Dell Technologies IoT Lab Strategy Evolves with Customer Needs & Maturing Market

In the beginning

How does change start? Ultimately, I believe that someone somewhere has to have a vision and the tenacity to bring an idea to life. Back in 2014, when the Internet of Things (IoT) was still in its infancy, Michael Dell decided to establish a dedicated space for customers to explore, test and deploy IoT solutions on Dell-based platforms that could help drive their business outcomes and accelerate time to market.

sunrise over a city

Noah’s Ark and Shark Tank help evangelize IoT

Working with Intel, our first IoT lab was opened in 2014 in Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley, the spiritual home of IT entrepreneurship and emerging technologies. As the lab was co-located alongside our Customer Solutions Center we started simply by incorporating IoT into regular customer briefings. In terms of kit, we took a Noah’s Ark approach, equipping the first lab with two models from each of our product ranges.

During those early days, our engineers developed demos to tell the IoT story but this quickly evolved into identifying and validating partners, who had unique software assets and could develop their own scripts and visualization. The team in Santa Clara humorously describe this process as a kind of IoT version of “Dragons’ Den” or “Shark Tank.” In fact, we were laying down the foundation stones for our curated Dell IoT Solutions Partner program, which now numbers over 80 innovative technology and services companies. It was all part of our quest to evangelize IoT and build a robust ecosystem.

Growing IoT customer demand drives expansion

In that first year of operation, the lab in Santa Clara attracted 150 customers. Responding to ever-increasing customer demand, we opened a second lab in Limerick in June 2015 with Singapore following a few months later in February 2016.  Emphasizing that IoT is an important part of our overall customer engagement, all three labs are integrated within existing Customer Solution Centers.

An IoT playground with a highly experienced team

So what goes on in the lab?  Picture an engineer’s playground, featuring the latest and greatest technology with a highly qualified team offering expertise in over forty industry verticals. We help customers design, model, architect, and road test IoT solutions, all the way from white boarding ideas through to demonstrating reference architecture, implementing proof of concept and running validation.

So far, we have welcomed customers from industries as diverse as car manufacturing, mining, oil pumping, cement pouring, law enforcement, vending machines, elevator controls, power regulation, potato chip manufacturing, environmental monitoring plus cows, horses, tomatoes, and of course, a few bees for good measure!

IoT Corner provides a taster experience

Building on this momentum, in November 2016, we set up our first IoT Corner in Amsterdam for customers to experience interactive demos and explore the potential of IoT before considering the more immersive, hands-on lab engagement. In this area, we showcase our IoT product and services portfolio plus IoT Partner Solutions, for example, dashboards and analytics. Customers can see real-time data being collected, monitored and synchronized from various IoT devices and sensors into a central virtual machine. The idea is to inspire customers and give them a flavor of what IoT is all about.

The idea is to bring one’s prospect or client on-site at the center to work with a highly trained IoT staff…

IoT Labs as best practice

It’s fair to say that we have seen huge growth and expansion at our IoT customer facilities over the last three years. In 2016, the number of lab engagements increased to 300 while our IoT Lab Corner in Amsterdam has also experienced high customer demand.

In fact, given that we started the initiative back in 2014, it was interesting to read in a recently published report that Gartner views labs like ours as one of the three best practices in selling IoT. “The use of customer experience centers (sometimes referred to as innovation labs or design centers) is becoming more and more in favor as a sales support asset….  The idea is to bring one’s prospect or client on-site at the center to work with a highly trained IoT staff to design and/or build an IoT strategy and/or solution(s).”[1]

Looking ahead

Well, that’s exactly what we have been doing for the last three years and the experience is about to get even better! Since the beginning, our strategy has consistently evolved in line with the market and in response to changing customer needs. So what’s next?

Live blueprints will deliver an end-to-end Edge-Fog-Cloud experience

Earlier this year, our Marketing team launched a series of IoT reference architectures and engineered solutions in the form of Blueprint Solutions, which feature real-world designs, which have not only been tested and validated in the lab but also successfully implemented in the field by customers. The idea was to share these tried and trusted designs with newcomers, who were thinking of putting their toe in the IoT water or even taking the plunge. Customers found this hugely valuable but told us they wanted more.

Industrial Automation and Energy

We now plan to bring those blueprint solutions to life in the lab, moving from a design on the page to a physical build. Our initial focus will be on the two key industry verticals, who have led the way in terms of IoT adoption, namely industrial automation and energy. As part of this, we will showcase our own end-to-end IoT portfolio, featuring products from Dell Technologies, VMware, Pivotal and RSA plus IP from our global alliance partners, GE and SAP. The result is that customers will now experience a true, end-to-end Edge-Fog-Cloud experience.

No need to reinvent the wheel

This approach serves two purposes – one is to showcase best practice in order to inspire and reassure customers that transformational change is possible.  Secondly, we want to show customers that they don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Of course, the IoT market will never be fully commoditized but we want to provide consistent building blocks to stop unnecessary customization and deliver faster and more cost-effective implementation.

Global and local

Apart from our consistent blueprint solutions focus, the labs will also feature regional partners and success stories as well as shining the light on market-ready solutions that have been validated and are ready for immediate sale. Plus, we’re expanding our reach to IoT customers around the world. Building on the success of the Amsterdam model, we will launch eight new IoT Corners over the next year, which will allow customers to have even more IoT-focused conversations with our solution experts.

Hands-on remains fundamental

So what stays the same at the lab? While IoT has certainly become more mainstream, we know that customers still need to understand how new solutions will work with existing ones. The lab is where customers go to touch and feel IoT, roll up their sleeves, work with our engineers, ask questions, build proof of concepts and architect solutions. That hands-on work is central to the very essence of the lab and won’t change. Likewise, the lab engagement continues to be a free of charge service for both existing and prospective customers.

If you are interested in availing of our IoT labs or visiting our IoT corner, please contact your sales representative, who will be happy to help.

As the market expands and matures, our lab strategy continues to be all about making IoT real for our customers. The story of our lab shows how much can happen in just three years. Here’s to the next!

Do you want to increase the IQ of your business? What’s your take on the evolving IoT environment? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.

Learn more about the Dell IoT Solutions labs

Learn more about the Blueprint Program

Learn more about the curated Dell IoT Solutions partner program

[1]2017 Gartner Three Best Practices in Selling IoT, 18 September 2017

About the Author: Jeff McCann

A leading technologist with over 30-years industry experience, Jeff McCann leads the strategy for both the Internet of Things and our OEM business at the company’s 19 global customer solution centers. The IoT labs in Limerick, Santa Clara and Singapore provide a dedicated space for customers to build, model, architect, and test their IoT solutions. With expertise spanning more than 40 industry verticals, the lab team collaborates with customers to develop workable solutions to take to market. An adjunct lecturer in IoT at the University of Limerick, Jeff has advanced experience in IT support, engineering and project management with a specific focus on IT security, IT forensic analysis and Internet of Things technologies. He also mentors start-up companies as part of the Dell EMC Espark and Entrepreneur in Residence programs, and serves on the Dell University Relations board.