Andy Rhodes of Dell: View IoT as an Opportunity, Before it Becomes a Threat

At this week’s Dell World event, as the case at last month’s Dreamforce event, some of the main focus was around the Internet of Things (IoT).  And while much of the discussion with IoT is usually aimed at big enterprises, small and mid-size businesses need to understand what opportunities and risks there may be to their success as more and more devices begin communicating with each other.

Andy Rhodes, Executive Director for Dell’s IoT Solutions, shares his perspective on why the IoT today is where the cloud was eight years ago.  And why it’s important for small businesses to understand what opportunities come with it, before those opportunities become nails in the coffin of their business.

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internet of things iotSmall Business Trends: Can you give me a little bit of your personal background.

Andy Rhodes: I’ve been at Dell about 15 years now, mainly on the enterprise side.  I ran the server business in Europe for a while, and have been in the US eight years doing a variety of roles from service, storage, virtualization.  Recently, I was the General Manager of our professional work station business.  And I took on this exciting role around IoT around nine months ago, and it’s going at a crazy pace.

Small Business Trends: I had a chance to read something you said around IoT being what the cloud was about eight years ago.  Give me your definition of what IOT is, and talk a little bit about why you said that.

Andy Rhodes: IoT – it’s a buzz word in the industry.  But I think it helps because it gives a perspective of a change in the industry.  The first 20 years of the internet were about people and applications interacting with the internet.  And this has been going on for a while, it’s not a new for a lot of our customers.  But the next 20 years is about things – devices, inanimate objects. Whether that’s sensors in lights.  Whether that’s video cameras, whether that’s big, industrial machinery, but all of that connected together.  

That’s the real difference here, and I think sometimes the word IoT overshadows the use cases that customers are really trying to achieve. So when we actually go and speak to customers, we usually say, ‘Hey, what are you trying to do around making your building smarter and what are the outcomes? What are you trying to do to make your manufacturing process more efficient?  Or what are you doing with all this data you’re gathering? Is it driving a new business model or a new revenue stream?’.  

I think the word IoT sometimes gets in the way, and you’ve got to get into the actual specific industry vertical use cases. And:

  • What are they connecting?
  • Why are they connecting?
  • What data has been created?
  • What are you going to do with that data?

And the reason I talk about cloud eight years ago was, it was the same. People thought the cloud was one thing and they’re like, ‘Hey.  I need to get me some cloud.  Where do I buy some cloud?’.  And it was like, ‘well what are you trying to actually achieve?’.

Small Business Trends: You talk about data, and these devices and sensors are going to create even more data.  But then you brought it back home and talked about it in terms of use cases.  Maybe you could explain IoT and bees.

Andy Rhodes: Well we have the internet of bees and we have the internet of cows.  So I’ll talk quickly about the internet of bees.  The honey bee is actually becoming an endangered species, especially in parts of Europe.  And it’s critical to our agriculture and it fertilizes seeds. And by the way, we have not put sensors on bees.  No bees were harmed in the making of this story…

But we’ve got a beehive on the roof in our solutions center in Limerick, Ireland.  And we’ve worked with one of the bee conservation charities over there. We’ve got video feeds.  We’ve got sensors that see how many bees are in the hive, when they come, when they go.  What CO2 emissions they’re emitting out of the beehive.  And really, we’re gathering as much data as we can and sharing that with the scientific community so they can study the bees.  

So it’s just a great example of how we use Dell technology.  We have all of that piping into a gateway.  And then we have it transferred to other parts of the world.  And we analyze that data further.  So it’s really a way to showcase our capabilities, but also Dell is a very environmentally-friendly company, and we wanted to do something around the sustainability side.

And then the internet of cows, which I think is a great story, is we’re working with a farm in India who are connecting up their cows and looking at what they eat, when they take their cow vitamins, and then mapping that back with milk yields to see how they can improve their milk yields.  So we’ve got bees and cows.

Small Business Trends: Well, once again, all this data is being accumulated. Dell just came out with this new gateway. And you talk about having this gateway at the edge of the network and being able to analyze the information coming in as soon as you get it.  Talk a little bit about the importance around that.

Andy Rhodes: Yeah. I think if you look at 50 billion, 60 billion, 100 billion things connected in the next five, ten years, it’s big.  Well that’s going to create exabytes of net new data. If all of that gets backhauled to the cloud or the data center, we don’t have the network bandwidth to do that as a society.  And most of the data, in its raw state, is not that useful.  It could be a light bulb – saying it’s on, it’s on, it’s on, every second.  And it’s really the change of state of that data, or the interaction of one state of data with another that’s important.  The light bulb went on because someone walked in the room. I had a motion sensor that captured that.  The light bulb went on.  It was on for ten seconds.  That then becomes useful cause you can track it.  

And what the gateway’s role is – and I call it the spam filter to the cloud in an IoT setting – it allows you to gather that data in real time and do the first scrub of the data very, very close to the edge of the network.  And so it allows you to then only send meaningful data over more expensive, 3G, 4G, wired networks.  And then there’s some cases where you don’t have connection to the internet all the time, right?  It’s sporadic, so you might need – or it might be on and off and it’s a mission-critical environment.  So you need that local processing, the local rules engines, the local ability.  

Small Business Trends: What are the opportunities small businesses may have, maybe not today but possibly tomorrow, around utilizing what the IoT has to offer from a business perspective?

Andy Rhodes: One is they can be a consumer of a lot of what IoT is pushing.  Smarter buildings is a huge one.  If you can save 20%, 30% energy, even in a small building, that’s real savings.  If you can use IoT to increase your production yields, then that’s all savings.  So the one side is just how do small businesses buy through vendors, IoT solutions like smarter buildings, and reap the benefits in terms of efficiency.  I think that’s pretty basic.  

I think small businesses should be saying, what are the disruptors here and how can I maybe change my business model. ELM Energy is a very small business and they saw a niche in the market about energy grid management.  And they made that their business. And so there’s a shift in business models.

We have another customer called KMC Controls that is a mid-sized building management company that’s really been selling bricks and mortar building management systems for a while.  They said, the future is in collecting data on buildings and analyzing why buildings are inefficient and then driving the adoption of that data to help customers be more efficient.

So I think there is an absolute imperative for small businesses to ask if I’m going to get left behind in my business model if I don’t go and look at IoT and see what it might do for my business.  Whether you’re in the transport industry or whether you’re a florist– I think people should start to look at it because every time there’s a rift in technology, people either get ahead or they get left behind.

Small Business Trends: Tell us where we could learn more about what Dell is doing with IoT.

Andy Rhodes: Just go to, there’s some really good videos up there and there’s explanations of what we do and how we can help.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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