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IoT hardware sales can bolster MSPs

Offering connected devices could prove a lucrative business, given the potential to monitor a large installed base. But MSPs must prepare for the scope of the challenge.

The world is becoming increasingly connected. According to CompTIA, 20 billion devices are currently connected worldwide, and that number is predicted to grow to more than 62 billion by 2024. That interconnectivity is the installed base behind IoT.

IoT includes everything from RFID tags to sensors to medical devices. Many businesses are exploring ways to bring IoT architecture into their existing network, a potentially complex task and one likely to require a fully managed service.

Adding IoT hardware sales and services to such an offering presents an opportunity for MSPs. An MSP can help a business manage parts of the IoT buildout, as well as aspects of the architecture, including network adaptation, security and monitoring.

"It's an incredible opportunity for MSPs," said Tom Watson, channel chief advisor at NinjaOne, a remote monitoring and management vendor based in Austin. "The opportunity here is that, as an MSP, you make your money off of two things: your hardware and your service. The majority of your money is coming from the service, so wherever you can find another opportunity to sell hardware, you'd like it. You get some revenue from it, [and] it gives you more control from the top down on administering that network."

More MSPs see branching out into IoT managed services as the right move. A March 2020 CompTIA survey, "Trends in Managed Services," found that more than half of all MSPs already provide some form of IoT service. There are a number of vertical markets already in need of IoT hardware and subsequent management. The retail industry is a prime user of IoT technology, including point-of-sale systems in restaurants.

"We all have seen this move towards more digital in restaurants, especially with the pandemic, where we're going into restaurants and you're using your phone to scan," Watson said. "But I've also been to a number of restaurants that have iPads and other devices, or when they check you out, they're coming around with a tablet-type device or phone-type device that is connected to their network and the internet to run a credit card and do the transactions."

Restaurants and retailers use a wide variety of IoT devices, including surveillance and security systems, along with a number of smaller devices that sit on the network.

Securing IoT hardware

The healthcare industry is also prominent in its use of IoT devices. It is also one of the most vulnerable verticals, due to the nature of its devices.

"[Healthcare] is starting to become a much more concerning target because the prevalence of devices is growing so much," said Stephen Jones, senior director of cybersecurity at Dataprise, an MSP with headquarters in Rockville, Md. "IoT is big in hospitals; there's all kinds of internet-connected medical devices … that are very big vulnerabilities."

We're really encouraging healthcare organizations to focus on an EDR and also any mobile device management.
Jeremy HehlVice president of business development, Cyderes

IoT can potentially present new challenges for MSPs -- most notably, security threats.

"We're really encouraging healthcare organizations to focus on an EDR [endpoint detection and response] and also any mobile device management," said Jeremy Hehl, vice president of business development with Cyderes, the cyber defense and response division of Fishtech Group, a security-as-a-service provider in Kansas City, Mo.

"There are so many devices that are moving around inside a hospital -- tablets, phones, laptops," Hehl said.

The process of securing such organizations involves "getting all of the data that those devices produce into a centralized repository that correlates with threat intelligence and then having the staff … to be able to affect those indicators and those alerts that come out of those environments," he added.

Sourcing devices with security in mind

Sourcing plays a key role in keeping devices and hardware safe from security threats, especially when a client asks for something less traditionally familiar to MSPs.

"You need to educate yourself and your staff on what types of hardware there are, what the good manufacturers are, the security that comes with them, and how to manage that security, manage those devices and install a layer of monitoring over top of those devices," Watson said.

"My recommendation would be to seek out from the producer of the hardware whatever training they have and put technicians through it," he added.

Facing challenges

IoT hardware can provide additional revenue and follow-on service sales, but MSPs must take the necessary security measures to avoid customer conflicts.

"You are also going to realize you're going to the client and putting in new hardware that has a lot more endpoints, and there's a penetration or breach, security-wise, or a failure that clients don't want," Watson said. "And, if they feel like you didn't do the prep work or you didn't put that work in, you're going to have a problem."

Despite potential challenges, MSPs are still seeing a significant business advantage in offering IoT managed services. Partners that adapt to these evolving technologies can get ahead of the curve as more businesses jump on the IoT bandwagon.

"The explosion with IoT is the explosion of the amount of devices and the amount of data and management needs," Watson said. "You have to be prepared for that dramatic increase in the number of endpoints. Whenever you have more endpoints, there is more management, and it's harder to monitor. You have to have a really good handle on that monitoring piece."

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