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Digital Transformation for SIs: Think Big, Start Small

Systems integrator

What does it mean to have an architectural approach to the Internet of Things? And how can systems integrators use it to help their customers accelerate digital transformation? Kenton Williston, Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech, talks to Savio Lee, Senior Business Leader for Digital Transformation at Ingram Micro Canada, to get the answers.

You’ll find out how to fill in the gaps in your technology stack, and dig in to the ways you can rapidly create proofs of concept—without blowing your budget.

Getting the Architectural Perspective

Kenton Williston: Savio, welcome to the show. What is Ingram Micro doing to help systems integrators through the digital transformation journey?

Savio Lee: So, at Ingram Micro we play the critical role of an IoT aggregator and an orchestration platform. If you look at IoT as a whole, it creates new opportunities, but with new opportunities also come new complexities. From an aggregation point of view, this role just aligns very well with our core function as a distributor, where we function as a one-stop shop for all the IoT needs from an ecosystem perspective.

We also function as an orchestration platform to unify and pre-integrate the ecosystem. And by doing so we are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so that by the time it gets to our partners they can focus more on solutions and selling business outcomes.

Kenton Williston: I think what’s interesting about what I’m seeing Ingram Micro doing is that you’re really thinking about the approach to the Internet of Things from an architectural perspective. Can you give me a sense of what it means to have an architectural approach to IoT?

Savio Lee: If you ask a network vendor what IoT is, they’re going to tell you it’s all about the PoE switches. You ask a cloud company what IoT is, they’re going to tell you it’s all about a graph, right? I am not saying they are wrong. They are right. But the problem is each of them is approaching IoT from their own lens, and defining IoT in their own terms. And because of that, it created a lot of confusion in the market in terms of knowledge and skill sets.

What we saw was that we really need to take an architectural approach to IoT. And what that means is, not looking at IoT from a particular technology stack. Architectural means holistic, end-to-end, flexible, right? And also comprehensive. By taking an architectural approach, we start with trying to define what the challenges and objectives of the end customers are like.

And then from there we try to understand—okay, what are the current processes? What is the current system that’s in place? Because IoT is not always about rip and replace. A big part of IoT to achieve ROI is about working with the existing system. Where are the gaps? And what can we do to fill those gaps—but, most importantly, connect all the dots together.

Kenton Williston: So it sounds to me like a big part of this is that, if I’m thinking about this from the perspective of a systems integrator, I might have expertise in certain applications. I might have expertise in certain technologies. And what I can get out of working with Ingram Micro is sort of a partner in the space who can help me fill out all the rest of it, so that I don’t have to learn it all myself.

Savio Lee: Absolutely. We have all types of partners. We have partners that want end-to-end solutions from Ingram Micro that may be out-of-the-box, or it could be an integrated solution that is built by Ingram Micro that involves multiple vendors. We also have partners that are specialized in a certain level of the IoT technology stack, but they don’t have the complete picture. So our approach in terms of partnership—we are very flexible, and we recognize that there’s not really one-size-fits-all.

POC on Demand

Kenton Williston: One of the things that I think is really interesting about what digital transformation really means is this idea of very quickly trying ideas out and moving on if they don’t work—doing a lot of proofs of concept to see if a certain idea is even going to be feasible. But if I’m a systems integrator, my customers are going to want my assistance putting together these POCs. How am I going to be able to very rapidly respond to those demands?

Savio Lee: Some customers are looking for IoT solutions, but they don’t want a really permanently installed IoT solution. So what we have come up with is a program of what is called IoT on Demand, which is essentially a pre-built, custom-selected set of hardware for different use cases and verticals that customers, or our partners, can leverage to allow them to conduct POCs rapidly. And at the same time, if they to choose to buy it, because it’s designed to be flexible it allows the partners to easily repurpose and redeploy the solution and the infrastructure for different use cases.

Kenton Williston: And what about the financial elements of this? Are you doing anything particular to address that end of the challenge?

Savio Lee: We also have what is called a POC on Demand program, where you can turn any budget that you have for conducting POC into an OpEx model. We have a large pool of IoT devices—pre-built solutions that allow our systems integrators to conduct POCs rapidly without making significant investment. And when the POC is done, they simply have to return the equipment and everything to Ingram Micro.

Kenton Williston: This is kind of a win-win-win scenario: the end customer gets to explore all of these ideas very quickly; the systems integrator gets to assist them and help them arrive at a final architecture that they want to deploy without making a huge investment; and then the systems integrator in Ingram Micro itself gets the benefit of retaining that business over time. And once that proof of concept becomes a real, scalable, deployable sort of idea, then there’s that revenue stream available.

