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Industrial Internet of Things: Redefining MSP service offerings

Ian van Reenen, vice president of engineering, endpoint products at Autotask, looks at the opportunities IoT in the commercial sector offers MSPs

The Internet of Things (IoT) has entered public consciousness primarily through consumer applications such as smart homes and connected cars. It’s greatest impact, however, may come from its deployment in industrial organizations, enabling them to connect multiple devices, including legacy equipment, so that they can talk to each other in unprecedented, highly efficient ways. The business and socio-economic ramifications for industrial applications, also called the Industrial Internet, are still being tallied.

At its heart, IoT connects remotely monitored endpoints with the service personnel and product solutions needed to ensure proper equipment function.

Airplanes, for instance, have onboard sensors that collect real-time data and, through IoT connectivity, route that information to decision-makers who use it to determine what maintenance is necessary and when it should be performed, what part or equipment should be replaced, and the right staff to do the job. This assists in having the right parts and personnel available on site without the need to stockpile costly inventory where it may not be needed.

Moving Data from Remote Endpoints

Look at the power industry, with transmission lines and grids that span the country and sensors that monitor that grid. Again, the IoT gets the data from one remote endpoint (the onsite grid sensors) to another (the people who can authorize action) so that whatever the need is – for repair, retrofit or replacement – it can be identified, and the proper technicians and parts can be assigned and scheduled in the most cost-effective manner possible. Without this capability in the past, utilities had to resort to expensive measures like dispatching personnel for regular onsite maintenance checks and buying and stockpiling a huge inventory of product parts.

The power of IoT to collect and assess data from both legacy and next-generation equipment can help companies improve efficiency and optimize performance. GE’s Predix Cloud is a case in point. This cloud-based technology, designed for data and analytics across industries like oil and gas, healthcare, aviation and transportation, can capture and interpret real-time volume, velocity and other industrial machine data so that it yields insights for more informed, effective decision-making.

The aforementioned industries, along with others such as manufacturing, agriculture and mining, account for almost two-thirds of the global economy. The movement toward an integrated digital-human workforce will position the Industrial Internet to invent and redefine jobs, and even the nature of work. By enabling machines to communicate their status and performance remotely the Industrial Internet promises to free skilled resources from reactive repair and rather allow them to focus on proactive maintenance to prevent costly downtime.

Realizing the Possibilities of IoT

Autotask is very active in the IoT space with technologies that leverage IoT’s power and potential.

In the United Kingdom, the company works with Circle IT, a provider of IT support and managed services, to help Circle IT’s educational institution clients keep sensor-based track of the state of their IT networks. This includes the monitoring and management of on-campus Wi-Fi access bandwidth. In this way, the institutions can spot maintenance problems or opportunities and deploy the necessary repair or improvement resources – all in real time.  

Autotask’s Endpoint Management (AEM) solution connects the IoT with the information and communication technology suite of education clients through sensor agents that collect and route data from all devices to a central repository, where managed service providers (MSPs) can see where the data indicates a need for maintenance and associated resources.  

The AEM functionality has expanded in the last year to sensors that tell when it’s time for computer upgrades and the supply reorders to support them. In the big picture, that functionality is linking servers, mobile devices, printers, laptop and desktop computers to the IoT. Integrating all of these devices to this larger grid, and extracting performance and maintenance data from them, enables a remote centralized support desk to predict and fix any issues that arise, before they affect productivity on-site.

Multiple MSP Opportunities

Pulling data through IoT empowers MSPs to become more efficient. Educational institutions, for example, deploy a lot of devices, so if an audit uncovers devices that aren’t being used, MSPs can switch them to sleep mode and charge a fee for reducing energy consumption. By monitoring computer and software usage patterns over time, an MSP can now recommend the most efficient allocation of resources, saving both time and money.

 IoT can help MSPs:

Reactivate devices by installing patches that generate monthly fees

Cut client costs by reordering supplies at the right times

Optimise the allocation and performance of IT resources

Reduce downtime on IT network components

Audit power usage, which creates a potential revenue-generating opportunity

 For industrial purposes, the Internet of Things is akin to what’s known as the Connected Factory, a manufacturing environment in which each machine can communicate with every other machine throughout the plant and in remote locations. The Internet of Things connects, monitors and controls just about anything, anywhere, so that operations are more productive and profitable. It’s the wave of the future, and the future is happening now.

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