Zebra APPFORUM 2015: The IoT Explosion And What Solutions Providers Need To Know To Capitalize On It

By The Business Solutions Network

Zebra APPFORUM 2015

Earlier this week I attended Zebra Technology’s APPFORUM in Las Vegas, which attracted more than 300 ISVs and solutions providers. Enterprise Asset Intelligence (EAI) was a prominent topic, which the company also focused on at its Global Partner Summit in May.

One of the highlights from APPFORUM 2015 was keynote speaker, Zach Shelby (pictured), VP of marketing, Internet of Things at ARM. ARM is a microprocessor technology company that runs on 95 percent of all mobile devices. Shelby wasted no time addressing Gartner’s claim that there will be 50 billion IoT devices by 2020. “We checked the numbers, and we believe it’s accurate,” he says. “There were 4 billion ARM embedded chips shipped in 2014 alone and that number is continuing to grow rapidly.”

Shelby shared three factors contributing to the IoT explosion:

  1. 32-bit low voltage microcontrollers. This technology can now be placed on just about any “asset,” turning even the dimple of a golf ball into an intelligent device that can be used to measure swing and ball velocity-related metrics. “The device is becoming the new app,” quipped Shelby.
  2. The cloud is ready. Zebra Technologies has made significant investments in this area, with the announcement of Zatar (www.zatar.com), its IoT platform, which is hosted in Amazon’s cloud. Philip Gerskovich, senior VP, new growth platforms, Zebra Technologies summarized Zatar best, comparing it to Facebook for devices. “In a similar way that Facebook creates an Avatar, which is a digital representation of a person, Zatar creates an Avatar of physical assets and gives them their own home page in the cloud,” he says. By doing this, Zatar is then able to take advantage of the cloud’s compute power and perform data analytics, which can then be turned into actionable information.
  3. Startups/young innovators have an advantage. Prior to 2006, there were only about 6 million software developers worldwide. In 2007, with the release of the iPhone followed by Android devices, that number skyrocketed, and today there are an estimated 25 million software developers worldwide and more than 1 million apps in the Apple and Android app stores alone. What’s interesting about this stat, says Shelby, is that as we move into the next phase of computing, IoT, innovation will escalate. “Gartner predicts that by 2018, about 50 percent of all IT solutions will come from startups,” he says. “Young innovators and new developers will play a big role in IoT’s future.” Shelby shared several examples of how looking at old challenges with a new set of eyes can make a difference. One example was a person who transformed the valet parking business after figuring out how to use technology to alert valet parkers to retrieve a vehicle before the customer was present. “It was a simple solution solved with a bar code and simple microprocessor, but it’s another example of the possibilities of how IoT is going to change the way companies do business,” said Shelby.

User experience is another topic that’s becoming closely associated with IoT. James Morley-Smith, senior manager of user experience design at Zebra Technologies talked about this during a panel discussion I moderated. “User experience isn’t just a neat idea or something that retailers need to think about,” he says. “The fact is that when workers are given tools that reflect the ease of use and workflows they’re used to with their personal devices, errors decrease and productivity increases.”

Zebra partner WaveLink echoed this same sentiment. For years, Wavelink has made a name for itself providing green-screen terminal emulation (TE) in warehouses and distribution centers. A couple of months ago, however, the company launched a major update to its TE service, replacing the old green courier font and blinking cursor with a UI that more closely resembles today’s smartphones. Zebra Technologies has rebranded the solution All-Touch Terminal Emulation. “It’s amazing how this changes workers’ perceptions about the technology they’re using to do their jobs and even about their company,” says Kelly Ungs, Wavelink’s senior director of worldwide channels. “There are currently 10 million traditional TE solutions in place. This represents a huge upgrade potential for the partners.”

As more devices become connected to networks, bandwidth is going to become more important than ever. Managed services provider and Zebra Technologies partner InDemand is poised to bridge this gap by combining its years of networking experience with ISP and carrier partnerships. “We understand the importance of security and being able to provide a predictable outcome at a predictable price,” says George Vrontas, VP of business development at InDemand. “We can help VARs and ISVs that don’t yet have the experience by providing consulting, implementation, and post-sales support.”

Zebra Technologies continues to make it clear that it’s taking the IoT/EAI trend very seriously, evidenced not only by its acquisition of Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business nine months ago, but by the way it’s rolling out new solutions and services, bringing in key vendor partners to fill niche needs, and empowering the partners to get involved. And, that’s really the big question: are ISVs and other channel partners ready to make the move from traditional closed-loop AIDC to a world where things communicate with other things? As Zebra’s Leo Lowy put it so succinctly: “We’ve provided our partners with the tools, infrastructure, and support they need to make this work. We need them to bring their innovative ideas and work with us to solve customers’ business challenges in a whole new way.”