IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Smart Manufacturing Is Smart Business

The Industrial Internet of Things may sound like an enterprise-only endeavor, but it’s actually a big potential market for vertically minded MSPs. By Alan Weinberger

THE NAME MAY TURN OFF some in the SMB-oriented channel, but the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) could be the next big thing for MSPs with customers in the manufacturing field. In this Q&A, The ASCII Group CEO Alan Weinberger and Alan Crooks, business development lead for solution provider Action Point, an ASCII Group member, discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with IIoT technologies.  

Alan Weinberger: What is “smart manufacturing” and how does it relate to MSPs?

Alan Crooks: Smart manufacturing, or the Industrial Internet of Things, uses sensors and devices to collect data to gain insight into manufacturing environments. One area where IIoT techniques are commonly used is in predictive maintenance, where sensors help predict machine failures before they occur, saving manufacturers thousands in lost revenue and averting downtime. That can be the first step in process automation, big data, or machine learning initiatives.

MSPs need to be educated and learn how to apply these technologies to remain relevant to their manufacturing clients. New technologies create opportunities for strengthening existing partner relationships and engaging with new prospects.

Weinberger: Some MSPs don’t think IoT solutions provide opportunities for their businesses, as they typically target the enterprise. Is there a channel play?

Crooks: There are huge opportunities for MSPs to increase their value-add and stickiness with manufacturing clients. Smart manufacturing is happening, and since providers generally “own” the technology relationship with their customers, IIoT lets them expand their offerings and generate additional revenue. If MSPs don’t have those conversations, someone else will. So, why not get ahead of the curve?

MSPs can start by providing consulting and infrastructure upgrades. They can add in analytics, automation, development, and other skill sets as the market demands.

Weinberger: What are the benefits to MSPs of taking on an IoT project?

Crooks: Selling a new product or service to an existing client is easier than targeting new clients with current products and services. With IIoT being explored by numerous manufacturing organizations, it presents a significant opportunity for appropriately positioned providers looking to increase their revenue.

Weinberger: What barriers can MSPs expect to encounter?

Crooks: It’s very easy for an MSP to get caught up in a long-running presales conversation that never results in a concrete project. To maximize the chances of securing projects with realistic scopes and budgets, a provider must know which questions to ask and how to approach the conversation.

Another barrier is that most manufacturing environments are relatively unique, so their IIoT solutions will differ. In order to create any repeatability, MSPs must find a structured step-by-step process supported by the appropriate tools to produce guaranteed outcomes. When starting from scratch, a six-figure project may be required just to get the basic data into a cloud system for visibility.

Weinberger: How do you identify the ideal clients for IoT projects?  

Crooks: Good IIoT candidates look at technology as a way to improve and streamline their business processes. They understand and are willing to embrace it and realize that without this innovation they will fall behind. Manufacturers that have heavily manual processes also make good candidates, as do those with a lot of clipboards and whiteboards on the factory floor. That opens the door for automation, which usually generates a good return on investment.

ALAN WEINBERGER is CEO of The ASCII Group (ascii.com), a community of independent MSPs, VARs, and solution providers in North America that offers leveraged purchasing programs, education and training, knowledge sharing among peers, discounts on business services, and more.

Opening Image: Pixabay

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