These efforts are initially focussing on measures to make workplaces COVID-safe as businesses increasingly get back to work, with particular – but not exclusive – attention to logistics and retail.
"COVID-19 really changed the game for people," said Lenovo commercial IoT group president John Gordon. For example, one retailer had a three-year plan for adopting click and collect, but the pandemic meant it had to be implemented in three weeks.
Lenovo can be the partner that businesses need in this context, he said, because it takes "proven, packaged solutions" and adds the implementation experience required. The idea is to make buying commercial IoT systems as simple as buying PCs.
Examples of the 'back to work' systems the company is supplying include touchless site access (doors open automatically when authorised phones come into close proximity), temperature screening (drawing attention to anyone with a fever), digital signage, room occupancy monitoring, and private and confidential on-premises contact tracing and alerting.
Lenovo identified the components needed for such systems, integrated them using "140 steps of validation", and can now deploy the result as a turnkey package.
Items such as cameras and occupancy sensors come from "trusted supply chain partner[s]," and Lenovo has added monitoring systems, rules and so on, as well as providing the compute resources.
"We're an ecosystem business," he said, one that validates industry-specific, geography-specific and issue-specific components, combines them into products with the addition of Lenovo products (notably endpoint compute and edge servers) and intellectual property, and then sells, deploys and manages those products on customers' behalf.
"We start with the solution [to the customer's need] and collect all the devices needed to fit it."
Codrington stressed that "we're using the right devices for the customers."
Gordon mentioned that one retailer foresaw a situation where it would have one million IoT endpoints. That's a lot of complexity for a non-IT business to manage, but Lenovo can be a one-stop supplier, he said.
In a situation like that, there's room for a failed sensor to go undetected for some time. Lenovo's software not only detects device failure within 15 minutes but provides a degree of root cause analysis – there's no point dispatching a replacement sensor if every device on those premises has gone offline, perhaps as the result of a power cut affecting the building.
Lenovo has one of the biggest and best supply chains in the world, said Codrington. For example, it has 280 parts availability locations in Australia, which means it can reach anywhere in the country in a matter of hours. This is "a core differentiation for Lenovo," he said.
It's not as if Lenovo is new to the solutions business, Gordon pointed out, as it is already established in the health sector. His job is to build an IoT solutions business as a "tier one" part of the company.
Google is another customer. With hundreds of offices around the world, applying IoT on a local basis increases risk. So the company has settled on a consolidated approach implemented by Lenovo, he explained.
But Lenovo isn't only after the enterprise market. The approach it has taken means its resellers can serve small businesses very easily, without having to resort to special quotations and orders. Going back to the automated door opening system, a customer simply orders as many units as there are doors to be controlled.
"We're trying to make it easier for customers to take advantage of technology" both commercially and technically, said Gordon, as the technology has been too complicated for many potential customers.
Some vendors' as-a-service arrangements actually involve leases, said Codrington, but Lenovo has taken pains to ensure it offers a "true opex model." That said, while various Lenovo IoT offerings are charged on a pure 'pay as you go' basis, others also involve an upfront fee.
While the various 'back to work' systems are of current interest, they form part of Lenovo's broader 'smart workplace' blueprint.