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Internet of Things-as-a-Service is one of the latest iterations in the "as-a-service" model that has become so common in today's commoditized IT world. But there is some debate over how well IoT can translate into a service. That's partly because the term itself is not always used in the same way across the technology ecosystem or in the commercial world. If IoT is considered to be simply the edge devices that are deployed to sense information, that's a very limited definition. Some technologists claim that IoT really describes sensors, the process by which they communicate information to the network, the cloud layer itself, and the various tools that are used to analyze the data once it is collected. By either definition, IoTaaS has a long road ahead.
Why the challenge with making IoTaaS viable?
Bob Gessel, Head of Network and Technology Strategy for Ericsson, offered his opinion. "The platform space is tricky. It's a nice way to onboard customers but a hard layer to monetize. Cloud PaaS is a broad space. There are a lot of alternatives, they are very cheap, and the service is highly commoditized. The value is in applications and analytics to deliver operational efficiency and insights."
Amazon, Microsoft, and other major vendors are already serving this market quite effectively with suites of tooling and platforms that fit organizations of any size. At the enterprise level, there are additional offerings. IBM's Watson IoT is described as "…a cognitive system that learns from and infuses intelligence into the physical world." Such an approach is focused more on the feedback loop of continuous improvement and analytics than on making devices available for use. Sector and vertical specific solutions are also proliferating with an emphasis on process improvement. Predix, the GE offering, is marketed as the operating system for the Industrial Internet and vendors like PTC focus specifically on the manufacturing sector to capture customers.
But platform vendors don't have the market completely cornered. There is still room for vendors who work up the stack bringing additional value to have a shot at getting a piece of the available IoTaaS profits. It's the applications for analyzing and improving performance that deliver the real value. Some providers choose to offer Internet of Things-as-a-Service, also known as or IoTaaS or just TaaS, as a value-add rather than a standalone service. For example, Ericsson's own IoTaaS GitHub offering is not exactly a commercialized solution. It's simply one useful tool that the company employs to serve clients. "Our IoTaaS platform is used mostly for working with customers and developing proof of concepts for them."
Additional sectors seeking IoTaaS domination
At the upper end of the scale, there are a number of entities that have an interest in owning as much IoT as possible. According to Bob, "Device manufacturers have gobbled up a lot of the platform players. They have their own device and infrastructure. Samsung is one example." Obviously, major wireless providers are also looking for partners in this space to engage in massive deployments. "Carriers like Verizon and ATT want as many connections as they can get." These providers aren't necessarily interested in providing an "as-a-service" offering that is highly customizable. They are more likely to want users locked in to a specific set of services or devices as part of a larger strategic objective.
What about purely device driven IoTaaS?
Is there a place for an as-a-service solution that really is about leveraging the "things" themselves for revenue? Mike Courtney, technology futurist and founder of Aperio Insights had this to say about IoTaaS as it relates specifically to edge devices. "I think someone will crack that and make sense of it. If we had this dongle in the car and it's just for a single use, it's hard to make a case for it. That's a high hurdle. But if you could use that same dongle for 20-30 different services, it would be easier to overcome that hurdle."
Courtney compared such a connected dongle to today's modern phones. "The smart phone has coopted a lot of tools we used separately before. It replaces your cellphone, watch, flashlight, camera, and music player. IoTaaS is a case of creating a platform and using it for many different things—leveraging the same hardware to give people what they need."
Logistics and transportation is already an area where some vendors are seeking to meet simple needs like shipment tracking. T-Systems, Bell Integrator, and Roambee have integrated a solution that allows businesses to monitor assets in real time. But this is a fairly simple tracker that can be dropped in to any shipment as needed—not something that is built into a larger piece of mass-produced equipment such as a vehicle. Even if the solution sees remarkable success, it will be a fairly small deployment compared to the enormous undertakings that are envisioned for things like smart cities or connected cars.
Internet of Things as a Service has a long way to go
What will happen over the next few years in terms of IoTaaS adoption? The industry is struggling to come up with an answers to that question, as it tries to gauge the rising level of interest and potential for revenue generation, in this new area of opportunity. But there is immense potential, so expect to see significant shift towards IoTaaS adoption in the near future.
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