For companies to establish a market presence and maintain share over the long term, they will need to understand how their strategies and strengths fit within the three phases of the industry evolution. Across these three phases are at least four distinct bases of competition that can lead to disproportionately large value capture opportunities for individual companies: distinctive technology, distinctive data, technology platforms, and the ability to provide complete solutions. Distinctive technology.
For broad adoption of IoT technology, several basic technologies are needed, such as low-cost, low-power sensors and low-cost connectivity. Companies that have proprietary intellectual property in these areas can build strong, sustainable positions. In the same way that ARM was successful in the smartphone era because of its distinctive low-power chipsets, players that develop distinctive IoT-relevant technology will be at an advantage.
Distinctive data. There is significant promise for the owners of valuable proprietary IoT data. For instance, a manufacturer of industrial equipment can collect hundreds of terabytes of streaming data daily from sensors used by its customers, enabling the manufacturer to identify anomalies before they cause equipment shutdowns and power outages, and also enabling the manufacturer to provide predictive maintenance that others with less access to data would be challenged to provide. Platform providers.
In other IT markets, companies have created broad-based software-enabled platforms upon which third parties build applications. Platforms are also a means to provide interoperability among applications. A successful platform exhibits network effects, as each new customer and application adds value for all of the others. Successful platforms also tend to tie the customer to the platform provider, because adopting the platform makes it easy for the customer to take advantage of the entire ecosystem of applications built on the platform. However, large-scale platforms tend to be developed later in the evolution of an industry.
It can be quite challenging to scale up platforms before a critical mass of successful use cases and solutions (see next item) has developed. The ability to provide end-to-end solutions. Because of the degree of customization required to create effective IoT systems in specific industries and companies, companies that can supply complete “solutions”—hardware, software, installation, and service—can establish deep relationships with customers that would be difficult for competitors to interrupt. End-to-end suppliers could be makers of equipment that uses IoT technology, software companies, or systems integrators.
The ability to provide complete solutions is one way that IoT suppliers could maintain or expand their position, even as the industry matures and their original advantages become less powerful. Indeed, the shift of value to software does not mean that companies that would traditionally be categorized as hardware suppliers will be at a permanent disadvantage—if they begin to craft solutions that include other parts of the value chain. Increasingly, equipment suppliers are incorporating IoT capabilities in their products and acting as software developers and consultants for their customers, thereby providing end-to-end solutions. Similarly, software players are expanding their offerings to include hardware.
In the near term, there will be a premium for providing complex systems integration services, because of the custom nature of many IoT deployments. Systems integration skills are in high demand by IoT users and will likely remain so. Despite some efforts to promote interoperability, it is an extremely complex undertaking to bring together the devices and software that are needed in IoT systems.