Contrarians At The Gate: Real 2021 IIoT Trends by Aaron Allsbrook

January 19, 2021

It’s that time of year again – where everyone starts telling us what technologies are hot for the upcoming year. Emboldened by the fact that I still don’t know anyone using 5G in a meaningful way and despite having ordered numerous packages in 2020 none were tracked via blockchain, I am going to take another stab at being a contrarian in 2021. Thank goodness I didn’t pick against the wide adoption of video conferencing!


  1. Digital Transformation – This idea has so much potential but the hype machine is out of control. Fluffy tech advertisements, running every commercial break, wrap the concept in so much noise we can no longer see the hidden “Transform” in the middle. To transform a business means that it must fundamentally change what it sells or how it sells. So no matter how many robots my local Walmart installs to stock shelves, their business is not transformed. No matter how many smart light bulbs get installed in the bank branches the business is not transformed. No matter how sales meetings have now become zoom calls, my logistics business is not transformed. These are digital capabilities being applied to business operations, and it’s great, they will save on operational costs and increase efficiency but the expectations of transformation will not be met. Digital transformation is Uber destroying the taxi industry where the barriers to entry of matching drivers to riders can be overcome with enabling technology like a mobile phone and app store. As long as we confuse digital transformation with digital capability at the business and C-suite level, we will continue to see disappointment and fail to see competitive threats coming.


2. Cloud Services Buffet – A couple of weeks ago Amazon web services released its cool new re:Invent feature set. As I read, I was transported to a Sunday afternoon between the stainless steel fences standing in line at my local Family Buffet. Ready to pay a bargain $125.00 for my family of four to devour that glorious buffet of food that smelled so good off in the distance. Once inside my wife picked at several leaves from the salad bar, my daughter never left the table and instead ate 19 yeast rolls, and I attempted to eat my money’s worth of well-done steak. My son did find 5 ketchup covered hamburgers and 3 pieces of cheese pizza to be the perfect lunch. In the end, everyone still wanted to stop at Amy’s Ice Cream after. Cloud services have become the same – a huge pile of confusing choices that don’t make for a healthy diet of things our business needs to innovate, operate, and automate. This year, corporate leadership palettes will be refined, and instead of thinking cloud services are a simple one and done decision, we will instead see the value of finding the right solution and partners that know how to solve the real business problem.


3. IoT Security – I wish it was different – I’m grateful that NIST continues to progress its standards and I wish everyone in the world suddenly cared about security and wanted their data to stay private. But, IoT buyers out there just seem to be great bargain hunters and treat security like a teenager getting their first car by selecting the chrome trim instead of door locks. The reality is businesses can’t just checkmark their security away by asking if a product is SOC 2 Type II compliant or if encryption is used. The threats against systems are everywhere from device to user, to the network to the cloud. Lately, we have started asking if we should use hardware made in a certain country but then we will gladly outsource software development in that exact same country. We recently saw the software build processes get hacked at SolarWinds by a nefarious actor that walked around the Maginot line of their existing security measures. In 2021 security will get better, ClearBlade has many new features scheduled in each release, we constantly update our dependencies and we regularly improve our SDLC, that said we are only one actor in the overall solutions our customers deploy that includes hardware, network, and other enterprise software in use. Wholistic IoT security will remain an aspiration throughout 2021. 


4. Edge – This hurts to write, ClearBlade has been laser-focused on the edge and very successful in the space, but even as the architect of the industry’s first edge platform I’m not even sure what the term even means anymore when someone says it to me. At this point it might be a new graphics card repurposed for a factory environment, an AI algorithm that runs on embedded processors, an industrial gateway computer, a cell phone tower, a regional cloud center, a version of Kubernetes, an operational process that runs in IT to take inventory…. We are now hearing the term distributed cloud so I guess that makes the cloud the edge? Yes – ClearBlade will successfully deliver its edge technology many times in 2021 but when everyone has an edge – no one has an edge. Right?


5. IoT Point Offerings – There is a lot of pain from version 1 IoT solutions. These solutions have been able to solve a very specific problem leveraging specific hardware and specific cloud services. Maybe it’s the perfect food trough measurement for a species of hog popular in Arkansas or maybe it’s the perfect tank monitoring solution for medium volatile liquid when stored in containers of 500 to 750 gallons. It’s great they work and maybe they even justify their costs, but now they are trapped with a set of devices and trapped onto a specific SaaS cost model. These solutions are unable to adapt to new capabilities in the market, new pricing models that customers want, and unable to offer new values. These solutions are unable to expand and have fixed the cost of a product that now has a SaaS burden underneath it with limited to no flexibility for expansion. The force-fit of only a single device profile that will work only in a single-use case will fade despite how cool a new Alexa integration might be. No business needs 47 different point solutions that do not evolve.


Runner up – COVID-19 Innovations  – Let’s end this one together – wear a mask, keep your distance, get vaccinated, and thank an essential worker. The statistics say that will work without the need for privacy-invading contact tracing apps installed on my phone. 


What’s Real 

1. IoT Applications! – With cloud service fatigue you have to ask “what is it that businesses actually want?” This year I’m lumping lots of IoT into this one. Lots of systems claim IoT tracking or IoT management. In the end, we need to connect a thing and monitor in a way that our business understands and then put that into a system of record. The system of record may be a CRM, an Inventory Management system, or a Fleet Management system – but they will all be fed and enriched by Intelligent Assets. From what I can tell, this trend has caught on big time. It flies in the face of both the buffet strategy of the cloud (or open-source project mashup) and the complete lock-in of the “all in one” solutions provided by the mega-vendors. Momentum for Intelligent Assets is off the charts to end 2020 and will continue strong in 2021. 

2. IoT Standards – Wow, it took long enough. After years of new groups proposing new standards with good reasons and lots of companies trying to create products just to speak those protocols we now finally appear to be over the hump for basic IoT communication standards. At this point, the major vendors know how to backhaul to the cloud – probably over MQTT. At this point, the major vendors know how to communicate over a big area without power – probably LoRaWAN. At this point, vendors know how to do short-range wireless communication with BLE or ZigBee. It’s now obvious that there won’t be a single standard or payload – but there are emerging winners that allow everyone to speak together. In 2021 the standards conversation will die down only because what we have is real and ready to go.

3. Green Initiatives – I personally have become really excited multiple times with different customers about green initiatives and the opportunity to save their businesses and customers globally meaningful amounts of fuel and carbon. Sadly in years past those initiatives were shelved or deemphasized because the end-user didn’t care or it didn’t align with executive goals. Conversations in the last 6 months are different. Instead of working with IoT directors and using energy savings as 1 of 10 things that might help him get executive sponsorship, the CIOs of big companies are telling their entire teams to find technologies that reduce energy and fuel consumed. Obviously, executive leadership trends move quickly in the United States, that said I’ll predict that GREEN is a trend that is extremely meaningful in 2021.

4. Business Capabilities – The last and biggest stretch for 2021 is the concept that Business Capabilities are for real. If CIO’s are no longer making tech decisions based on their favorite big vendor cloud and are trying to select applications that solve their business needs – what criteria will they be using? I believe in 2021 the idea of capability selection will rise in real practice. RFPs may still include feature and protocol support but now they will also interrogate a vendor’s ability to deliver capability. Capability like “prevent equipment theft” or “ tool utilization” will move up the list in questions that get asked and will be key to selection criteria. The list of capabilities is still different between analysts and vendors, the priority of them is still up for debate by users but this will be a common practice by the time the new year rings again.


There it is!  Now time for this contrarian to get back to work

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