Facilitating the growth of the North East of England IoT ecosystem

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This case study will address:

  • Exploitation of legacy data, software, hardware, facilities, skills or knowledge;
  • Bequeathing a rich legacy of new or improved data sources, technology, infrastructure, facilities, practices, skills or partnerships.
  • Development of skills, including: technical, managerial and methods

This Pitch-In supported project aimed to bring academics from Newcastle University and industry stakeholders together to create a stimulating space in which ideas could flow and new relationships could be formed. Its primary aim was to support IoT-specialist businesses through three objectives:

  1. To map the national IoT ecosystem.
  2. To study the barriers to adoption and growth of IoT.
  3. To offer practical and achievable ways to overcome these barriers.

Understanding the IoT ecosystem is important for helping those businesses that specialise in IoT and innovation to flourish and grow. An IoT ecosystem is all the components that enable businesses, governments and consumers to connect to their IoT devices. Mapping the ecosystem can help identify areas where support is necessary for businesses, come up with ways to address barriers to growth and help businesses to overcome them. 

Through Pitch-In support, knowledge exchange (KE)  and collaboration between academia and industry were central to the project. KE activities allow universities to engage with industry to make a contribution to the economy and society, and, in return, receive inspiration and practical guidance in order to focus their research efforts. 

By interacting with SMEs, academic Pitch-In partners also hoped to forward their research in IoT, for example by developing new research project ideas; negotiating access to suitable businesses for IoT research and development projects; and identifying opportunities for mutual teaching and learning engagement such with regional IoT businesses.

Barriers to IoT adoption

The adoption of IoT in industries can contribute to more agile operations and is believed to have a significant impact on the economy. 

However, introducing new IoT systems or updating and expanding existing ones, can come with a number of complex challenges. 

  • Building IoT capacity and collaborations: This often involves a number of disciplines and involves a variety of stakeholders. It impacts on existing processes, structures and staff roles and there may be a level of education and partnership development needed to tackle the barriers.
  • Derisking IoT adoption: Businesses need reassurances regarding the innovation risk versus the final impact and value. 
  • Developing IoT and ensuring fitness for purpose: A coherent proposition around IoT so that new IoT and legacy systems and devices work together is needed.
  • Trust and uncertainty: There is a lack of trust in IoT and how it works among certain businesses.

What did you do?

Developing the IoT ecosystem

This Pitch-In project successfully met its aims by:

  • Updating and extending the IoT Nations database, a publicly available, UK-wide list of companies working in IoT. 

Having updated the IoT Nations database, this was used to map clusters of IoT business according to their activity. Their websites were text mined and a report produced to provide high-quality information and insights into IoT. This was done by cleaning the database and then adding new companies to it. The final list featured about 1,000 companies that specialise in IoT. This represents a finely tuned list of businesses that might benefit from further support, who were then targeted for the events series.

  • Reviewing the barriers to IoT-adoption by businesses and carrying out research to identify the significance of these barriers. Following the literature review of IoT adoption barriers, a report was produced identifying which companies across the UK have which barriers.
  • Supporting the delivery of a monthly webinar series for IoT North Meet-Up. During the pandemic these replaced a series of planned face-to-face events. The events aimed to connect companies interested in developing IoT, facilitate discussions between individuals and address barriers to IoT adoption. This was a highly successful event series with more than a dozen webinars for IoT practitioners and businesses, featuring numerous practical talks on developing IoT applications and services. For each event a report and videos of the talks were produced as well as videos to disseminate the findings. Webinars covered all aspects of IoT including artificial intelligence (AI), vision and machine learning, software, platforms and tools, business models, applications and robots.
  • Creating the IoT Marketplace which is part of the IoT North initiative – IoT North spearheads the acceleration of the adoption of IoT and its marketplace is a space for innovative businesses to find the right IoT solutions to help them solve their business problems. It showed the value of the IoT solution, and detailing which companies offer this solution. 

What was the result?

A number of positive outcomes have come out of Pitch-In’s partners’ involvement in developing the IoT ecosystem:

  • The setting up of the structures and network to connect companies working in IoT.
  • The updating and streamlining of the IoT Nations database identified geographically focussed IoT clusters.
  • The completion of a literature review and research into barriers and companies.
  • The online event series opened up opportunities for engagement among stakeholders. With the move to online events due to COVID-19, project partners were able to extend their geographical reach to bring in IoT companies from the rest of the UK and from overseas, such as Spain  and the US (New York, California, Colorado).
  • The engagement with external industry partners through the IoT North initiatives was particularly successful with 25 to 40 attendees at the webinars.

Lessons learnt 

  • The project was an excellent way to bring academic and industry stakeholders together. It opened up new opportunities for collaboration and research and teaching and learning.
  • Having been forced to move the event series online during the pandemic, this demonstrated how much can still be achieved in terms of collaboration. The webinars were more efficient, however it can be difficult to create relationships online. A better mix of online and face-to-face events would have been preferable. 
  • Connecting capabilities: Newcastle University brought in the expertise to cleanse the database. For the webinars, IoT North brought in a wealth of speakers with diverse IoT specialisms and hosted the events. As a supporting partner, Newcastle University provided the platform, advertising and reports.

What’s next?

Moving forward, Pitch-In partners for the IoT ecosystem plan to continue supporting the IoT North meetups. With relationships now established with a range of innovative IoT businesses in the North of England, it is hoped that this will open up opportunities for future research and teaching and learning projects for Newcastle University. 

The end of the on-going restrictions will offer the opportunity to meet company representatives face-to-face at events and form more meaningful relationships. More funded project opportunities are also being considered such as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPS).

Pitch-In has bought a two-year license for an IoT platform, which will run for a further year.

Professor Savvas Papagiannidis, Newcastle University said:

“The Pitch-In programme’s support opened up a wealth of opportunities. It gave us a better understanding of who is who regionally and nationally in the IoT sector. 

There was excellent international engagement with the webinar series, which provides a model that we can replicate in the future. It’s not often that an academic can be in the same room as 25 practitioners and we have established some great ties.

What’s more the events have left an important legacy as IoT North continues to run the webinars. Here at Newcastle University, we plan to use our newly established industry contacts to engage students more with businesses and help businesses find graduates.”

Contact: 

If you are a business that uses IoT for an aspect of your work and you are interested in collaborating with Newcastle University, please contact Professor Savvas Papagiannidis, savvas.papagiannidis@newcastle.ac.uk

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