How many IoT consultants does it take to change a lightbulb?
We spoke with Tharun Nandini and Sophie Koudoua from Vodafone IoT’s consulting team, to find out what it’s really like to be a consultant, and what role IoT professional services plays in the new age of the internet of things.
When you’re talking to a new customer for the first time, what’s the biggest misconception that you have to address?
Most often, people just don’t know what a consultant can offer them, or they think that bringing a consultant in will result in an engagement that lasts six months and costs them millions. But that’s not true at all.
Most of our engagements start with just an hour on the phone and, depending on the level of support the customer needs, we then move on to workshops of between half a day and two days. We start small and focus on what the customer really needs, and that means we can help any business, from the smallest startups to the biggest multinationals.
And actually the value that we can add is really fundamental. We essentially help answer two questions that most businesses face when they start considering IoT: What can IoT do for them? And how can they get their projects right first time? If you can answer those questions, you’re on the right track to real results and can save a lot of money in failed experimentation.
What kinds of issues do you help with? Is it all business strategy?
Some people think that as consultants we just build flashy PowerPoint presentations aimed at the CEO; that we never get down to the real nuts and bolts. But actually many consultants have technical backgrounds and started out working for the sort of company they’re now supporting. And they can draw on their technical and business expertise to help their clients.
Our team has a very broad knowledge base, and on top of that we can draw on all the expertise from across the Vodafone group, whether it’s in security, network design, or a particular industry or geography. As well as the lead consultant, we’ll often be joined by a relevant specialist technology expert on our customer call and in our workshops.
That melding of business and technology is reflected in the way we structure our engagements, too. We start out with presenting the possibilities and the business case at a high level, but then as the next step we always bring the idea to life with a real technology proof of concept. So it’s not just about slideware, but hardware and software too.
Why are IoT professional services so important to IoT in particular?
What’s so exciting about IoT is that it’s not just part of the IT infrastructure — it touches every part of your business. If you’re to get the most value from it, you don’t just have to work on your technology stack, you also have to look at reengineering your processes. So, for example, if you put IoT in a vending machine to sense stock levels, what you’re doing is changing your supply chain processes to improve the efficiency of restocking trips.
For many businesses, IoT is also a way to innovate the actual products that they sell to their customers — for instance, smart thermostats or connected security cameras. This brings up a host of considerations that have to be resolved before launch, from marketing and pricing to security and privacy.
And perhaps most exciting is the opportunity that IoT presents for fundamental business model innovation. For example, a coffee machine manufacturer can move beyond a one-off hardware sale to a café or restaurant, and instead start to offer a managed service, including consumables like beans and predictive servicing, all for a per-cup charge.
So there’s a lot of depth to the transformation that IoT can bring. It’s really a unique opportunity to redefine the business; it’s a true megatrend that brings together digitalisation, cloud and big data analytics. And to us IoT professional services are essential if businesses are to take advantage of that opportunity.
You sound pretty passionate about services. What is it that really motivates you?
It’s that we’re not just selling a box — consulting is all about understanding people’s problems, getting to grips with what your customer actually needs and defining a solution for that individual. We get to work with customers from all kinds of industries, and see right inside their businesses. For instance, just last week I was visiting a beverage bottling plant; the week before that I was working with a car manufacturer. Every customer, and every engagement, is different. And it’s tremendously rewarding to watch as a customer goes from that first call, having no idea that they need our services, to becoming huge ambassadors for us.
What does the future hold?
IoT is a journey that we and our customers share. We’ll often have multiple engagements during our relationship with a single company: for instance,a car manufacturer might start by asking us about telematics, then run a project around eCall compliance, and then make IoT a customer-facing service through internet in the car. It’s great to see how, along the way, IoT goes from being a small technical discussion to something that’s strategic to the manufacturer’s competitiveness in their market.
But we’re also seeing the need for IoT, and for IoT professional services, broaden out. In the early years we worked a lot with large enterprises in sectors like automotive and utilities. But now as IoT is maturing and more businesses are aware of it, we’re seeing lots of engagements with smaller businesses, and with other sectors like manufacturing, construction, retail and many more. That’s where our breadth of knowledge and our flexible approach really pays off.