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Why IoT platforms matter

 

The conversation about the Internet of Things (IoT) tends to focus on the most impressive numbers. Gartner made splashy headlines towards the beginning of 2017 when it projected that the number of IoT devices would in that very year exceed the number of people on the planet, and grow to over 11 billion this year. Not to be outdone, certain other commentators were by the beginning of 2018 projecting that the world would see 31 billion connected devices this year.

 

The validity of these speculations aside, the sheer number of IoT devices isn't nearly as important as you might think, for the same reason the number of brake pads and spark plugs car companies make every year doesn't tell the whole story about automotive innovation.

 

That's because at the end of the day, if you want to drive somewhere, being given a high-performance engine and a precision-tuned transmission doesn't help you. These items are just so much engineering until they're connected, not just to each other but to thousands of other components. An automobile is a platform that turns car components into a car. And a car is the thing you really care about, because it's the thing that actually gets you where you want to go.

 

Likewise, an IoT platform is the digital plumbing or middleware that connects edge devices, like smart LED light points and environmental sensors, with data-driven applications for end users — getting you where you want to go, so to speak. IoT platforms create value out of thousands of embedded, all-but-invisible devices and help you innovate at much more than a single-component level.


4 essential platform tasks


A comprehensive IoT platform should offer the following key capabilities:

 

Manage user and device security, authentication, and authorization.

 IoT devices all typically have controls that protect against unauthorized access. The IoT platform should provide device security, ensuring that only properly credentialed users can access data or update code. A platform should also prohibit unauthorized IoT devices from participating in the network and block devices if they become compromised or reach end-of-life and become a potential security risk. Protecting data security needs to be a pillar of the platform.

 

Streamline data ingestion, data storage, data governance, and data analysis.

IoT devices can maintain local storage capabilities and access network and cloud storage, but they're not a substitute for platform-layer data management. Your business- and consumer-facing apps should whenever possible fetch data from the IoT platform, not from individual devices, so as to make sure you have access to the best available data as soon as possible, and with all proper controls and data cleansing capabilities applied.

 

Power real-time, historical, and predictive analytics.

IoT devices often monitor a specific piece of a complex system and warn of potential failure. An example might be a sensor on a valve that knows that the valve is weakening — or a lighting fixture that knows when it needs to be repaired or replaced. An IoT platform should stitch together these isolated data points to build a complete picture of safety, performance, and efficiency and help in building models to reduce downtime in the future.

 

Generate insights and reports.

Just as leading-edge cars offer conveniences from navigation to assistive braking and steering, the best IoT platforms deliver tailored business insights. Pre-built solutions for everything from warehouse optimization to social media monitoring give you access to business value and insights with little or no custom code required. Crunching insights from IoT devices is different than general-purpose business intelligence, because so many IoT devices are routinely out of contact with the network. They travel on trucks; they go to sleep or into intermittent network contact to conserve battery life. That means the platform has to know what aging data to trust and what to discard, and how long it may need to wait for an update.


The next-level IoT platform


The four capabilities listed above represent a baseline: They're what a platform should be expected to do. As you strive to boost your platform's efficacy even more, keep the following in mind:
 

It pays to dream big.

Assume all the barriers are gone, and you can ask as many questions as you want about the gritty details of how your business works. An IoT platform delivers the most value when it's really put to the test.

 

Your IoT platform needs to be an open one.

Your platform needs to be extensible and to integrate with other systems. That will allow your business to keep up with industry changes, and it will extend your system's capabilities as your needs evolve. If your IoT strategy requires you to rip-and-replace devices every time you change strategy, or a new IoT communications protocol takes hold, it will be difficult to realize a return on your investment.

 

You have to keep questioning success.

The platform should be a trustworthy source of information about the success of your IoT priorities as a whole. Don't just use the platform to drill into individual data. Measure the overall health and performance of all your IoT initiatives.

 

Sophisticated, smart, connected devices are helping drive the future of innovation. They need equally capable and forward-looking IoT platforms to bring business users along for the ride.

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