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Article
Are You an 'IoT' Company?

We all know the IoT space is hot. But should a company position themselves or their product as "IoT"... or Smart, Cloud, Connected, or any of those buzzwords?


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Does Buzzword Marketing Work?

As a young data comms software engineer, I drew network diagrams1 with individual circuits represented by lines and packet switching networks represented by clouds. So when the term ‘cloud’ came into popularity about a decade ago, I understood its likely origins, but was never a big fan of the term, largely because it was so vague, encompassing so many different types of services. We prefer somewhat2 more precise terms, such as Software-as-a-Service. However, the term cloud took on a life of its own and everyone and their brother wanted to be known as a cloud solution provider (thus stretching the definition even further).

Figure 1: Growth in Popularity of "Internet of Things" Term
as of March 2015

When so many companies jump on the latest buzzword bandwagon and try to position themselves, it often muddies the waters on just what is ‘cloud’ or ‘big data’ or the ‘Internet of Things.’ What might have started out as an important innovation or idea is diluted and loses it value. We see a similar phenomenon with the immense and growing popularity of the term ‘Internet of Things.’

If the product or service you offer utilizes or supports IoT, the question then arises “Should I use the term ‘Internet of Things’ in describing what my company does?” For IoT, it is important to distinguish whether you provide A) IoT-enabled product/service/application for end-users or B) an IoT platform for developers.


IoT-enabled Products, Services,
and Applications

Here are examples of
IoT solutions for end-users:

  • IoT-Enabled Products
    E.g. smart/autonomous mining equipment, smart sensor-enabled building automation equipment (HVAC, elevator, security, etc.), autonomous vehicles, smart connected appliances, etc.
  • IoT-Enabled Services
    E.g. Fleet Optimization services for owners of vehicles, Demand Response services for electricity customers, Home Automation or Security services for home owners, Tele-health services, etc.
  • Iot-Enabled Applications— Logistics software, Real-time Situational Awareness systems, Quantified-Self app, etc.

End-Users Don’t Care If a Solution is IoT

In general, end-users are looking for solutions to specific problems or enablers that will help them gain some significant edge. For the most part, they don’t care what the technology is underneath, except to the extent that it impacts things like performance, reliability, ease-of-use, security, ease of managing, and ability to integrate those solutions into their enterprise. When looking for solutions, they want to understand first and foremost how something will solve their problem, what its benefits are, and what is the cost and speed/effort of implementation (along with other situation-specific nuances and criteria). In naming and explaining your product or service, it is much more important to clearly communicate how you solve their problems. Thus IoT branding usually adds little or no value to end-user focused solutions.

Developers May Care About IoT, But Need to Understand the Specifics

If you offer an IoT platform or component, your customers are the developers of these IoT-enabled solutions. Those developers might be creating the next generation of an autonomous mining truck, or a suite of software to manage smart office buildings, or a service that helps owners of truck fleets reduce fuel consumption and improve safety. They first and foremost are trying to understand the needs of their customers and how they can provide a differentiated offering with maximum value to their customers. IoT-enabled features and services may play an increasingly important role for them in solving those problems. If so, they are definitely on the hunt for the best way to implement those IoT functions, and will usually turn to some sort of IoT-component and/or IoT-platform provider to get these services. In this case, some sort of IoT branding might be useful.

However, just saying “We do IoT” is not nearly enough. The range of types of IoT platforms is mind-boggling (for more on this, see IoT Platforms—A Framework for Understanding This Maze). Thus it is critical that your branding first and foremost helps the user quickly understand what specific type of service and value you provide. Merely referring to your offering as an IoT-platform doesn’t cut the mustard. It is much more important to be specific. For example “Rapid Development Environment for IoT Applications,” or “M2M Communications Services” are more useful descriptions that help the user understand what you do.

Time Brings Clarity … Sometimes

It is often the case that when a term is first introduced, a precise definition is not widely agreed upon or understood. Over time, with continual use, agreed meanings and usage emerge—people eventually start to use the term in a similar way. With repeated exposure to this more consistent usage, people start to understand and assign a common shared meaning to the term. We’ve seen this to some extent with the use of ‘cloud,’ which has settled into a fairly broad term referring to any functionality that runs ‘in the network’ as opposed to ‘in the enterprise’ (i.e. on-premise/behind the firewall). The term can be applied to all manner of services including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS3 as well as consumer applications running in the network, so it is still very broad.

IoT as a Differentiator Will Diminish Over Time

For a while, some solution providers were touting cloud as their primary characteristic; their primary differentiation. And they spent a fair amount of effort and marketing dollars educating the public about the differences and advantages of a cloud implementation vs. traditional on-premise software. We have noticed that many of those venders have more recently shifted their messaging to emphasize other differentiators, such as specific functionality or ease-of-use. This is a natural evolution as more and more solutions become cloud-based and being ‘cloud’ ceases to become such a differentiator. We fully expect the same thing to happen with IoT, as practically everything becomes IoT enabled. Hence just as the term IoT becomes more widely used and more precisely understood, it will also become less of a valued differentiator.

To IoT or not to IoT: Some Recommendations for Your Branding and Messaging

So where does that leave us? As always, understanding what descriptions will resonate the most with your customers is key. If you are selling to end-users, IoT is likely of limited value. Even if you are selling an IoT-platform or service to developers, it is important that your messaging clearly communicates what specific type of platform or services you communicate. There is so much buzzword and jargon overuse, that most people really appreciate plain, simple, concise descriptions … even if it is not as ‘exciting’ as the buzzwords. If I’m looking for something, and a description simply and clearly explains to me what they offer and it is what I’m looking for, that is much more exciting than wading through a pile of buzzwords and not knowing what they do!4 Simple and clear descriptions are rare enough that it becomes a differentiator when you have one—making it a positive first step in the customers’ experience of discovering and understanding your company.

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1 These network diagrams were used to show where in the physical network our protocols were applicable. And yes, giving away my age here, we used to draw those diagrams by hand. I remember my keen interest in using the first word processors that had integrated graphics that let us draw them electronically, saving a lot of literal cutting and pasting. -- Return to article text above

2 Even in the use of the term SaaS there is ambiguity. At ChainLink, we sometimes use the term ‘pure SaaS’ to refer to multi-tenant single-instance SaaS, because some vendors call themselves SaaS when they are simply providing hosting services for a traditional single-tenant software solution. -- Return to article text above

3 IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS refer to Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Software-as-a-Service respectively. For more on these, see as-a-Service Framework -- Return to article text above

4 Even if I discover that a solution is not what I needed, if their descriptions helped me figure that out quickly and simply, I really appreciate not having to waste all that time figuring it out or be left wondering what they really do.


To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.


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