Internet of Things offers opportunity for companies big and small

Internet of Things offers opportunity for companies big and small

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A recent survey by Tata Consulting Services indicates that Internet of Things investments are predominately made by very large enterprises. But earlier this year, the 2015 Brother Small Business Survey found that a third of small businesses surveyed would like to deploy technology to take advantage of IoT.
 
Does that mean that companies in the mid-to-large tier are going to be left sitting on the sidelines? Count Kevin Rusin among those who think IoT provides smaller businesses with the opportunity to compete with Fortune 500 giants.
 
As CFO of two separate but related companies, he’s pursuing IoT in both consumer and business markets. One, McKinley Equipment Corp., distributes and services material handling, industrial lift, commercial door and loading dock equipment in California, Nevada and Arizona.  The other, McKinley Elevator Corp., does the same for residential home elevators and accessibility products for commercial and residential applications.
 
“The barriers have come down between the small guy and the big guy,” Rusin says. “I can compete at a GE level; at any level I want to if I push the technology. Everybody is playing on the same playing field.”
 
From shipping ports to retailer’s loading docks, he says, “Every product that you buy has gone over or under a product that we can sell, install or service.”
 
His journey to IoT began with a simple customer service issue. A few years back, the elevator company had installed residential elevators for several movie stars. “One very well known customer’s elevator was not working one day and I saw by chance his service ticket going through the system. I said to myself ‘why is this elevator not working and how do we keep this up and running for him while he’s away.’”
 
That led to his investigation of how to get products — many of which sit idle for long periods until they are needed — to report “when they are sick.” He found two rocket scientists and set them to work building hardware and software. “It’s been a two-plus year journey for McKinley, and it hasn’t been an easy one and hasn’t been inexpensive.”
 
After one very large customer asked for a full-scale rollout, Rusin realized he needed help. He’d been feeding data from McKinley’s beta-testing projects into the mobile field service management application from ServiceMax, which has partnered to combine its capabilities with PTC, Inc.’s ThingWorx IoT platform. “Now we can go back and say this is how we’re going to roll this out,” Rusin says.
 
He envisions IoT applications ranging from remotely power-cycling stair lifts in schools, to helping combat retail "shrinkage" by alerting store managers about open loading bays, to predicting likely breakdowns in supply chain distribution systems. With IoT, says Rusin, smaller companies can provide a level of service previously only expected of very large companies.
 
He’s not concerned about stories over IoT security concerns because much of his efforts will involve simply connecting data from “dumb” sensors and the remainder will utilize its own “smart” devices that will never be connected to customer networks and incorporate controls to ensure safe descents.
 
If the McKinley companies can be so gung-ho about IoT, why might others be holding back? Rusin offers a possible reason: “You can put a sensor on any product out there, but the real intellectual property comes from understanding what it’s telling you. You don’t just flip a switch and buy number-two sensors at an electronics store. The big buzz came up last year and quickly died out because businesses saw the amount of work involved.”

Kevin Rusin is Chief Financial Officer at McKinley Equipment Corporation where he leads all financial growth and operations. With nearly 25 years of experience managing business processes and strategic partnerships, Kevin is an industry veteran, playing a key role in transforming McKinley's field service department. Kevin holds a Master of Business Administration from University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Science from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Pete Bartolik writes regularly about business technology and IT management issues for IDG. He was news editor of the IT management publication, Computerworld, and a reporter for a daily newspaper. He resides in Naples, Florida.

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