How big is the Internet of Things? It's a bit of a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question but it's a fair starting assumption that this piece of string will be very long indeed and any company that can act as an IoT platform stands a good chance of being very significant indeed.
One company wanting in on the action is Kii Corporation, a Tokyo-headquartered startup led by Masanari Arai, a one-time IBM ThinkPad, IntelliSync and Nokia executive. That CV is germane because he is now using the network picked up in managing businesses in Asia and Silicon Valley to forge links for Kii.
Kii started life in 2008 as a mobile application development environment and has morphed to become an IoT management platform too, in part through acquisition.
"We understand how to sell in China, Japan and Taiwan," Arai tells me. "We have a strong connection to those companies and we can manage any device, register it, control and update the device, get status information and then perform analytics on it."
One exemplary customer is Yankon, one of the world's largest makers of LED lights. With Kii, the company can gain insights into how many people change lighting colours, how often and for how long they're switched on and off, brightness settings, geographical location and more.
These are early days with only about $5m raised in funding so far but Kii has more than 20 device makers as customers and names include NEC, NTT docomo, Acer and HTC. It takes a per-device charge per year and Kii is now expanding into Europe. Rather than knocking on the doors of the thousands of companies that will partake in the Internet of Things, Kii is dependent on some powerful partnerships, including one with the Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba Group and its Aliyun cloud, another with Japan's Softbank and another with device chip maker Qualcomm. Arai hopes these super powers will effectively act as master distributors, helping to broker deals with many other customers.
Arai knows his rivals are many and often enormous, including Amazon, Google and Microsoft, but he contends that this is an advantage as device makers might not want to jump into bed with such powerful concerns and the giants themselves will inevitably lack focus. Neutrality, in this context, might be deemed an advantage and Kii offers a broad set of tools and fast deployment either on premises or in the cloud, Arai says.
"Chinese IoT companies are really booming right now but we see opportunities all over the world. We don't have to invest so much to go global: we give the SDK to the device manufacturer. We don't do professional services work for them and we have a network of system integrators."
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