4 Things You Need to Know About IoT Platforms

October 26, 2015

On course to reach a projected 25 billion connected things by the year 2020, businesses have no choice but to embrace the Internet of Things. As the true value of IoT is being realized, companies are accelerating towards a new “data economy,” where products don’t simply generate direct revenue; they also create valuable data that is funneled back into the organization. The stakes are huge, and it’s no surprise that IoT adoption is surging at an annual growth rate of over 30 percent. But as the race towards IoT picks up steam, companies should chart their IoT strategy carefully, including one of the most fundamental pieces—an IoT platform. While the considerations are many, here are five key issues to be mindful of when approaching IoT infrastructure.

1) Building your own IoT infrastructure is risky at best

For the vast majority of businesses adopting IoT, they are introducing new technologies on top of their existing offerings. As a result, companies may underestimate what’s required to achieve even the most basic connectivity. An IoT technology stack includes hardware, edge and cloud applications, systems integration, connectivity and network management, data storage and analytics, security, business logic, and UX applications. Attempting to build such a complex system can grind development down to a halt. For startups hinging on early success, this diversion can be the kiss of death. And for established companies, spending 2-3 years building out IoT plumbing will likely mean conceding the marketspace to a more productive competitor.

2) Not all IoT is the same, and platforms aren’t one-size fits all

At the highest level, IoT can be distinguished either as consumer or industrial-grade. The former includes wearables, many smart home apps, and most B2C applications. Industrial IoT encompasses more complex machinery, including medical, aerospace, military, manufacturing, and smart-systems (e.g. smart-cities). Relatively speaking, consumer IoT requirements are lower—there’s less data involved, the value of that data is lower, and it’s being used less. Conversely, industrial IoT requirements are much higher—there’s an enormous amount of data, it is arguably worth even more than the physical hardware, and it can be used through the entire value chain of an organization. A B2C company launching a line of fitness bands can quickly exhaust their budget investing in a battle-hardened, industrial-grade IoT platform. Conversely, a heavy industrial manufacturer that invests in a consumer-grade IoT infrastructure will likely be woefully underequipped.

3) The value (and cost) of your data should inform your evaluation

As mentioned, data varies in volume, sensitivity, and risk. Deprive a device operator of data and it could be convenient, or it could have catastrophic results. IoT data traffic is often viewed as being unidirectional, involving the capture, storage and presentation of device data. But data can also be bidirectional, allowing manufacturers to monitor, control, and even remotely repair systems. There may also be data sovereignty challenges for companies operating globally. IoT platforms all vary with respect to how they can capture, share, store, leverage, and protect data; it’s vital that you understand your IoT data when examining platforms.

4) Cloud computing isn’t always enough for IoT platforms

Many platform providers are touting a cloud model for the IoT; in certain situations, cloud computing is effective and sufficient.  But not being able to rely on distributed computing can pose serious potential problems. To understand if a cloud-centric platform is sufficient, you should ask yourself a series of questions. What happens to my solution if the network crashes—do I need the product to continue being “smart”? How much data needs to be delivered to cloud servers, how often, and what are the cost implications of doing so? Does delivering data to remote cloud servers comply with internal governance, customer requirements, and applicable laws? If the answers to these questions raise doubt, it’s important to look for an IoT platform that supports distributed computing.

Conclusion

Enabling your products to operate in the IoT is a substantial undertaking, and making a platform mistake can have huge consequences, particularly if you’re racing the get to market, or if you’ve implemented IoT functionality, and have to make changes mid-stream. While this is hardly an exhaustive list of consideration, it does underscore the need to closely understand how you intend to harness the Internet of Things, and which investigate which platforms will best help you reach those goals.

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