Yesterday Qualcomm announced the sale of one of the business units that built the company: Omnitracs, the fleet management technology division that pioneered GPS location tracking in over-the road trucking. There’s something north of $700MM changing hands. Gigaom listed their article about it under cellular-networks, gps, and mobile technology — which is all relevant, but misses the essential. Omnitracs changed long haul trucking and construction equipment from stupid hunks of iron and petro-chemicals, to the most connected, data driven, highly monitored asset classes in the world outside power generation.
Anyone interested in IoT would do well to study the success and failures in this market — what apps worked broadly, what never took off, and maybe some hints of why. Omnitracs guys ought to be sought after by IoT’ers. They, their partners and industrial customers have learned painful lessons around whiz-bang features, complicated integration to enterprise systems, and user acceptance that consumer IoT has barely begun to face.
At a previous start-up, the current Scante team developed some of the most sophisticated web apps that had been fielded to that time on the back of the incredible connected product data flowing from Omnitracs systems deployed all over North and South America. We got GPS location, operating parameters, environmental data, and more from multiple onboard sensors — all very much the same data types and update frequencies ideal for consumer IoT. The data-flows and vertical specific, customer facing web apps for service, support, all kinds of back-end enterprise functions, and analytics benefiting OEMs and end users made sense in those high value markets. But a $15K connection was just a little hard to justify for a coffee maker or washing machine.
For most people, including a good percentage of the reporters and bloggers on the scene, IoT is more of a mobile enabled, remote control for stuff than anything else. From locks, to lightbulbs, to kitchen gadgets, the buzz is about access to control functions and current status via smartphone. Promises of deeper insights, integration, or automation from usage and condition data is the stuff of VC pitches and an insightful podcast or two, but it’s not reaching consumer markets in any big way quite yet.
What Omnitracs showed over a 30 year span is that usage and condition information has big economic value and far reaching business implications. That lesson gets a lot of lip service from pundits talking big data analytics and connected dataflows, but how all this high potential rubber hits the proverbial road isn’t well understood by most markets for IoT. IoT for consumer durables is definitely going to be influenced by demand for nifty end user features, but like industrial connected product data-flows that have prospered for almost three decades, OEM and supplier business models need IoT to drive customer support and lifetime product revenue. It has to provide the insight that comes from having a window into the day to day or minute by minute experience of end users. Rubber, meet road.