Cisco gears up Internet of Things strategy

Cisco announces several new IoT solutions, and talks about its strategy and partner opportunities in the space.

Tony Shakib Cisco

Tony Shakib, VP of Cisco’s IoE Vertical Solutions Group

SAN JOSE – This week, at Cisco’s Global Editors Conference, the company gave considerable face time to its Internet of Things strategy – which goes beyond the fact that Cisco seemingly has accommodated itself to the use of the IoT term, rather than its own Internet of Everything term it has advocated for years. Cisco announced four new digital IoT solutions. They also laid out to the media where their IoT strategy is going, and how they believe they will successfully differentiate themselves in a market which is still very much in its formative stages, but pretty much everyone thinks will become huge.

Cisco’s IoT business developed out of its M2M business, which has been around for years.

“Our M2M business has been around for over a decade, but most of this business was pure connectivity,” said Tony Shakib, VP of Cisco’s IoE Vertical Solutions Group. “It didn’t have any smarts or applications running on top of it. The simplistic stuff, like rental companies knowing where there cars are – those have been around for a long time. Now the IoT creates a platform where they can triangulate the data for multiple sources – not just for tracking but actually getting results. Now, the connectivity is only five per cent of the activity. Whether over a cellular or wired or wi-fi network, it’s about taking the machine and managing the data because the volume is very high, and mapping it into their business operations so they can get better business results. That level of analytics and business is new.”

Shakib said that this level of automation varies vastly from industry to industry over the dozen industries in which Cisco operates.

“Semiconductors are probably at 80 per cent of automation and very sophisticated,” he said. “Heavy industries are just getting into this.”

In the industrial space in particular, Cisco has had long-term relationships with several industry partners which precede the IoT.

“We have had a partnership with Rockwell Automation for 7-8 years, which certainly exploded with the IoT but we have been working at it diligently and it has been a consistent area of focus,” said Bryan Tantzen Senior Director, Internet of Things Business Unit Vertical Leader.

“Many entrenched players in this space like Rockwell Automation and Schneider Electric are not true IT companies, so for the IoT, they need to work with us,” said Rowan Trollope, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group.

Several of the four new digital solutions announced leverage such partnerships.

Connected Machines for Digital Manufacturing is a connected architecture that enables rapid, standards-based, repeatable machine connectivity, and global factory integration while enabling OEM digitization and new business models – including highly secure remote access, monitoring and serviceability of machines. Cisco and robotics-maker FANUC America, in a new partnership, will implement the solution to enable robot connectivity and analytics for proactive maintenance.

“Connected Machines takes manufacturing to a whole new dimension, enabling our OEMs to run their machines as a service, a new business model everyone is looking at,” Shakib said.

Cisco also announced a related series of attractively priced solution bundles to simplify and accelerate infrastructure digitization for customers for the Factory Network, Factory Wireless and Factory Security.

“This is definitely a gamechanger,” Shakib said, “If suppliers aren’t involved in data connection, they won’t be in business.”

Cisco announced, in collaboration with Schneider Electric, Smart Connected Pipeline for Digital Oil and Gas, an architecture that allows oil and gas companies more control over their pipelines.

“There are many pipelines in ungodly places around the world and leakages can be catastrophic,” Shakib said. “You need millions of sensors to detect them and it can take days. With Smart Connected Pipeline, you can now detect them instantly.

Connected Mass Transit for Digital Transportation is another new offering, a connected architecture based on the Cisco IoT system that will enable the delivery of greater safety, mobility, and a better passenger experience.

“The problem we are trying to solve with this is a multitude of isolated network and communications system used in transportation,” Shakib said. Organizations often have separate ones for VoiP, multiple ones for video, automated passenger counting, passenger wi-fi, and fares. Connected Mass Transit integrates and enhances them all. The first customer announced was the Austrian city of Linz.

The fourth new solution, Substation Security for Digital Utilities, is an architecture that enables highly-secure power grids for reliable, more efficient service across the utilities industry. This particular solution should benefit from a new regulatory requirement that will impact utility companies in North America. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC/CIP) Version 5 mandated standards are a new requirement which will kick in in April 2016, and the solution is designed to enable utility compliance.

Cisco also announced some product announcements to its IoT System Security portfolio — the ISA-3000, a new dedicated security appliance for application visibility, policy enforcement and threat defense, and a Fog Data Services security solution.

“We are changing the network itself into a sensor,” Shakib said.

Much of the IoT business, at this point in time, is green fields and deep retrofits, although that is likely to change, Shakib said.

“The old sensors that are in place now aren’t dumb, and they don’t have to be replaced, we just need a way to extract the new information that is now being connected and process it,” he said. “The new sensors do have security built into them that old ones do not, however.”

In other areas like lighting, where a new IoT solution would involve replacing old technology, wireless is seen as the answer.

“In lighting, green fields is a no-brainer, because since it’s low voltage, it’s less expensive,” Shakib said. “In brown fields, we divide it into two steps, deep retrofits and the rest. Deep retrofits we can do now, but for the rest, we are working on a wireless solution, which is 6-9 months away.”

Shakib said that customers who are switching to LED bulbs anyway to lower lighting costs can implement an IoT wireless solution on top of it because they are just changing the bulbs.

“That movement is happening anyway and we are trying our solution to the LED changeout, where every bulb becomes a sensor.”

While Cisco’s partnering on the manufacturing side relies heavily on other manufacturers, Cisco says that solution provider and integrator opportunities in the IoT are strong now, and that they will grow.

“They are quite significant, but are very vertical-specific, with a different partner ecosystem for every vertical,” Shakib said “Transportation and health care are the big ones now for solution providers.”

Shakib said the solutions themselves are partner-friendly.

“The way we build these Cisco validated solutions, identifying a use case and problem, and documenting everything to prepare a technical and business document, is equally applicable to our partner community,” he said. However we see two types of VARs. A few are very innovative and have the technological talent and ability to pull the piece parts together. Most, though, are more distributors than VARs. That’s why we are doing heavy lifting to educate them, to show them how to sell these architectural blueprints. As the industry evolves, more VARs will pop up in this market, but if just left to themselves, the pace would be very slow.”

“These saleable bundles our channel partners can buy, you will see us do a lot more in that connection,” Trollope said. “It will also mean new partners for Cisco.”

“That’s our messaging here, that we are an IoT company,” Trollope said. “We have done more than anyone else in this space and are in a stronger position overall.

Trollope’s own role reflects this initiative.

“The way engineering is organized is that we have a number of business units like engineering, security and collaboration – foundational technologies – and we want to make sure we have best in breed,” Shakib said. “What’s unique about Rowan’s team is it is a new solutions group which is not just product oriented, but looks at how customers consume it, so the customer gets the complete solution. We also drive requirements back to the engineering organization, and both Rowan and I report to Pankaj Patel [Cisco EVP and Chief Development Officer]. This is all about making Cisco a solutions company, rather than just product. We want to do more software. Rowan has the software background and will start honing those applications.”