Change is a way of life for solution providers. Or should be. Something new is always on the horizon, and the horizon keeps getting closer. These days change looms in the form of three emerging technologies—internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G connectivity.
The emerging technologies are the subjects of three new whitepapers that analyze business opportunities in each area. A complementary quiz also helps solution providers determine how ready they are to build an emerging tech business.
Solution providers with no plans to capitalize in at least one of them risk irrelevance in the not-too-distant future. That doesn’t mean providers should jump to invest in all technologies right now. Experts theorize it’s best to choose one and then:
- Determine the technology’s suitability to internal capabilities and relevance to customer needs.
- Learn the technology and get top-to-to-bottom organizational buy-in.
- Invest in the necessary tools and skills.
- Educate clients about the technology’s benefits to their business.
- Develop marketing and sales plans.
- Support client’s ongoing needs post-installation.
Whichever technology they choose, solution providers should deploy it internally first. This will make them more proficient and efficient, essentially serving as their own model to best help clients meet strategic goals such as driving efficiencies, reducing costs, boosting productivity and improving the customer experience.
“Our role has always been to educate our clients on the technology and to find ways to use that technology to advance their business,” says Paul Cronin, CEO of Apogee IT Services. But the role is changing from being a custodian focused primarily on keeping the lights to one of stewardship, which requires a deeper understanding of the client environment. And that is the case whether providers are investing in AI, IoT or 5G.
While plenty of implementations are under way, IoT deployments have largely focused on sensors and platforms to collect data for business decisions. But collecting data alone isn’t enough to make strategic decisions.
The new opportunity in IoT is to apply analytics and business intelligence to the data to make it actionable, according to Michael Haines, Microsoft director of worldwide partner incentive strategy. “That’s where the real money is.”
In developing an IoT strategy, providers need a deep understanding of client requirements and goals so they can make the right investment decisions—for instance whether to go vertical or horizontal, and whether to build a business new around IoT opportunities. “Solution providers need to be seen as experts with deep enough capabilities so that a client can rely on them,” Haines says.
Pursuing IoT opportunities requires providers to envision, pilot deploy and secure IoT deployments, according to the whitepaper
AI opportunities are growing for solution providers, who should not only sell it but also apply it internally to serve clients more efficiently, says Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai. Automated communication tools such as chatbots and conversational user interfaces can replace data entry and repetitive tasks. This streamlines provider workflow and creates satisfying customer experiences.
Providers that fail to adopt risk becoming “the caveman who’s using past-generation tools” and unable to compete, Martin says. Besides deriving efficiencies, AI frees staff time to focus on high-level tasks such as training and lead generation.
As they learn AI, providers can educate client on the technology’s benefits and uses. The price of entry has lowered, opening opportunities for providers to help shape clients’ AI strategies. Be ready to answer questions and steer clients in the right direction and resist the temptation to go for the “shiny objects,” Martin says.
Client education is key to AI success, paving the way for marketing and selling solutions as well as ongoing management.
What about 5G?
As solution providers consider AI and IoT opportunities, they should also pay attention to 5G connectivity. 5G has the potential for profound change because of speed – what takes six minutes to transmit with 4G is reduced to less than four seconds.
“I think it’s probably one of the biggest opportunities. It’s a primary driver for many of the other emerging technologies,” says Think Channel President John Rice. “IoT will reach an entirely new level when 5G becomes more prevalent, and the same thing will happen with many other technologies.”
For solution providers, that means plenty of opportunities to upgrade infrastructure, software and hardware so clients can leverage 5G capabilities. In many cases, wireless connectivity will replace cables because of the exponential speed gains.
As with AI and IoT, Rice recommends getting a deep understanding of the installed base to figure out a strategy for 5G-related opportunities. Once that happens, providers will be better prepared to invest in the equipment, resources and expertise to match the technology to client needs.
Address the Basics
Whichever technology a provider decides to invest in, it’s important to “have the business buttoned up,” as Rice puts it. That means getting the basics in place – operational efficiencies, skills and well-defined vision—before making a commitment.
The pace of change is faster than ever. That means more opportunities, but it also makes it easier—and costlier—to trip up.
Read more about the business opportunities around 5G, AI and IoT, and click here to join CompTIA's Emerging Technology Community.