With an open standard for obtaining quotes and certification of potential vendors, the IoT marketplace could see safe and substantial growth

By Richard Quinnell, editor-in-chief

With
everyone jumping onto the IoT bandwagon, confusion reigns supreme. More than
400 software platforms for IoT systems have arisen with more on the way,
leaving potential users with major challenges deciding what to purchase from
whom. The International M2M Council (IMC) is trying to make acquiring IoT
software quicker, easier, and safer for buyers, creating a stable marketplace
for buyers and sellers alike.

One
of the key ways in which companies screen potential vendors to help them on
major projects is to create a request for proposal (RFP) that defines the
project’s preliminary requirements and solicits competitive bidding from
vendors interested in taking on the project. Unlike a request for quotation
(RFQ), which asks for pricing on existing products, the RFP is used to solicit
proposals for creating something that does not yet exist. Respondents must
reply with information that addresses the technical approach that they would
use to meet project requirements and the costs involved, and they must include
business information to assure the buyer that they can complete the project as
bid.

But
in the still-emerging world of the IoT, many vendors lack the solid success
history traditionally needed to win an RFP. This leaves buyers hesitant to
engage such vendors without extensive investigation into their backgrounds. The
result is a slower and riskier process for getting projects launched.

According
to surveys that the IMC has conducted,
the 25,000 IoT buyers within its membership would welcome the introduction of a
standardized RFP document template to help in defining their IoT software needs,
to which potential vendors could respond. Furthermore, some 83% of those
surveyed would also welcome a mechanism by which third-party consultants could
help certify vendor compliance with an RFP and vet potential vendors. With such
mechanisms in place, vendors could more quickly and completely prepare RFPs and
be assured that the bids they get back are from proven reliable vendors and
conform to the requirements.

IMC_Validation_Chart

IMC’s validation program for IoT
software vendors includes three key elements in its evaluation process. Image
source: IoT M2M Council.

Based
on these results, the IMC has begun work on a program that aims to stimulate, streamline, and strengthen
the safety of IoT buyer/vendor interactions. The program has two parts. The
first part is an RFP template, formed in an open
collaboration process with input from more than 100 potential IoT buyers and
released at CES. The template provides a standardized way of expressing the
buyer’s project requirements and information needs for evaluating responses,
helping prevent inconsistent terminology and ensure completeness.

The
second part of the IMC’s program is the establishment of a third-party vendor
validation process, conducted by Beecham Research, which pre-qualifies
potential responders to RFPs coming from IMC members. The involvement of a third-party
evaluator seeks to reassure potential buyers that the certified vendor
companies have been thoroughly vetted and that their capabilities are as
promised. The validation process certifies participating vendors as “Model IoT
Providers” by using a combination of hands-on evaluation, customer references,
and a survey detailing the vendor’s platform’s capabilities in areas such as
security, connectivity, analytics, and device management. At the end of the
process, vendors receive a report that they can send to buyers in response to
their RFP, significantly shortening the sales cycle. To further speed the
process as well as to encourage vendors to participate in the program, the IMC
will provide member companies creating RFPs with qualified vendor lists drawn
from the validation program. Three major IoT providers — HPE, PTC, and Wind River — have taken a lead role in trialing the validation
process.

While the current effort is limited to IoT
software, it will not be stopping there. The IMC intends to expand its program
to include hardware and connectivity solutions as well. The goal of all of this
effort is to build a robust marketplace in which potential IoT buyers and
vendors can interact quickly while minimizing risk, thus streamlining growth of
the IoT. If it can achieve this goal, everyone will benefit.