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Cisco, the Internet of Everything, and Canada’s innovation economy

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A visitor walks past a Cisco advertising panel as she looks at her mobile phone at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)

Expect the Internet of Everything to have a definite Ontario flavour.

Barely three months after signing a 10-year agreement with the Ontario government that promised 1,700 research-and-development jobs and up to C$4 billion in investment, Cisco yesterday announced it had selected Toronto as the location of one of its four global Internet of Everything Innovation Centres.

Cisco says the $100 million facility will foster collaboration between a broad range of stakeholders, including startups, established companies, colleges, universities and customers, to identify and monetize business opportunities in the burgeoning Internet of Everything (IoE) space.

Revolution in the making

The Toronto Innovation Centre joins similar facilities planned for Songdo, South Korea, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Germany as the global networking leader doubles down on IoE. Rapidly falling prices for chips, memory and wireless capability, coupled with accelerating capabilities of these technologies, allows vendors to turn even the most mundane, everyday objects into intelligent, connected devices. The company estimates the number of Internet-connected devices will rise from an estimated 8.7 billion in 2012 to 50 billion in 2020, which in turn will open up significant market opportunities.

Those new markets are potentially lucrative. Rick Huijbregts, Cisco Canada’s Vice President, IoE Industry Transformation, told Yahoo! Canada Finance that IoE will drive $19 trillion in potential global business by 2022, including over $490 billion in business for Canadian private and public-sector organizations. Huijbregts said Canada’s innovation-focused economy, stable political climate, and strong colleges and universities made building the Innovation Centre here an easy choice.

“The real economic value is in the new services, applications and revenues that can be generated by applying the IoE concepts to established and new business models,” Huijbregts said. “This leads to productivity improvements, cost savings through efficiencies and by optimizing the supply chain and processes. It also leads to the opportunity to create new products and services that will generate new revenues.”

Huijbregts says the new Innovation Centre will be a springboard for connecting the elements that are already evident in the Canadian economy and driving the innovation agenda here and beyond.

“Our Innovation Centre will be very focused on developing the ecosystem not just between universities, governments and existing businesses, but new types of partners, new relationships, new startups and incubators,” he said. “Because we believe a lot a lot of this innovation may come not from existing industries. It’s the disruption that may come from new companies that will completely redefine industries as we know them today.”

Tomorrow’s growth engine

The timing is ideal. The Internet of Everything is taking root as investment in traditional IT continues to flatten. The tech research firm Gartner sees this space – which it calls the “Internet of Things” – becoming a major driver of future growth.

“While in 2015 the combined IT and telecom market will hit nearly $4 trillion, the incremental revenue generated by the Internet of Things’ suppliers is estimated to reach $309 billion per year by 2020,” Peter Sondergaard, Gartner’s senior vice president and global head of research, told the audience at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013 in November, adding half of this new activity will be driven by startups.

“The Internet of Things is a strategically important market,” he added. “It will accelerate fast and will drive both revenue and cost efficiencies.”

Huijbregts says the Innovation Centre is part of a broader process that will see the company announce additional partnerships and investments.

“This is not a one time thing,” he said. “It’s really a journey that we cannot do by ourselves. Enhancing our relationships with government and universities and the private sector will be a tremendous focus. We see the Innovation Centre merely as a catalyst to nurture those relationships, grow them and create new ones. And we’re confident that out of it comes a lot of business opportunity for everyone.”

Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.