In 2019, Microsoft surveyed three thousand IT team leaders involved in IoT projects and reached a disappointing conclusion. It turns out 30% of IoT projects stall at the Proof of Concept (PoC) stage! On top of that, 75% of IoT deployments that eventually make it past PoC do not yield the expected results.
Surprisingly, even large companies with full-fledged IT departments and substantial R&D funds are struggling with IoT development. According to the Microsoft IoT Signals report, 38% of the respondents cite technical challenges as the major barrier to the Internet of Things adoption. Other factors affecting IoT project success rates include the lack of technical talent, limited budgets, and unclear bottom-line benefits.
Chris Howard, Softeq founder and CEO, has recently joined the IoT for All podcast team to discuss the critical issues that contribute to IoT projects’ failure. In this article, we provide five actionable tips on starting your company’s IoT journey and building a product that delivers on its promise.
5 Tips to Sail through IoT Development
Tip 1: Identify Technology Roadblocks Early On
IoT solutions rely on multiple technology components to exchange data and act on it. These include sensors, devices, embedded software, connectivity protocols, cloud services, and apps.
It is often hard to predict how exactly these components will interact with each other and your IT infrastructure.
A fitness jewelry brand turned to Softeq to design a luxury bracelet that would monitor users’ physical activity. The device was supposed to talk to a mobile application over Bluetooth. At the outset, the company didn’t realize the metal case would interfere with the Bluetooth signal. To ensure a stable app-to-device connection, the Softeq team had to modify the radio chip and boost Bluetooth signal by 500%.
It is recommended that you begin your project with a Discovery Phase and conduct Proof of Concept. This approach allows you to:
- Validate your idea
- Map out the functional (what the system does) and non-functional (how it works) requirements of the IoT solution
- Identify potential technology pitfalls before diving into product development
Tip 2: Get Familiar with Multi-team Project Management
IoT solutions are complex, multi-layered systems. Few companies have the skills and human resources to design the components underpinning the logic of a connected device under one roof. As a result, you’ll end up working with a distributed team of web and mobile developers, embedded system engineers, and hardware manufacturers. Your vendors may lack expertise in IoT development, have their own way of working with the approved technology stack, or have a different cultural dimension distribution.
A manufacturer of commercial lighting products addressed Softeq to upgrade a lighting system operated via an RF remote control. The task was to replace the light switch with a BLE mobile app. Unfortunately, our client hired firmware and hardware developers that had little experience designing BLE-enabled devices, so we could not connect the mobile application to the cloud. The IoT platform choice was another aggravating factor. Due to local government restrictions, Google Firebase wouldn’t work in the country where the firmware team was located.
To get your team on the same page, you should carefully plan your IoT project, figure out what skills your in-house IT department lacks, and appoint a product owner with a string of successful IoT projects under their belt.
Tip 3: Avoid Scope Creep
According to the Project Management Institute survey, the top three factors contributing to an IT project’s failure are erroneous requirements gathering, a change in project goals, and a shift in company priorities. The research also points out that the complexity of a project increases the likelihood of scope creep.
A startup turned to Softeq to build a connected dog collar. They wanted to create an advanced pet tracking solution with a GPS module, accelerometer, microphone, and speaker. The gadget and the accompanying cross-platform mobile app would allow dog owners to keep their pets within a safe distance and make sure they get enough exercise. The ambitious project also called for the battery-powered collar to incorporate five different radio technologies and stream high-definition video over 2G. Because of the abundant feature requirements, the company had some difficulty managing the scope and duration of the project. At the end of the day the product was shipped, though later than originally expected.
Starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) is an IoT development best practice. This means you first create an IoT solution with just enough features to get a buy-in from the C-Suite and show your customers what the new product is about. It is better to take one step at a time and gradually add new layers of functionality after the product launches — and starts generating revenue.
Tip 4: Design Your IoT Solution with Scalability in Mind
32% of companies struggle to scale IoT solutions and abandon their projects following the PoC phase. To prevent that from happening, it is essential that you plan the system architecture and choose a technology platform considering the current and anticipated IoT solution workload (i.e., the number of users and connected devices). For this, you might need to work with a skilled Business Analyst through the entire project lifecycle.
Softeq helped a US telecom company optimize the performance of a media streaming solution for digital signage. The system incorporates custom devices that allow advertisers to stream media content on digital displays and collect ad impression data. The reporting functionality was initially enabled through the MongoDB Aggregation Pipeline. Once the database grew to 20 million records, the system could no longer process user requests and generate relevant reports. To speed up data analytics, we replaced MongoDB with AWS Redshift. The cloud service helped us do the same amount of data processing and analytics 36 times faster.
Tip 5: Take IoT Security Seriously
Unit 42, a cybersecurity division of Palo Alto Networks, has recently discovered that 98% of all IoT traffic goes unencrypted. 46% of US companies that utilize IoT solutions have already experienced at least one security breach.
Why is IoT such a paradise for cybercriminals? Like all criminals, hackers are looking for easy targets and most IoT technology is low hanging fruit. Small IoT development budgets mean companies often push half-baked devices into mass production, with poor hardware design choices and embedded systems that use outdated OS versions.
Companies that want to succeed in IoT development should adhere to the “security by design” principle. First, encrypt the data that is stored on your device or travels between the components of an IoT system. Second, firewall your entire IT infrastructure and implement IoT security monitoring tools, such as AWS IoT Device Defender. Finally, it makes sense to reinforce security on the hardware level and deploy a proper over-the-air (OTA) firmware update mechanism to roll out security patches.