Last week I attended the IoT Tech Expo, North America, in Santa Clara California. After trudging through a mostly empty and uninspiring Wearable Technology Show a couple of weeks back, my expectations were not very high. That may have been a good thing, since the attendance, keynotes, and content blew my mind. With months of marketing efforts in discussion groups and in advertising, I would like to commend the IoT Tech Expo organizers for doing a tremendous job in putting together the event. The conference tracks consisted of a good mix of keynote presentations and expert panels in Developing & IoT Tech, Wearable, IoT Innovations, Connected Industry, Smart Cities, Connected Services, Data & Security and Connected Living. Below are some of the themes I gathered from the two-day event.
There would not be an IoT event without representatives from the different connectivity alliances debating the benefits and drawbacks of various connectivity protocols. LoRa had a large presence at the show, as did Zigbee and Verizon. Comcast and Orange also made their presence known at the show, both of whom were advocating LoRa, since both recently adopted LoRa’s network as part of their new IoT service offerings.
A Voice From the Venture Partners
The show had several panels with VC analysts providing guidance to entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs. These panels drew large crowds, and provided very useful tips for entrepreneurs. The VCs did a great job explaining what investors look for in prospecting IoT startups, and what things they want to see that are unique to hardware startups. A common consensus was that many IoT startups lack good customer development in their early stages. They said that most VCs expect startups to have at least fifty potential customers who are not family or friends to test the product and provide feedback, before any investment is made. They also agreed that entrepreneurs must show that they are “thinking big and small”. To translate, the product must primarily provide a solution to an immediate problem in a targeted market, but the entrepreneurs should also have a 5-10 year roadmap that shows how this product can develop into something much bigger for a widespread market. Another common problem they brought up that I found interesting was that many startups make the mistake of not setting aside a budget for marketing and business development, and put their entire budget into the product. As someone who focuses on the business side of IoT, that offends me.
More Focus on Security, But Still Not Enough
On the heels of another Tesla security breach and reports of the DDoS attacks, the emphasis on security was apparent. It was nice to hear so many people talking about the importance of nailing down IoT security, and how a lack of it might be IoTs undoing. On the flip side, I still heard many panelists give the typical line, that “security will hold innovators back; innovators need to innovate and security will come later”. Additionally, it is concerning that even though many panelists stressed the importance of security, it is not resulting in businesses providing a concrete solution. The platform company to security company ratio is at least 10:1. That must change, and that must change fast. People are certainly seeing the need for streamlined impenetrable IoT security solutions, but I am not sure very many people know how to get there. If YOU can come up with a solution, VCs will certainly listen.
One eye on Blockchain
I expected to hear some talk about how to extract value out of the data collected from devices. Actually, I expected to hear a lot of talk about how to extract value out of the data collected from devices. I was waiting for panelists to discuss how businesses can classify what data to send to the cloud and what data to keep on the edge, and I also expected to hear about the pros and cons of data lakes versus data warehouses. To my surprise when it came to data, most all of the interest seemed to hover around Blockchain technology. Though I did not see anyone provide any concrete solutions using Blockchain, there was just a general curiosity as to what value this technology can bring to IoT in terms of classifying and sharing data. Both the panelists and the audience frequently brought up Blockchain as a potential solution to many of the unanswered questions floating around data management.
All in all, the IoT Tech Expo was a very interesting and exciting conference. It was a pleasure to see this much enthusiasm across the board, and to see how much the attendance and participation has grown at Silicon Valley IoT conferences over the past year. If you attended, feel free to provide your thoughts about the event in the comments section.