Why Dell Is Betting Big on the Internet of Things

And what marketers need to know about the billions of connected devices

While brands are just starting to make sense of the mountains of data collected from the Internet of Things (IoT), some tech firms, Dell included, are trying to stay a step ahead by building the tools needed to power the billions of gadgets.

Joyce Mullen Dell

"If you [listen] to any analyst that covers this stuff, there's going to be between 20 [billion] and 50 billion devices attached to the Internet by 2020," said Joyce Mullen, vp and gm of Dell OEM Solutions. "All of those smart devices generate data—some portion of that data has to be analyzed, moved and stored. All of that represents a huge opportunity for us."

Indeed, estimates from research firm IDC expect the IoT market to grow to a $1.7 trillion industry in 2020, up from $655.8 billion in 2014.

As she prepped for a panel about trends shaping IoT at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, Mullen talked to Adweek about why Dell is betting big on the next wave of connected devices and what marketers need to know about the burgeoning industry.

Adweek: What's a good example of the Internet of Things' potential to improve the business world?

Joyce Mullen: Like a trucking company that is moving big tractor-trailers filled with groceries across the country and trying to figure out how to do that more efficiently. What we're finding is that it's less about the vertical and more about the use case. When we talk to retailers, they're trying to figure out how to manage the environment, noise, energy and the flow of traffic. It's more of a building-management use case, but it's in a retail environment.

A couple of years ago, Dell opened an IoT lab in Silicon Valley. What's new on that front?

Since then, we've opened another lab in Limerick, [Ireland] and another in Singapore about a month ago. The purpose is twofold: Showcase our capability and help customers think about the art of the possible. Many customers haven't thought about what they could do to truly digitize a company, [so] we have a lot of demos in there that are meant to showcase opportunity. A more practical objective is to give customers access to servers, storage, networking and analytics so that they can test their solutions without having to make big investments. We literally have benches where our customers can come and work with our engineers to see how to make their software work running on Dell equipment. That's particularly effective for startup [clients] because they don't have a ton of money to spend on testing equipment.

Are you helping brands use IoT data in their marketing?

We're working with a retailer that wanted to save money and energy—[the retailer] didn't want to heat or cool rooms that didn't need to be heated or cooled. Now we're working with them on applications that can help customers as they enter a store and find what they're looking for without having to traipse through aisles of products that are less interesting to them.

What other projects are you particularly proud of right now?

We have something on the roof of our Limerick lab called the Internet of Bees. There's a problem with the bee population—it's declining and has implications for agriculture and pollination. So we're working with some researchers to build this beehive to track the behavior of the bees [through sensors].


        Dell is researching the Internet of Bees on the roof of its Limerick lab.

Researchers then take all that data and look for clues about what contributes to the decline. You never would have been able to do that 10 years ago because the cost of setting it up would have been prohibitive.

What do marketers need to know about how IoT impacts their work?