The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzzword in today’s world and needs no introduction. Almost every person is connected in one way or the other; businesses are now focusing on connecting the things in the physical world, bringing in unprecedented insights, value and benefits to consumers, institutions, enterprises and governments. While industry analysts have made varied predictions on how many things will get connected over the next few years – depending on what is considered as a ‘thing’ and what they consider as ‘connected’, it remains a fact that things are getting connected increasingly. There are literally thousands of entities from small start-ups to large enterprises working on IoT, in a myriad of applications that is limited only to one’s imagination, be it connecting the cars, pets, machines, trees, or bins.
However, connecting things or implementing IoT is not an easy task, especially when it comes to large scale implementation which involves many challenges as you go along – from idea to implementation. You need to be able to sense and collect data from these internet connected devices, store & analyze these data to translate into meaningful and actionable insights to produce the desired outcomes. You need a single system that enables to you to do all these seamlessly and securely. That is exactly what an IoT platform should do.
Choosing a suitable IoT platform is a daunting and complex task though. There are literally hundreds of IoT platforms available – from open source to proprietary, from freeware to paid subscriptions, industry-agnostic to industry-specific and in all sizes, features and capabilities. The huge landscape can be confusing and may lead to undesired results if you end up choosing a platform that does not suit your needs.
A lot of companies are developing the IoT platforms to deploy the Internet of Things applications on the go. However, many of them have just put the first step forward into the IoT platform development and are way behind Amazon and Microsoft, who are among the top players of IoT platforms today. Some of the best IoT platforms that are successfully running today are Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT, Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, ThingWorx IoT, IBM Watson, Cisco IoT Cloud Connect, Salesforce IoT Cloud, Carriots, Oracle Integrated Cloud, General Electric’s Predix and Kaa, to name a few.
Choosing the right IoT platform provider is not so difficult if you ask right questions to the provider before engaging one. So, here are the 8 key questions that you must ask.
- How are you different and better than other IoT platform providers?
Out of the many IoT platforms available, choosing one can be difficult. However, one of the easiest ways to begin the quest is to look for the major differences between the platforms and to ask the IoT platform providers the USP of their IoT platform. For example: When the IoT platform providers were asked what sets them apart from others, they told that they offer ‘no coding’ techniques that can be used to build apps by ‘drag and drop’ functionality. However, this is not a unique feature, as almost every provider offers this. So, look for something unique and choose the one that offers the best platform as per your needs and requirements.
- What types of data analytics are available?
Connected devices help you collect big data which can be then used to make better decisions for business. However, processing so much data sounds daunting and challenging. In order to uncover insights out of the data, it must be combined and analyzed. So, make sure you go for the platform that can deliver IoT analytic abilities. An IoT platform that can bring more insights to your organization is an ideal one. Choose the one that can conduct complex data analytics. Also, don’t forget that you are not data scientist and will not be able to decide the best analytics algorithm for the data set. So choose the IoT platform that offers AI which will select the best data analysis algorithm automatically.
- Will my IoT dashboards be customizable? How do I customize them?
Dashboard combines and analyzes data that matters to your business. So, choose your IoT platform in such a way that the dashboard automatically acts based on the data insights and controls the devices in IoT. It should automate the interaction between the devices and apps. You must have the freedom to design your dashboard on your own as per your business requirements. Mostly all platforms have non-coding dashboard customization made using drag and drop tools. However, choose the one that offers you extra guided workflow. You must be able to export dashboard into HTM code so that you can use it in all browsers.
- How does IoT data collection work?
Communicating with smart devices and collecting data from them is an essential part of any IoT platform. Data collection is a challenging task and not all IoT platforms can perform it right. All the IoT platforms face difficulty in data collection. Each of them overcomes this challenge in a different way. So, make sure you know about its data collection process before you choose one.
- What about monitoring and controlling connected devices?
