It’s always difficult for a company to choose a new software platform. From concerns over learning curve to ROI to security to integration within an IT structure, most companies dread the process. With so much at risk in terms of investment dollars and business efficiency, the choice isn’t easy. Many companies are now facing this struggle in selecting an IoT platform for their organization. Having decided to embark on an IoT deployment, they are discovering that the challenge in selection may be more difficult than before.
There are a few reasons why selecting the right IoT solution is more daunting than selection for most other software. First, it is still a new and developing technology by comparison to other technologies and the age of businesses supplying IoT platforms is relatively young compared to other software systems. And since most companies view their IoT project as a long-term venture, the age issue makes it more difficult to validate a provider’s product through case studies for previous deployments and through engagement with other product users. The IoT platform space is currently growing at an annual growth rate of 40% and many providers have only been in business for a few years.
Second, many companies do not possess the developer skills to fully vet an IoT platform with in-house staff. As an emerging technology, many IT professionals have found themselves on a very steep learning curve. And in small to medium companies, where IT may be outsourced, the skillsets to understand and provide feedback to upper management for the purchase of a system are non-existent.
And finally, while IoT platforms have many common elements such as cloud-based storage and processing, APIs, scalability and others, it is unique in that full end to end platform providers also offer the sale, installation and service of the devices themselves. This is a deeper integration than many types of software platforms where the product is displayed through user screens and doesn’t venture into the equipment and machinery that drives the production side of the business. Here, the platform extends directly to and is integrated within the production equipment. As such, that unique service offering makes the evaluation process more difficult.
Things to Consider
To address the above concerns, there are a few things to consider before making a purchase:
Decide What is Needed - A company considering IoT deployment should define the reason for the need before beginning a search for a solution. Mapping out those needs can provide guidance on what type of system and the capabilities needed in a provider. A Proof of Concept (POC) should be drafted as the narrowing process continues to specifically identify business use and targeted areas for improvement. Companies should also decide what type of system they need.
End-to-End Systems: End to end systems provide everything for an implementation including hardware, software, connectivity, devices, security and device management. It also provides the managed integrations required as well.
Connectivity Management Platforms: These platforms offer cheaper connectivity management using Wi-Fi and cell technology.
Cloud Platforms: For companies without an in-house network, cloud platforms can offer backend management to monitor devices and track data.
Determine a Budget – IoT solutions are major investments and with the level of service, software, device purchase and installation, this purchase will be a capital expense for most companies and one that will compete with other corporate projects as well. As solution providers are engaged, an understanding of what the budget is will help providers craft a solution that fits.
Validate the System Security – With data breaches in the news weekly, many companies are concerned about security risks with further integration online. A recent Wall Street Journal article quoted studies showing that executives were willing to pay over 20% more for devices with better security. Also, alarming is that only a third of IoT security solutions are provided by IoT vendors. Those looking for a solution should dig deeply into the security issue.
Validate Deployment Success – As many solution providers are less than four years old, validation of successful deployment is critical. The relatively young age of solution providers makes this task difficult. But solid providers will be transparent in their deployments and will provide testimonials or allow prior clients to speak as references on their behalf.
After validating the reputation and security of solution providers and with an established budget, POC and assessment of what is needed, there are several “necessities” that are required for choosing the right IoT solution:
ROI – Many small and medium sized companies have scarce resources and an IoT solution is a large investment. If you have produced a solid POC and have answered questions on security and have chosen the right system, you will have a solid ROI. This will assure that the system not only pays for itself through profits, but through the gains in efficiency and productivity that the solution was designed to provide.
Update Consistency – As an IoT solution will be a long term and vital part of the production system it is important to understand the update consistency of the provider. Reviewing the update logs and asking questions can help ease concerns and any update regime should be documented.
Openness and Ease of Integration – IoT Solutions should support both existing protocols as well as new ones. Most manufacturing equipment has some degree of automation built in. But the diversity of protocols is patchy and scattered across scattered across numerous different protocols and for complete systems an IoT solution provider should support older and newer protocols.
Fully Capable Platform – While not every company will need every element a provider has to offer, a fully capable supplier should offer several things. First, it should offer strong connectivity management that allow connection of devices, networks and systems across the enterprise. Secondly, it should offer data aggregation and storage as well as advanced analytics and machine learning. And thirdly, it should be robust in applications such as APIs, device controls, data controls and rules and permissions engines.
Aside from a company’s ERP, a fully capable and fully deployed IoT solution and platform will have farther reach than any other software system. As an imbedded system that functions as part of the production system it will be a crucial part of the company’s infrastructure for many years to come. It is important that any company seeking a solution provider for their IoT needs should dig deeply into the entire ecosystem of the provider to understand what they have to offer and how, or if, those offerings fit the needs of the company. If the plan is thought out and the considerations above are considered, and the necessities are accounted for, there are strong and robust systems available for any manufacturer.