When Dave Sobel, director of partner community at MAXfocus, gets into his car, he no longer has to worry that he might have forgotten his keys – his smartphone makes sure of that. When he’s staying in a hotel – something his role demands quite a bit of – his smartphone is often the key to his hotel room. And while Sobel is staying in hotels, he need not fear that his house, located in the Washington, D.C.-area, will flood while he’s out of town. That’s because his basement, which has in the past fallen victim to costly flooding during the city’s rainy season, will now call his smartphone to alert him if moisture levels become too high. Sobel is not just a proponent of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the level of promoting channel sales – he’s an early adopter. Despite not being fully sold on the name Internet of Things to describe the emerging world of Internet-enabled devices, his enthusiasm for it is palpable.
“We live in the future!” Sobel said, “Isn’t it great?”
When it comes to connected devices used within the home or office, what was science fiction a decade ago is now here. Products like remotely-managed lights and locks, and even early iterations of smart-refrigerators, are finding their ways into major retailers, some of whom are betting heavy on the trend continuing to gain steam. This past summer, Target opened a concept store called the Open House to sell Internet-connected home devices and Sears opened a Connected Solutions flagship store catering exclusively to IoT products.
Such technology, if it becomes as popular with the average consumer as it is with Sobel and other enthusiasts, has the potential to bring significant changes to, and new opportunities for, how people relate to, manage and sell IT. Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA, acknowledges that we haven’t quite reached the point where all consumers see the benefits. But, he added, as with all technologies we’ve adopted in recent years, we will probably one day find ourselves unable to imagine life without it.
“It seems really novel,” Robinson said. “It’s like, ‘Why would you even want a connected washing machine or wearable device or something like that?’ But we’re becoming accustomed to the idea – even as some of it seems a little strange to us.”
So what will get the population at large over that tipping point for widespread adoption and benefit realization? For Robinson the answer is standards that will promote scalability.
“These things are meant to operate at scale,” Robinson said. “They can’t operate at scale quite as well if devices from one vendor have difficulty talking to devices from another vendor.” So when standards of communication take hold, connected technology may make the leap from tech niche items to ones used by average consumers.
The Individual in IoT
John Rice, senior director of partner community at Intermedia, sees the essence of IoT in something like his Fitbit health report. The main potential he sees in IoT for VARs and MSPs isn’t in the home device or office market as much as in some specialized spaces where IoT has already made bigger, albeit quieter, moves.
Rice sees presence management – using smart devices to track and react to individuals and their behaviors in IoT-enabled environments – as having a growing significance in such places as airports and shopping malls. In an airport, connected devices can be used to manage the flow of foot traffic through security. In a mall, for retailers, connected technology can allow for hyper-targeted digital signage triggered by certain individuals. For mall owners, it can mean real-time tracking of customers that may even affect how rent is divvied up. For Rice, devices that pull, analyze and respond to big data are the major spaces for sellers in the channel.
For Sobel, who lives in a smart-home as IoT-enabled as possible, IoT is less about such end-users at the enterprise level and more about solution providers. He provided an example; someone he works with in the channel. “I deal with a guy, who would call himself a dealer, who really is a solution provider,” Sobel said. “He builds and designs smart homes, he manages them – sounds like a managed services provider to me! He doesn’t use any of that terminology. He really does refer to himself as a dealer.”
Rice noted that, as we stand on the threshold of this IoT frontier, it’s healthy to debate what it is and where it’s headed.
“This whole topic of IoT and how the channel can play or can’t play or whether it matters to us as a group of business people is really controversial,” Rice said. “A lot of people have a lot of thoughts about it early on. It hasn’t sorted itself out yet. It’s still an early technology.”
Whether in a home, office or airport, IoT is an up-close-and-personal-type of technology, which raises security concerns in the public mind. A recent demonstration conducted by Wired showed how a properly-equipped hacker could take control of a Jeep remotely. This got people talking. When a data breach strikes an enterprise, it can range from being a financial inconvenience to a source of severe embarrassment. When devices that manage a home or office security system are prone to being breached, the threat is more personal – the stakes, higher.
Sobel sees this increased threat not as a bar to adoption, but as an opportunity for sellers and IT pros alike.
“It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t a new problem,” Sobel said. “This is a solution provider opportunity to differentiate and implement security around this. The communication of our devices to the rest of the world is our responsibility.”
So, as it has done with each innovation in the world of IT, CompTIA will be there to set the standard, helping both IT pros and businesses navigate this new landscape. If an entirely new model for managing smart homes does arise – say, a security professional who makes house calls – CompTIA will be there, setting the standards with certification and promoting education.
In fact, as Robinson points out, IoT, new as it may be, is built on an infrastructure that CompTIA has had a hand in at every step of the game.
“I think it’s important to realize how much the Internet of Things is sitting on top of cloud, mobility, networking and security,” Robinson said. “So the basics of all of those things are going to have to be understood if someone is going to want to move forward into understanding how to create a network of devices.” CompTIA, Robinson said, has provided a “really good foundational” for that.
And as the trend continues, CompTIA will watch as the specifics of IoT emerge, and get the best minds in the field focused on how to approach, understand and manage the technology as it moves further into homes, offices and other places of business worldwide.
“We’re going to continue doing what we’ve always done, which is to educate on the trend and to try to continue to describe it fully,” Robinson said. “[CompTIA will] create the right environment for vendor-neutral discussions on these issues, and for intelligent people who are playing with these things to share their ideas.”
So, for aspiring IT pros and channel partners alike, IoT is an area to watch carefully. It will allow anyone in the IT field to get in on the ground floor, and, with the help of CompTIA, determine the face of the future.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for individuals considering IT as a career,” Robinson said. “If they’re maybe thinking, ‘Where would there be a spot for me in this whole industry?’ This is a new one, right? This is a chance for people to create this new opportunity and figure out what the financial model looks like; figure out how the logistics work out.”
Want to know more about the emerging IoT ecosystem and its implications? Explore CompTIA’s new report titled Sizing Up the Internet of Things.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other industries and topics.