A lot of devices out there are segmented now on non-connected networks. With this segmentation, many core system devices apps are not possible with IoT. In order to overcome this challenge, you will have to add an extra layer of communication protocols and APIs above the individual networks. Along with that, you must also add a control system that can relay instructions back and forth. This is exactly when IoT platform comes into the picture. Each individual network can control its proprietary things using an overarching IoT platform. So, the question is, “Who performs this control over individual networks and devices?” A simple answer to this is ‘Rules Engine’ and logical instructions that a user writes within an IoT platform. Some of the examples of rules engine include AWS IoT’s Rules Engine, Cisco’s Jasper Control Center Rules Engine and Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, to name a few. The platform communicates with smaller networks for optimization, big data and system control opportunities.
The ultimate reason behind asking an IoT platform provider that how the platform monitors and controls connected device is to gain the deepest insights of compatibility problems that you might face in your current infrastructure.
- How will your platform handle IoT security?
IoT security is one of the most important issues being discussed in the market now by consumers as well as businesses. With the recent data security breaches in several parts of the world and introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) and similar regulations by many governments, have only made data security an even more important factor to consider when choosing an IoT platform. The IoT platforms have a specific structure to secure data at every part of the system. All the components have got their own security options. For example, between the cloud and devices, there are a lot of options including traditional certificate-base methods, data packet encryption and network encryption between cloud and specific devices in a way similar to VPN. However, at the cloud level, everyone uses the SSL, a trusted gatekeeper; even banks use SSL. Standardization is important in security, as devices declare their identity to others and sadly, no IoT platform provider is able to provide ways to identify the device. Many of them also do not have identity to explain who made them. The question arises, “How should the devices offer that identity and certification?” So, it is extremely important for you to look for the IoT platform providers that specialize in certification. Most of the IoT platforms will use some form of certification technique.
- Which IoT protocols does your platform support?
One of the most important questions to ask to your IoT platform provider is about the protocol compatibility and it will help you remove a few options from your shortlist right away. It is extremely important for the protocol to be compatible with your device, otherwise the whole system will not operate. Of course, standardization or convergence on one communication protocol is difficult. Majority of enterprise IoT platforms have started supporting CoAP and AMQP, in addition to supporting the most common ones such as HTTP and MQTT. However, many applications, especially in industrial IoT, may need the platform to support additional sets of proprietary or standard protocols.
8. Which IoT devices can be controlled? Is this more of an IoT or IIoT?
Compile a list of protocols that you need the platform to support. This list of compatible protocols will help you know for which devices an IoT platform is compatible with. By checking the list of devices compatible with the IoT platform, you can know whether that IoT platform specializes in consumer IoT or Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This is an important question to ask an IoT platform provider, for if you are targeting IIoT, you would want to make sure that the platform selected has the power and robust functionality so as to get the trust of industrial users. On the other hand, if you are targeting the consumer market, you will need an IoT platform that focuses on usability.
Also check on the service and business model that your platform provider is proposing and the overall cost of ownership. It is important to engage with partners who understand your business, has the right domain knowledge, vast experience and can provide you an end-to-end solution (including the required hardware devices). This will avoid you having to work with multiple vendors which could be a recipe for disastrous implementation.
Once you have considered all of the above-mentioned factors while selecting the right enterprise IoT platform, you will also need to check if your vendor is capable of customizing the platform to integrate with your existing IT infrastructure and provide you reliable business insights that helps to meet your business goals.
Many enterprises, institutions and governments have had successful IoT implementations by choosing the right IoT platform and a right partner to work with. Choose the right partner and platform to achieve your business objectives.
Key factors to consider:
- End-to-end security
- Powerful analytics
- Customizable dashboards
- Protocols support & compatibility
- Device management & monitoring
- Ease of integration
- Overall cost
Article contributed by Avnet
Avnet is a global technology solutions provider with an extensive ecosystem delivering design, product, marketing and supply chain expertise for customers at every stage of the product lifecycle. We transform ideas into intelligent solutions, reducing the time, cost and complexities of bringing products to market. For nearly a century, Avnet has helped its customers and suppliers around the world realize the transformative possibilities of technology. Learn more about Avnet at www.avnet.com.