6 Criteria for Selecting the Best IoT Platform Partner

While the budget and cost of ownership with a build-versus-buy aspect have been key criteria in the decision-making process, other criteria like the flexibility of the platform, vendor lock-ins, and scalability are equally important, if not more.

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A hammer with lots of colorful patterns
Illustration: © IoT For All

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a domain that is driven by volume, velocity and variety, so it helps to be very picky about the choices you make. Better technologies continue to emerge to cater to the myriad IoT use cases. What you need are solid decision-making criteria to help you choose the right IoT platform vendor.

Regulation Alone Won’t Secure IoT-Enabled Devices

Chris McCann, in his blog “Internet of Things (IoT) Market Ecosystem Map,” mentions that today, there are more devices connected to the internet than humans, clearly indicating an upward trend. Apparently, 26 billion “things” are likely to be connected to the internet by 2020. IoT is being adopted within applications and thus being used in industries (IIoT), enterprises (smart cities and waste management), healthcare, etc. This IoT adoption is giving companies much-needed agility, efficiency, and scalability. Together, they give a competitive advantage to businesses. Luckily, there are vendors who provide a versatile IoT platform to help these companies get on the IoT bandwagon.

The Challenges

What is stopping us from going the IoT way?  In our earlier blog post, “Ten Reasons to Use IoT Platform-based Services” from Continuity 1, we mentioned how choosing the right vendor in a highly competitive IoT platform market was the biggest challenge for organizations. Today, we delve deeper into the subject to understand the parameters governing the same.

For starters, it’s the dearth of a sufficient budget. There’s no denying that IoT is expensive. The adoption rate is slower than it should ideally be. All you need is the right vendor who can help you upscale old infrastructure and seamlessly manage data flows. The right one will factor in inputs and needs of all concerned before offering solutions. In addition to budget, another factor that influences right vendor selection is whether to build (with someone like Continuity 1 as a platform-based service partner) or buy an off-the-shelf product.

We’ve put together six criteria you must consider if you wish to have a successful IoT journey and avoid hiccups along the way. Let’s go!

1. Cost of Ownership: The Build vs Buy Decision

You typically begin by identifying the use cases; then you wonder what comes next. To be honest, it can get a little overwhelming if you fail to define your expected outcomes. What kind of data are you processing, which systems need to be integrated, and what kind of insights do you wish to generate? Asking these questions right away will help you arrive at the most important question: to build or to buy? To add another layer of clarity in the decision-making process, you must also critically evaluate various components individually. These would include device type, communication, cloud services, applications, and cross-layer security.

Whether or not you have the in-house expertise will influence your choices to a great extent. If the use case you have chosen involves massive amounts of data at a very fast speed, you need to be sure you are well-equipped to keep pace with evolving technologies and customer requirements. There will be components you may have to build from scratch while others can be managed with your existing solutions. It boils down to cost of ownership. Cost of ownership includes the upfront fee to procure the platform, service fee, customization charges, and the cost of upgrades to adapt to the ever-changing business dynamics. Says Kalsi, CEO of Continuity 1, “The build versus buy dilemma is always going to be there unless your decision is based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis based on the cost of ownership.”

2. Does the Platform Allow You to Pivot?

When you choose an IoT vendor, you need to ensure it’s flexible when it comes to aligning its technologies with your legacy architecture. As such, it should not pose limitations, and it should be easier to deploy without causing any delays. A lot of vendors speak about flexibility but not all are equipped enough to offer it. Given the increasing number of devices, you’re going to require a lot of customization and personalization. On top of this, the changing business dynamics call for newer strategies and tasks. At a gross level, 90 percent of the companies pivot. Most of the times, enterprises have to change their business strategies to accommodate new business requirements. Your vendor needs to adapt to the needs of tomorrow. The problem starts when the strategies suffer due to the platform’s inability to adapt and be flexible. Bad pivots are touted as the sixth big reason why companies fail. The vendor should be able to tell you how extensible the platform is and whether there is adequate scope to add new features without disrupting the existing system. While keeping up with the technological requirements of new devices, vendors should be able to offer useful insights from the data collated so far.

3. Will the Platform Lock You into Specific Vendors?

There are two kinds of lock-ins that we need to consider: explicit and implicit. Explicit lock-in is where the vendor has a clause around the number of years of lock-in. The challenge is bigger when you are tied down to a specific cloud service and proprietary data protocols that are common for the device, and when cloud service prohibits you from using alternate services. This situation is commonly referred to as implicit vendor lock-in, and enterprises cringe at the thought of being stuck in this type of lock-in. Not having complete control over business applications and other related aspects, such as security, infrastructure, etc., can be scary. Even if the organization wants to migrate to another platform, it becomes very difficult, although not impossible. Enterprises aspire for the freedom to move freely from one vendor to another as required. While having everything loosely coupled may be a good idea, it may not always be possible to do so. Talk to your vendor to know the exit rules pertaining to lock-ins. Seamless migration should be the key.

4. Can the Platform Handle IoT Solutions at Scale?

As the number of connected devices continues to grow, you will start feeling the need for scalability more than ever. In fact, for most enterprises, this remains a primary concern. Costs associated with data management and hardware will continue to rise with every added device. Ask the vendor for their largest customer installations to get an idea about their scalability. As per a study done by Strategy Analytics, 35 percent of enterprises that actively used IoT had less than 100 devices connected. You need to talk to your vendor to know if they can handle the complexities that more devices bring along. The IoT platform should be armed appropriately to deal with the ever-increasing data. While the need for technological requirements may also increase, you are definitely in a good place if your vendor has perceived the growing needs of your business and made amends. When choosing your IoT vendor, this is one thing you should talk about in detail. A vendor’s agility and ability are critical. The best ones don’t rely on third parties but single-handedly offer the required functionality to scale up to your needs.

5. What Real-Time Monitoring and Data Analytics Does the Platform Enable?

While the data analytics arena is crowded, the right vendor may be all you need to break from the pack. IoT largely rests on four main pillars: things, data, people, and processes. Through networked connections, vendors are able to understand their relationships better and deliver insights that can take businesses to a whole new level. While accessing real-time data and providing actionable insights, vendors can alert you about issues that were not even there on your radar and help make intelligent decisions. What you achieve are deeper connections and measurable business value. Not to mention operational excellence and greater agility!

6. How Interoperable Is the Platform?

Every enterprise has existing in-house or third-party tools and solutions that help them solve critical problems while adding business value. The vendor platform should be able to operate along with, and in sync with, these existing tools in an effortless manner. For a diverse assortment of sensors, actuators, and machine-learning algorithms, it’s critical that all nodes and applications share a common data model. Interoperability remains a critical aspect for a thriving IoT ecosystem. You need to ensure the IoT platform allows seamless integrations with open source tools and facilitates integration with third-party services and solutions.

IoT Platforms for the Future

The IoT ecosystem is thriving, and it will soon become the Internet of Everything. As mentioned earlier, 26 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. Enterprises will need to work with these connected smart devices to accelerate their businesses effectively. While the budget and cost of ownership with a build-versus-buy aspect have been a key criterion in the decision-making process, other criteria that we discussed above are equally important, if not more. Of course, you need a vendor that’s sensitive to your needs and is willing to align their plans with your business goals. Hopefully this article will help you choose the right partners in your journey to IoT enablement.

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I'm a program Manager with 12+ Years of experience in Information Technology with deep expertise in handling numerous project issues including takeovers, staffing shortages, tactical matters, scope creep and divergent business and user needs. Received appreciation for driving impressive improvements across the business as a result of suggesting and implementing various integrations to reduce cost.