In Part 1 of IoT Platform Essentials, we found out what “IoT Platform” actually means and when businesses should use them. In this post, we’ll now take a look at how to choose the best IoT platform for your specific IoT application.
So How Do You Choose the Best IoT Platform?
As much as I’d like to give you a simple answer, as with most things, it depends. O’Reilly Media puts it nicely:
“Each industry vertical — healthcare, manufacturing, energy, and banking, to name a few — will present its IT and OT specialists with particular conditions and problems to solve. Municipal police and fire departments, for example, will depend on a platform that ensures communication between field operations and command centers. Energy and transportation companies will search for ruggedized solutions that will protect field assets from harsh environmental conditions. Banking IoT platforms will demonstrate robust encryption and security features that protect internal and consumer communications and transfers.”
— Evaluating and Choosing an IoT Platform
That being said, there’s a key distinction between industrial IoT platforms and consumer IoT platforms. So consider, is your application industrial (such as oil and gas, manufacturing, or asset management) or meant for consumers (such as smart home applications or wearables)?
Industrial IoT platforms and consumer IoT platforms can differ significantly due to their different needs. For industrial IoT platforms, a failure in the system can be extremely high-stake, perhaps costing millions of dollars or even lives. For consumer IoT platforms, a failure might simply be an inconvenience to the end-user.
And even within industrial or consumer segments, applications can have very different platform needs. However, despite the great variance in IoT applications, there are some common elements that are critical to consider when evaluating the best IoT Platform for your application…
The Best IoT Platform – What to Consider:
The stability of the platform
With so many platforms out in the market, it’s likely that some will fail. It’s important to choose a platform that’s likely to be around for several years, otherwise your investment might go to waste if the platform provider folds.
Ask about current and past customers. If they don’t have any, that’s probably not a good sign.
The scalability and flexibility of the platform
Your needs are going to change with time. Make sure that the platform works when you’re small and just beginning, but will also work when you’re (hopefully) large and growing fast.
In addition to being scalable, the platform should be flexible enough to keep up with rapidly changing technologies, protocols, or features. Flexible platforms are often those that are built on open standards and that commit to keeping pace with evolving IoT protocols, standards, and technologies.
It’s also important that the platform is network agnostic. This means that it can integrate and work with all major tech systems out there, rather than be locked into one vendor.
The past work of the platform provider
As mentioned above, IoT applications can vary greatly. If the platform provider has done previous work that is similar to your application, that’s a good indicator that they can meet your specific needs.
However, I should note that it need not be an exact match. If you’re building a smart agriculture application, for example, you might look for a use case with similar characteristics. That would be an application that also involves hundreds/thousands of sensors generating data, a similar connectivity (such as LPWAN), and applied data analytics to create useful insights.
The pricing model and your business case
Make sure the platform provider is transparent in their pricing, some will show an introductory rate and then hike that up significantly when you actually go to sign up.
Also, how are you going to be selling? If you’re doing a subscription model, then it makes sense to pay a subscription for the IoT platform service, since you can wrap the costs into the pricing. However, if you’re selling hardware, it might make more sense to pursue a platform option with an upfront license so you can wrap that into the development costs of the hardware product.
How does the platform provider handle security?
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, security is absolutely critical to any IoT system. An IoT platform must have security built into every aspect.
When you ask about security, be on the lookout for: device-to-cloud network security, user app-to-wireless network security, cloud security, device security (including authentication and up-to-date certificates), application authentication, data encryption, data protection (at rest, in transit, and in the cloud), secure session initiation, and concrete plans for updating security, including via over-the-air (OTA) communications.
Time to market
In IoT Platform Essentials Part 1, I explained that one of the biggest advantages of using an IoT platform is that it speeds up the time to market. Ask for a realistic estimate of how long it will take to get to market and how the platform provider intends to support you during that journey.
Data analytics and data ownership
The value of the Internet of Things is in the data. Data can provide actionable insights into operations or simple day-to-day activities to reduce inefficiencies or improve experiences. You should look for basic descriptive analytics, visualization, diagnostics, predictive analytics, and perhaps even machine learning tools.
Also, make sure to ask who owns the data. If the answer isn’t a simple, “you own the data generated by your products”, this is a big red flag because, again, the value of the Internet of Things is in the data.
Does the IoT platform provider care about you?
In addition to all of these questions, you should be asking, also take note of the questions that they ask you. Do they ask about your budget, timeline, expectations, use cases, etc.? Do they seem like genuinely nice, caring people?
This is one of the most critical considerations. A platform provider that cares about you and your success will go the extra mile and make up for any areas in which their platform might be lacking.