• IoT solutions providers often struggle to assemble a set of offerings that allow customers to extract maximum benefit from the IoT, let alone provide a full stack of solutions from consulting to software to platforms to vertical solutions.
• IBM has the benefit of its Rational and Maximo software, already used by hundreds of companies in manufacturing, automotive, insurance, and defense, and repurposed/expanded to exploit IoT data to improve product design and operations.
IBM’s Genius of Things event in Boston earlier this month described in detail IBM’s solution set and roadmap for the Industrial Internet of Things (Watson IoT), along with insights on its positioning and differentiation, illustrated with customer examples. IBM has an impressive IoT portfolio that focuses on three areas: engineering connected products, driving operational excellence, and finding and sustaining differentiation. All three leverage elements of existing software products (primarily Rational application development tools and Maximo asset management software) that have been repurposed for the IoT or perhaps more accurately have been expanded to work with the diverse kinds of data that can be collected with IoT technology and analyzed in back office systems. In addition the vendor is using next-gen enablers such as AI, AR and Blockchain to provide differentiation. IBM is also aiming to deliver a full set of Digital Twin/Digital Thread solutions, which provide detailed 3D representations of a “thing” or connected product to aid in product design and continuous improvement, development, training, maintenance, usage simulations, and marketing demonstrations.
On the platform side, IBM is not entirely unique; other vendors such as PTC ThingWorx and GE Predix can assemble an equally impressive array of tools, and others such as T-Systems and Accenture will actually build your IoT system for you.
But IBM has a few advantages: Watson cognitive processing is still ahead of the pack, at least in terms of its name/brand recognition, and it has a broad array of use cases and benefits that IBM ascribes to it, not all of which are related to the IoT. Watson cognitive capabilities also provides some credibility for IBM’s claim of superiority when it comes to providing meaningful analytics for IoT data. But it needs to be trained by experts to behave like an expert.
Fortunately, IBM has a large base of industrial, automotive, and government customers, many of which already take advantage of its Rational and Maximo software for engineering and operations, which can provide some of that expertise and, as importantly, provides much of the data to “train” Watson. This doesn’t mean IBM is the only vendor worth looking at. But would-be customers would be wise to pause a moment and consider the state of the IoT market at present. There are reports almost daily of new platforms, new alliances, and new APIs that enable integrations at various levels. So far market consolidation shows little sign of happening soon.
Thus the “ecosystem” that surrounds major platforms like Watson, Predix, or ThingWorx, or even Cisco Jasper, should be the top priority for enterprise-scale buyers. Because each IoT project tends to answer a specific need, the paramount issue is the expertise that the ecosystem can deliver. That expertise may entail certain dependencies, such as which platform to use. Furthermore, to ensure the data can be reused (a key benefit in some cases), it is important to have a central aggregating platform that can distribute the processed data in appropriate formats to authorized users and third parties.
So while IBM has a good, even great, set of tools, smart buyers will look beyond it to its IoT ecosystem, and compare that with what’s on offer elsewhere, both as standalone environments, and in combination with others.