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June 12, 2017updated 13 Jun 2017 4:54pm

Cisco UK CEO on failing IoT projects & the boiling frog syndrome

What are the similarities between the early days of the Internet of Things & big data? There's a lot of failure.

By James Nunns

The Internet of Things is in its early days but the biggest buzzword of them all is showing a number of similarities with its buzzword cousin big data.

Firstly, there’s a lot of hype and there’s a lot of big numbers, ‘the market will be worth $2 trillion with half a trillion devices’. Similarly the big data market has had a lot of giant numbers thrown at it, but the main similarity is that creating a successful project is extremely difficult and those trying to get on board with both these buzzwords are frequently failing.

A recent Cisco report found that around 60% of IoT initiatives are stalling at the Proof of Concept stage, and only 26% of companies have had an IoT initiative that they consider to be a complete success.

Scot Gardner, Cisco UK CEO

Scot Gardner, Cisco UK CEO.

The argument can be made that with all new technologies comes failure, or that failure is just a part of the modern business that can fail fast and move forward to amend the issues and try again. However, whilst some of that may be true, there’s still an expense associated with failure, whether it’s time or money there’s always a cost.

Cisco’s UK CEO Scot Gardner told CBR: “Why perhaps do you see projects not completing in the original way they were envisaged? It’s complex.”

“In big data projects you’ve got to make a lot of choices that people probably have thought about or covered before.”

“What you can’t do is try and do everything at once. So you’ve got to make some really key strategic choices and then have a minimum viable product type of approach to getting something out of the door to be successful.”

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Gardner said that there’s often the temptation to “try and boil the ocean” or to go too quickly and not make some of the foundational choices but in the end it will come down to experience.

For Cisco, its position is to try and play a role in putting into place those key foundational elements, essentially to try and improve the structure of projects and to remove some of the heavy lifting.

The fact remains though that the vast majority of projects are failing, so have businesses been blinded by the big exciting numbers and have dived head first into projects without any fundamentals in place?

“I don’t know if people are blinded by it or, I think it’s one of those things, it’s the frog being boiled – it’s happening to you quickly and slowly at the same time, so are you noticing just how much stuff is going on?”

Read more: Failing IoT projects highlight need for strategy change

The Cisco UK CEO admits to being on the bleeding edge when it comes to IoT technology with 100 IP devices already in his house, but he didn’t plan for this – it just happened. That’s what he thinks will happen more generally and it’s what he means about the frog being boiled, “you can say people are blinded by it, I just think it’s an inevitability of the way we are traveling.”

The question then moves to actually making the Internet of Things real. Like any good tech company this is not a challenge but an opportunity for them.

Take security, Gardner agrees that many IoT devices now are built to a price point and that many won’t be as hardened as they should be, “I think that’s an opportunity for us to look at things like segmentation and identity, and that is the role the network can play as both sensing and responding to it.”

That’s where Cisco really thinks it can fit in, where the company can excel and has a real differentiator. The company is using its expertise in networks to forge a dominant path in the IoT market. 

“This concept of identity and segmentation, now that’s quite a different concept to where networking has been for the past 30 years. IP networking has been about getting everything to talk to each other now it’s about getting everything to talk to each other appropriately,” said Gardner.

Far from being alone in the market and able to dominate single-handedly, Cisco is up against the biggest tech names who are all vying for their piece of the pie. Take Edge Computing for example, there’s HPE, Dell EMC, MapR, Hortonworks, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and a whole host of others vendors that think they can do things in that space better than anyone else.

Gardner believes that the network provides a unique point of visibility, “The ability to see, particularly now with the acquisition of AppDynamics, from the application layer right through the data centre, right through the network, and up into the cloud whether it’s private or public, is a unique position right now.

Read more: IoT, M2M and DDoS to dominate digital future – Cisco report

“Enterprises will choose how they use IT, some will be private some public, and probably all shades of grey in between. The ability to see holistically across that model and add policy and security and to add choice about how you do that is a unique position.”

There’s a feeling of operating in the IoT space as being a natural one for the company, partly because its world has always been about connecting things, “a network is a living breathing thing that always changes, it’s always had multiple things in it that we didn’t control.”

The IoT world is still very much in its early days, projects will fail, businesses will be blinded by the big numbers, and vendors will compete for market space. Cisco’s position is a healthy one and if it can truly leverage its network expertise and insights then it will come to dominate.

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