IoT North December 2020 / Fireside Chat

2020 has been a historic year, marking pivotal turns in the global economy, industries across all sectors and people's lives. The year has shown tremendous changes in the IoT industry in terms of the speed of IoT adoption and market opportunities. Seven guest speakers were invited to the Christmas IoT North meetup for informal talks to round off the year, with some discussions over the main events in the IoT sector. Dave Swan from Tharsus (, Daniel Sexton from RedChip Ventures (, Matt Hatton from Transforma Insights (, Ben Gilhespy from Engineering and Manufacturing Network (, Joe Routledge from Lumo (, Savvas Papagiannidis from Newcastle University Business School ( and David Tischler from Balena ( represented sectors which either develop IoT solutions or could potentially support IoT industry providers. Different perspectives brought up the highlights of the year relating to the trends in the market and the ecosystem development, including the impact that the pandemic has had on organisations supplying and using IoT. The talks revolved around the ways in which COVID-19 has redefined the supply and demand in the market, has facilitated digital transformations, has turned the direction of innovation and pushed forward the need for collaborative work among regional sectors.

Forced acceleration of innovation: Covid-19 has forced companies to adopt a forward thinking approach, even in the sectors which are more traditional in their practices. For example, manufacturing companies, which used to be reluctant to engage in IoT, have changed business models, favouring agile processes. Manufacturers started seeing IoT as a necessity to adapt to the changing reality, rather than venturous investment. One of the key activities conducive to business model transformations towards innovation adoption is collaborations, and the year has demonstrated the ability of businesses in the region to play collaboratively. To sustain innovation adoption in the future, companies should be communicated with about the outcomes, provided step-by-step guidance and shown successful cases of digital transformation. Bigger companies should be exemplars for smaller ones, for the latter could follow their path. There should be a better understanding that IoT can be a key for retuning business back to normal and accelerating profit growth through better automation, safety, security and connectivity.

Value-driven innovation: The global pandemic has halted innovation processes in some areas while intensifying research and development in others. On the one hand, disruptions in the manufacturing and supply chain have triggered fundamental shifts in the demand in the IoT market, which is characterised by the decline in the sales of IoT devices. On the other hand, there are reinforced priorities towards the development of solutions capable of addressing the urgent needs of society. Driven by the care for business and community, companies like Tharsus have become more involved in IoT projects. The companies are refocusing attention to combat the propagation of the virus and mitigate the consequences of the pandemic in the work environment. Using proactive thinking and a value-driven approach to innovation, Tharsus have rolled-out Bump wearable devices, which help collect behavioural insights to stop the virus spreading in office spaces. The preconditions of value-driven innovation are serendipity and experimentation. While any business is fixated on profit maximisation, costs and mistakes are inevitable and should not become an obstacle for impact-driven research and development. Companies should not build vested interest solutions, but design solutions to deliver the outcome for business and people. Another obstacle to value-driven innovation is over-commitment. Emotional attachment to ideas may cloud objective thinking and destroy the experimentation culture, which is so important for creative solutions.

Support and collaborations: Another approach towards innovation is to build a connection between academia and industry through a range of university schemes offering practice-oriented research and collaborations. Academic involvement can help provide a different angle in the project implementation rooted in different international backgrounds, skills sets and views of university students and staff. For example, an Arrow Scheme can provide access to academics, innovators and experts to help research and innovation projects in the North East in the spheres of life sciences and healthcare, advanced manufacturing, creative and digital technologies, offshore, subsea and energy technologies. Another initiative is KTP, which is a UK-wide programme aimed at improving competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. The University allocates a KTP Associate to work exclusively on the project, based at the company premises, to create new capabilities. The third option is a consultancy, based on the expertise of academics and researchers. Also, through collaborative research, academics can deliver evidence-based findings, informing companies’ decision making and practices, bringing commercial and societal impact and facilitating the exchange of expertise and talents.

IoT Trends: Some technological trends have been underway for quite a long time but they received a brighter spotlight over the past year. First, there has been huge attention and conflicting arguments around the replacement of cellular networks. This year brought more clarity as to how and when 2G and 3G networks will be replaced. Also, there is a stronger focus on the use cases of 5G in the private network for unlocking business efficiencies and the potential of 5G in a critical business sector. Second, the past year demonstrated the increasing impact of technological giants on the IoT industry. For example, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT platforms are currently leaders because of the capabilities in the IoT platform landscape, potentially affecting the hosting and the management of applications. As a counterpart to clouds, more devices are being pushed to the edge, predicting a growth in edge computing and 5G network offerings. The past year has also brought to the limelight the application and capabilities of vision AI for industries, in terms of cost reduction, improved optimisation and increased productivity.