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Internet of Things holds huge potential for economy – and BlackBerry

The Blackberry sign is pictured in Waterloo June 19, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The Internet of Things is quickly becoming a thing. And if you’re BlackBerry, the timing couldn’t be better.

Research firm IDC this week released figures that show the Internet of Things is set to undergo explosive growth in Canada as businesses here figure out what it is and how it can benefit them. While the study, commissioned by Telus, confirms that only 6 per cent of Canadian businesses have implemented IoT and another 7 per cent are planning to do so this year, it estimates 30 per cent more will dive in within the next two years. IDC projects IoT-related spending in Canada will see 375 per cent growth by 2018 – to $21 billion from $5.6 billion in 2013 – while the number of connected devices will more than triple, from 28 million to 114 million, over the same period.

What it is

Like earlier industry buzzwords such as “cloud” and “Web 2.0”, the Internet of Things is often misunderstood. At its core, it involves adding computing, processing, sensing and wireless capabilities to everyday items not traditionally associated with technology – including clothing, roadways and other urban infrastructure, home appliances, office and factory equipment – which then interact autonomously with the immediate environment, and generate and share data which can then be analyzed. IoT’s promise lies in large-scale networks of intelligent connected devices that drive fundamental improvements in performance, reliability and productivity.

“The Internet of Things can fundamentally alter the way Canadian companies do business and we expect a sharp spike in growth as business leaders embrace the technology,” Jim Senko, Telus SVP of Small Business and Emerging Markets, said in a statement, adding, “There's tremendous innovation in this area and I believe that the opportunities that IoT technology can offer businesses is limited only by the imagination.”

A future BlackBerry pillar

As it continues it pivot toward enterprise customers, BlackBerry has moved beyond the imagining phase, and is positioning itself as a key player in the nascent IoT space. Its QNX embedded technology is already being implemented in a range of vertical markets, including automotive, healthcare, and utilities, and in May the company unveiled Project Ion, its moonshot-scale project designed to help customers integrate IoT into their businesses.

BlackBerry describes Project Ion as a three-part initiative that includes a cloud-based platform that uses QNX Software Systems technology, an ecosystem of hardware and software developers and application providers and operators, and industry partnerships with groups like the Application Developers Alliance and the Industrial Internet Consortium. Its goal is to smooth out the usual speed bumps to adoption, and give companies additional incentive to buy into IoT.

The rush to be first

The initiative is crucial to BlackBerry’s long-term strategic shift toward the enterprise. If Project Ion delivers the goods, it establishes BlackBerry as a major player early in the rapid-growth phase of the nascent IoT market. The Waterloo-based company will need to move quickly, however, as other vendors are already rushing in to establish their own IoT beachheads.

Dell, Intel, and Samsung have formed the Open Internet Consortium to establish broad-based IoT standards, while LG, Microsoft, and Sharp are pursuing a similar roadmap as part of the AllSeen Alliance. Meanwhile, Apple’s just-announced partnership with IBM for business app development and solutions sales further muddies the increasingly turbulent competitive waters in the suddenly-emergent IoT space. Investors, nervous about the deal’s impact on BlackBerry’s enterprise fortunes, drove share prices down after the partnership was announced late Tuesday.

With so many industry giants fighting to have their voices heard, BlackBerry needs a laser-focused IoT message if it hopes to stand out and connect with enterprise customers who still don’t know who to trust. Its legacy as an early cloud-first vendor and a legitimate enterprise player will help, but even that will only take it so far. How quickly and effectively BlackBerry refines its IoT message and sells it could foretell the very future of the company.