Savio Lee: Exactly. By taking away the need for owning hardware on a permanent basis, what that essentially does is it frees up the budget to conduct multiple POCs simultaneously, as opposed to just one POC simply because they have to buy the equipment.

Going the Last Mile

Kenton Williston: There’s a lot of glue that needs to be put in between to make all these parts work together, and to surface actionable information to the end customer. So is there anything that IoT systems integrators can do to make the process of bringing everything together simpler?

Savio Lee: One of the key requirements to building an IoT practice as a solutions integrator is that you must have software development resources or skill sets in-house as well, right? Which the traditional IT systems integrator does not possess. So as part of our architectural approach to IoT, we focus heavily on data, because we understand the value of IoT is in the data. And in order to mitigate the need to have software development in-house, we launched what is called Project Last Mile.

Project Last Mile essentially allows end customers, or our systems integrators, to easily and quickly build custom IoT applications on our IoT platform with little-to-no software coding required. And because our IoT software platform is microservices-driven and it’s modular in nature, we have gone a step further to pre-build templates for different use cases and verticals—different types of IoT solutions that our partners or systems integrators can simply download and customize the last 10%. We pre-build some of these templates is because, as important as, and as cool as IoT is, the other missing part of the equation is domain expertise.

And on the topic of domain expertise, we have what is called the IoT Co-Creation program. The IoT Co-Creation program is really our strategy of how we bring in domain expertise to build various applications, and help our systems integrators and their end customers derive additional value from the data.

The Holistic Approach

Kenton Williston: I’d like to dig a layer deeper, and talk about some of the specific elements of the technologies and expertise that need to go into overall architecture. Fundamentally, if you’re going to do anything in the IoT, it’s all about taking real-world data and digitizing it. You talked earlier on about this idea of orchestration. So what does that mean? And how does that relate to deploying IoT systems?

Savio Lee: We looked at IoT as a whole, and identified the areas where there are challenges that Ingram Micro could bring value to the table. The number one challenge is instrumentation of the physical work. As much as 70% of IoT projects fail simply because you cannot get data. That challenge is about reliable hardware and quality data.

The next piece is, with great complexity also comes lack of industry standards. So what we have is an orchestration platform that connects our ecosystem of hardware vendors together. And that itself allows us to address the challenges of lacking technology standards in terms of protocols, and allows us to normalize—to unify the data, and send it to any applications, or to our own applications. Our orchestration platform unifies the ecosystem to create one common data layer.

The next thing is we also have what is called a plug-and-play approach, which allows end customers and systems integrators to easily onboard IoT devices by simply scanning the QR code. So no longer do you have to go find and upload a serial number and type it in, which can be time consuming and error prone as well.

Learn as You Grow

Kenton Williston: I’d love to hear your thoughts on the step-by-step approach that systems integrators can take to expand their capabilities—expand the opportunities they can address without biting off too much at one time.

Savio Lee: The quickest route to market is really understanding that the customer wants end-to-end solutions. And the good thing is, we have pre-built, out-of-the-box solutions that allow you to easily sell to the customers—allow them to try it, along with our various innovative services and programs to help support you all the way from the sales to implementation and post-sales.

Our approach is really a learn-as-you-grow type of thing. Over time—hopefully with our system integrated—they will realize that once they understand what is required to succeed in IoT, then they can decide what role they want to play in IoT. Do they want to focus on—if it’s an IT systems integrator—do they want to just focus on IT, and be the IT of IoT by focusing on the network and infrastructure for IoT?

Or do they want to be a solutions integrator over time by building additional—and hiring additional—resources in-house, such as op software development, and so on? And there are going to be guys who say, “You know what? We don’t want to be the solutions integrators; we want to focus on the data because that’s ultimately where the value of IoT is.” And they want to build a data practice by helping the customer derive additional value from the data, and to drive organizational change in efficiency.

Kenton Williston: Any questions that you wish I had asked you?

Savio Lee: I think one of the key messages I want to get out there is that—to our systems integrators—IoT is a journey and not an overnight thing, right? Because we have created that ecosystem, done the job of unifying the ecosystem, innovating at every layer of the IoT technology stack along with the capabilities for our IoT applications.

What that means is that by partnering with Ingram Micro, we have essentially fast-tracked your IoT practice by a minimum of two to three years. And the best part is, you can start your IoT practice with little-to-no investment because of our high-touch, white-glove approach. We’re actively out there doing a lot of course selling, engaging any IoT opportunities that you may come across, so that you are really learning as you grow.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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