT solutions and strategies.

At the same time, as you might expect, there were plenty of startups and emerging firms, with the requisite intriguing names, such as Electric Imp and Buddy. I have to call out Buddy, giving them a gold star for one of the more innovative IoT demos I've seen. On the the show floor, they set up a Lego Smart City, complete with a variety of sensors, which demonstrated how their platform works. It definitely generated a lot of buzz and a lot of foot traffic to their booth.

But you also had companies who've been in the IoT space a long time, albeit under the radar. Companies such as Aeris, who've been doing machine-to-machine solutions, such as fleet management and asset tracking, going back years to the analog cellular network days.

The second observation I had is related to this broad ecosystem. It's also a confusing ecosystem. It seems everyone and their mother has an IoT platform. The countless companies using the term IoT platform has rendered it virtually meaningless. And it's the same with analytics. Because data is so crucial to IoT solutions, almost every vendor claims that they do some form of analytics. But exactly what they do, and how they do it is unclear.

Some of this confusion is due to the immaturity of the market. There's definitely a certain amount of white-washing occurring in marketing messages, as vendors are still evolving their strategies and products. But it's definitely not helpful for organizations looking to invest in IoT-related technologies, since they're left to sort out what's real and what's vaporware. In fact, the most refreshing briefings I had at the event were those where vendors were clear in what they did, and most importantly, what they didn't do. A company like Electric Imp for example was a great example of a company very focused in certain parts of the IoT platform.

The last takeaway for me was the unfortunate lack of real world IoT implementation examples. By now, we all know the potential for IoT, and there was no shortage of vendors talking about use cases for the potential for business transformation. What was missing however, were organizations talking about IoT solutions that they've launched themselves. And that's a shame, since we really need to hear not only about the real-world benefits of IoT, but how organizations have solved the technology complexity associated with building out solutions. There are a lot of pilots, a lot of high-level examples, but the industry is in danger of getting stuck in the hype of IoT instead of what it really means for enterprises.

Overall, I had a great time in Santa Clara. I really enjoyed meeting new companies and speaking with other people as excited about IoT as I am, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the ecosystem evolves to truly bring the potential of IoT to life.

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Topics: Analytics Big Data Internet of Things IoT