In our last article, we discussed the basics of IoT devices: what they are, how they work, and why they’re essential for so many businesses. (If you haven’t read Part 1 in this series, check it out here.) But how do you combine thousands of IoT devices into a connected system that delivers key functionality, whether that’s a consumer product line or a smart manufacturing facility? That challenge—creating and maintaining an integrated system involving many IoT devices—is called IoT device management. So what does an IoT device system actually manage? In short, everything that makes IoT work. Among other things, that includes:
- Hardware (i.e., IoT devices themselves)
- Software (i.e., device firmware, IoT device management platforms, and other tools)
- Connectivity (i.e., networking technologies, from LPWAN to WiFi and more)
- Device management processes (i.e., the day-to-day tasks of managing an IoT system)
- A guiding strategy for IoT device management (i.e., the lifecycle approach detailed below)
That may sound complex, and honestly, it is. That’s why we recommend partnering with IoT experts. IoT development companies are out there—and they can help you build an effective device management system from the ground up. Before you start looking for a partner, though, you should understand what they’ll help you do. This introduction to IoT device management explains the topic.
“IoT development companies are out there—and they can help you build an effective device management system from the ground up.”-Very
A Lifecycle Approach to IoT Device Management
An IoT device management system needs a few essentials to work. You need power, of course. (The grid can supply power for servers and computing infrastructure, but you may use batteries in your devices.) You need solid communication networks, which could operate on one or more technologies: cellular, WiFi, satellite, Bluetooth, etc. You need robust data processing and storage capabilities. Finally, the whole system must be locked down with robust security in multiple layers, from devices to applications to cloud infrastructure.
But even with all that in place, the key question remains: What’s your strategy for managing your IoT devices? How do you think about getting them online, making sure they work, and dealing with challenges that may arise?
Start by understanding that IoT systems are not static. Every device has a beginning and an end. In between, devices must change to meet developing demands. This reality means you must plan for the entire lifecycle of the device—and the integrated system that includes the device. Your IoT device management strategy will probably include most or all of the following lifecycle stages:
- Provisioning. First, you must configure software and firmware on the device to avoid manual changes in the future.
- Registration. Every device must be registered with your device management platform prior to exchanging data.
- Partitioning. Some elements of your IoT infrastructure must be walled off from others, so you can update software without shutting down the whole system. This is accomplished through dynamic partitioning.
- Remote monitoring. This is the core of device management: Monitoring devices through a user dashboard that provides all device data and behavior, plus diagnostic tools. This is also where you troubleshoot and interface directly with remote devices.
- Bulk management. With hundreds of thousands of devices in the field, you can’t manage each one individually. Bulk device management allows you to organize your fleet into dynamic hierarchies and logical groupings, then work with many of them at once.
- Remote configuration. Occasionally, you’ll need to alter configurations for up-and-running IoT devices. You need a device management platform that supports this capability.
- Over-the-air updates. Devices run on firmware and software that will require occasional updates. Your management solution should be able to push these updates out over the air, so you don’t have to manually access every device in the field. (Continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines make this task efficient.)
- Integration. Odds are you’ll connect multiple software tools to your central device management platform. You accomplish this through APIs and software development kits (SDKs).
- Decommissioning. Devices run their course. Your management system must include processes that allow you to remove these devices from the system.
These are the tasks involved in IoT device management. But what about the tools? At a bare minimum, you’ll need a software solution designed to provide the functionality in all nine steps above. That tool is called an IoT device management platform.
Understanding the IoT Device Management Platform
You don’t have to build an IoT device management system from scratch. There are several major IoT device management platforms available. Right out of the box, these systems allow you to configure, deploy, and manage your devices. They even help you build custom IoT applications, sometimes with little or no coding knowledge required.
While there are lots of specialized IoT device management platforms out there, the big tech companies provide some of the most recognizable. These include:
Note that Google is notably missing from this list. Google Cloud did offer an IoT device management platform at one time — IoT Core — but that system is scheduled for retirement in August 2023.
Each platform may have its strengths and weaknesses, but they all do essentially the same thing. Your IoT development partner will help you choose the ideal platform for your use case. (Just make sure you choose a platform-agnostic IoT partner.) Then you can use the platform to accomplish the tasks listed in our review of the IoT device lifecycle. That, in a nutshell, is IoT device management.
Of course, you can’t manage IoT devices until you design and build them. That’s what we’ll cover in Part 3 of this series: Designing, building, and deploying IoT devices.