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    Software development ecosystems for smart buildings

    Why the IoT depends on collaboration

    Simply put, a smart building is a building that enables occupants to be more efficient and effective. Smart buildings collect data, often via different kinds of sensors installed throughout a building, transform that data into information and knowledge, and make that information and knowledge available via services.

    Collected data is typically stored in the data repository of a software-based Internet of Things (IoT) platform, where it is analyzed, processed, and combined with data from other software and hardware systems. Services use the information and knowledge that results from this process to enable real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and other forms of operational efficiency and data-driven insight.

    Smart buildings require a coordinated, holistic approach

    Because smart buildings rely on data from and communication among many different sources and systems, it’s important to look at smart building technology from a holistic point of view. Managing collaboration on the scale necessary for deploying effective smart building solutions requires a coordinated, top-to-bottom approach.

    No single vendor or organization has the expertise to design, deliver, and deploy a fully-featured IoT implementation—it’s simply too complex, with too many elements that require different areas of expertise. As an organization looking to bring IoT-based intelligence into your building, you must be able to specify, source, install, and manage component-based, modular systems that integrate with each other. Collaboration among multiple experts within different industries, therefore, is the only way to construct a smart environment that delivers a fully connected experience.

    IoT ecosystems: the big picture

    Cross-functional collaboration can be enabled and enhanced via partnerships, where multiple businesses, organizations, and individual experts join together to identify issues, solve problems, build integrated and validated solutions, and create standards. Some partnerships—strategic alliances between major companies, for example—are quite formal and often require extensive negotiations to put in place.

    Partnerships that encourage and support cross-functional collaboration, on the other hand, work better when the up-front commitment, and therefore the barriers to entry, are lower. In fact, successful players in the IoT space are increasingly entering into loose partnerships with one another to collaborate in what’s often called the IoT ecosystem. As global professional services provider Deloitte explains in a report on the IoT ecosystem, “To realize the expected impact and potential market for IoT, providers will have to work together within the IoT provider ecosystem of infrastructure, hardware, software, and other vendors to develop solutions that have greater potential to drive significant business value for enterprises.”


    Just as an end-to-end IoT implementation is often a system of systems, so the IoT ecosystem is really an ecosystem of ecosystems, embracing several different types of partnerships:


    • Application partners develop and implement IoT applications using data from sensors hosted in the IoT infrastructure and stored in one or more data repositories, usually part of an IoT platform hosted in the cloud
    • Cloud strategy partners provide the cloud infrastructure, with an emphasis on reliability and security
    • Technology partners focus on developing IoT-enabled sensors and other hardware and enabling software solutions
    • Consultancy partners act as vision promotors for complex IoT-based systems, providing recommendations to end-users on the best ecosystems to participate in to realize their primary objectives

    Benefits for the participants in a software development ecosystem—and their customers

    Leading IoT vendors understand that the traditional strategy of procuring isolated, extensible systems is no longer the right approach to building connected solutions. Instead, vendors work together within the IoT ecosystem to build horizontal solutions that stitch together multiple vertical systems. Integration can be at the hardware level, but it’s also frequently done at the software level, where systems use published APIs to share data and provide access to the system’s various features and functions.


    Companies wishing to promote collaboration among ecosystem vendors can offer developer partner programs that support software development ecosystems. Such programs give software developers the ability to access development tools, such as APIs, and to collaborate with other ecosystem partners to create new applications and build integrated systems. Successful developer partner programs function as a confederation of loose contacts—more like a group of friends than a formal alliance or official business partnership. Because partners in the ecosystem have to make a relatively low investment to play, the relationship favors knowledge-sharing and experimentation.


    Well-designed software development ecosystems benefit both the businesses and organizations that participate in the ecosystem and the customers of the participants. Development partners can deliver value-added solutions on top of, or in conjunction with, an IoT platform, thus complementing the solutions they are able to offer. Customers can acquire and deploy these solutions to extend the capabilities of their smart systems, while avoiding vendor lock-in.


    Solutions developed by ecosystem partners who work together often guarantee interoperability via validation or certification efforts, lowering the risk associated with adopting new offers that combine data or functionality from multiple domains. And because these solutions are jointly designed and developed, they can address needs that overlap domains that have historically been separate—lighting and IT, for example, or human resources and marketing.

    Meaningful benefits for participants in a software development ecosystem include:


    • Building relationships with relevant players in the IoT space while improving brand recognition
    • Enabling and accelerating commercialization and business adoption of smart building propositions
    • Streamlining efforts to collaborate with third parties
    • Improving the breadth of offerings and closing competitive gaps
    • The opportunity to jointly create thought leadership content and develop new value propositions
    • Learning through using and validating APIs, features, and documentation

    A thriving and collaborative ecosystem that provides value to multiple participants isn’t merely a nice-to-have in the IoT solution development space: it’s crucial for rapidly and flexibly building validated solutions that serve real needs for end users.

    About the author

    Profile picture of the author Jonathan Weinert
    Jonathan Weinert has been researching and writing about LED lighting and the IoT since joining Signify in 2008. He focuses on the full range of professional connected lighting systems, including smart cities, smart buildings, and other global trends in the illuminated IoT.

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