Swimming beats sinking, every time

  • December 7, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

The latest IMC Quarterly IoT Buyers Index shows cautious optimism going forward. IMC executive editor Steve Rogerson looks at the numbers.

Throughout my life, I have often been impressed by optimism even when things look bad, or very bad. So many people always try to look for glimmers of light in seas of darkness. The expression linking clouds with silver linings comes up time and time again.

Well, there have been very few such seas recently that can match the ocean that is 2020. Little did we suspect a year ago when stories of a novel coronavirus started emerging from China that all our lives would be so turned upside-down in such a short time. Now, of course, we have real hope with vaccines emerging that could pave the way to life returning to normal, and I mean a proper normal not this so-called “new normal” that is being bandied about.

But even before Pfizer was first out of the blocks with a vaccine, our industry was displaying encouraging signs, as can be seen from the latest IMC Quarterly IoT Buyers Index.

Now, before I go any further, a word of caution. Just a few short months ago when writing about a previous IoT Buyers Index, I was expressing hope myself that the massive German trade show Electronica and my holiday to Thailand would still go ahead. Both were cancelled and other big trade shows such as Embedded World in Nuremberg and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona have also bitten the dust.

Reality can be a pain.

But back to the latest IMC buyers index. The key question, as always, asks whether companies are planning major investments in IoT technology and connectivity and in what time frame. Only just over ten per cent had no plans while around a third were hoping to do so within the next year and fifteen per cent in the next six months. The projects are being planned; go for it.

The flipside is that many of these projects are not exactly massive. In fact, just under two thirds are 1000 devices or less, a figure that has remained fairly constant for about two years now. 

Going back a year, the two biggest hurdles to IoT deployments in early 2019 were a lack of interoperability and standards and a lack of funding. Both of those have improved in the past 12 months to the extent that a lack of business models is now seen as the main barrier. So the standards are there and, in most cases, the money is available but companies are lacking a proper business plan. They still need convincing of the business benefits and that means more work for our industry to get out there and sell not just the technology but what the technology can do for all kinds of businesses.

To show the extent of the problem, a lack of business models was given by just one in ten as a reason for no planned IoT deployments in spring 2019. This has jumped to nearly a quarter in the latest survey.

There are differences across sectors and it is not surprising that interest in healthcare is soaring. There is nothing like a highly contagious global pandemic for focusing the mind on the benefits of remote patient monitoring. This sector wins easily in those planning significant investments in the next six months. But interestingly when that time frame is extended to twelve months it is the energy sector that jumps into the lead. The rollouts of smart meters have helped. And the message of how the technology can save big money in energy costs is obviously starting to get through. The energy sector though is top when it comes to a lack of business models holding back deployments.

Oddly, the numbers in the logistics sector are quite low for planned investments and I wonder how much that is to do with most self-respecting logistics companies having already taken the leap. Remote monitoring of cargo, especially perishables, is now the norm.

Looking at a longer timescale, the manufacturing sector stands out. While planned investment in IoT is fairly average for the next year, it tops the list for planned investments within the next two years. But here a lack of business models and funding are by far the two biggest hurdles, followed by security and privacy concerns, something that is easily the biggest barrier in the retail sector.

My second word of caution on these figures comes back to Covid-19. This is creating an atmosphere of uncertainty across everything and we still do not know for sure how this will develop in the next few weeks never mind months and years. The vaccines that have appeared show a light at the end of the tunnel, but how long is that tunnel? Until that uncertainty is removed, investment plans will probably continue on the cautious side.