Are you ready for the IoT?

\"IndustrialWhether it is IoT or IIoT, the Internet of Things is all the rage.  You can\’t pick up a trade publication without seeing an article on either topic. And in reality they are essentially the same with the only difference being the market segment with the IIoT focusing on the industrial market and IoT covering essentially all other segments.
Lighting and lighting control companies are actively driving the IoT opportunity in the commercial and residential segments as are companies such as Rockwell and ABB in the industrial space.  And \”small\” companies such as CISCO and Microsoft are involved.
Distributors need to stay close to these initiatives and prepare their organizations as if distributors cannot offer the technical support and future services (commissioning, monitoring, data analysis and more) then they could become transactional and \”serve\” the opportunity to tech companies … VARs, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and a host of others (thing Avnet, Allied Electronics, Ingram Micro, Trend Data, Future Electronics and others that are not name brands today.
To provide a sense of the growing importance of IIoT, take a look at this survey conducted by AutomationDirect in an article titled \”Are you Data-driven\”:

  • 69.98% of survey respondents said that data collection and analysis is very important to their operation
  • 60% of respondents are using PLCs for data logging and 44% are using a data logger
  • 80.5% are collecting temperature data, 71.5% are collecting pressure data, 58% are collecting current data, 55% are collecting voltage data … as examples
  • Only 33% are analyzing the information via Excel. 27% are using SQL and others are using data analysis software
  • 67% are seeing diagnostic and predictive maintenance improvement; 32 % are seeking energy efficiency benefits. (Consider what happens when equipment has a chip that essentially predicts the need for maintenance or replacement, sends a message to a \”repair\” center\” and then the part shows up at the industrial facility for installation?)
  • 37% of data is being accessed remotely via a browser / client and another 25% replied with either a browser, client or mobile devices.

Essentially, industrial engineers want monitoring and want remote access.  The technology is available, security is improving and \”the genie is not going back into the bottle.\”
Our friend Dick Friedman coincidentally shared his observations regarding IoT, the alternate channels some manufacturers are taking and he has some early recommendations for distributors:

Some manufacturers of Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled electrical devices (e.g., controls) are bypassing electrical distributors, instead using value added resellers (VARs) and IT system integrators — because these companies possess the technical skills needed to quote, sell and support IoT products, and update their skills as IoT evolves. An IoT-enabled device is a device containing electronics that connect the device to the Internet, which enables the device to capture and transmit data, and perhaps be controlled by software that received the transmitted data, and sent back a signal; IoT lighting is perhaps the best known type of device.  Many electrical distributors do not employ people with these skills, which include systems analysis and design, coding apps and sorting through and analyzing the massive amount of data captured by devices.

IoT threatens to not only deprive some electrical distributors of new sources of revenue but result in a loss of current revenue as IoT products replace their “dumb” counterparts. And for those electrical distributors who do distribute, or will distribute, IoT devices, avoiding rapidly obsoleting inventory will be another challenge. But its not too late for electrical distributors to obtain needed technical skills, learn how to update the skills, and distribute IoT products (including controls, as well as commercial and industrial lighting).

PROVIDERS OF IoT

General Electric’s approach to lighting and its long term strategy are a look at the future of IoT. “Current, Powered by GE” is a GE company that provides lighting as a service (LaaS). GE furnishes the lighting products and arranges for the installation, and pays the bill for use of electricity; the end-user pays a fixed monthly fee. Electrical distributors sell GE lighting products, and point of sale information might tempt GE to approach distributors’ customers directly and offer LaaS (including replacing the lighting fixtures and lamps).

Controlling the LaaS devices is GE’s first software created in its strategy to be a top global software company within a few years. Software is the strategy, products are secondary. GE created the LaaS software after first creating “Predix.” Predix is a pioneering cloud based platform that subscribing end-users and 3rd parties can use to develop applications and use them for capturing data from IoT devices, and analyze that data to control machines and devices. The intent of Predix is to enable end-users to save money via increasing efficiency and reducing downtime. Electrical distributors might want to investigate whether they could sell Predix subscriptions to their customers, or daringly, buy a subscription, develop an app and use it to provide a service (e.g., controlling forklift battery chargers) to customers.

Other familiar manufacturers developing IoT products and services include Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation (via “Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork”), and Eaton Corporation. Some are partnering with startups, and some target their new products at system integrators.

HOW TO OVERCOME THE IoT CHALLENGES

Here is an outline of some steps to take to be able to obtain and distribute these products.

  1. Skills. Determine if there is someone in the company who has at least some of the skills needed for IoT devices. Skills such as coding (programming), downloading and configuring enhancements to the distributor’s ERP system, or experience using the report/display generator in the distributor’s ERP system. That person may or may not be an IT person, but should be able to learn any needed additional skills and to teach the skills to others (so that the distributorship is not dependent on one person). If there is no such employee, determine who could be trained; perhaps a user of many functions of the ERP system. Absent someone in-house, hire a person who already possesses many of the skills, even if that requires some additional training and a larger than normal compensation package or consider acquiring a technology company / VAR.
  2. Determine which manufacturers are already selling IoT devices, or intend to do so; contact them and determine if they offer courses or tutorials (or can refer you to organizations providing courses) that teach skills needed for their devices. Manufacturer-provided education could be applicable to only their own IoT devices, but might also be applicable to devices of other manufacturers. (IoT is so new that there are no real standards.) Contact all other manufacturers of products that even remotely could be IoT-enabled, and ask about their plans for IoT versions, and whether they would offer courses in the skills needed.

For those not familiar with Dick, for more than 40 years, he has helped electrical distributors prevent inventory shortages and warehouse mistakes that lose sales and select ERP, E-commerce and WMS systems while avoiding the problems and pitfalls and is an industry writer. He can be reached at 847 256-1410 or visit www.GenBusCon.com.

Dick will share some more ideas next week.
As distributors meet with their manufacturers at the upcoming AD North American Meeting, at the IMARK Annual Meeting or at next month\’s NAED Eastern Regional Conference, perhaps asking about their IoT / IIoT plans and discussing your potential role could be of assistance in further conceiving your three year plan. Why three years? Can anyone predict what will happen in 5 years?
What are you hearing from your customers about their interest in IoT and / or IIoT?

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