It’s hard to say exactly how many IoT projects fail. You’ll find figures ranging from 58 to 76 percent, and more. To be honest, it’s unlikely that any of these numbers reflect the current state of the industry today. The field moves so quickly; this morning’s failure rate may be outdated by the afternoon. Besides, there is a better question to ask: Why do IoT projects fail? Answers will differ dramatically from one type of IoT project to the next, so let’s narrow our field of inquiry. Massive IoT deployments—those including 20,000 or more devices at the edge—face their own challenges. According to Microsoft’s 2021 IoT Signals report, 28 percent of organizations fail to expand IoT initiatives because projects are “too complex to implement” due to “technology demands.” Here is an explanation of the problem—and how to solve it using middleware to create future-proof massive IoT systems that accelerate time-to-value, provide limitless scalability, and eliminate IT headaches for good.
The Challenge of Massive IoT Deployments
Large IoT systems rarely rely on a single connectivity technology. For example, take a smart utility metering system that operates across a broad region. Some smart meters will provide the most value by connecting through cellular networks, whether that’s LTE-M or NB-IoT. Others may fall within LoRaWAN coverage, or provide cost-savings on a Sigfox network. A mix of these technologies—what IoT integrators call a “hybrid deployment”—usually provides the best ROI for such a massive IoT project.
On the device side, a hybrid deployment is simple enough; you just select smart meters to match the multiple network technologies across your coverage area. The trouble comes when it’s time to push device data through to your business platform. Most IoT business platforms don’t support multiple connectivity technologies. That is because each type of connectivity uses different file types and protocols to push data. You might plan to run an all-cellular IoT system today, but does that prepare you for growth in a year, five years, or 10? As you add new devices or connectivity technologies, you’ll have to alter your business platform to accept new protocols. That usually means three to six months of IT development, at a significant cost. Luckily, the solution to this challenge is already here: IoT middleware platforms.
What is A Middleware Platform?
What exactly is an IoT middleware platform? It is essentially a data-processing layer that sits between hybrid IoT networks and business platforms. Middleware accepts data from all the network types in a hybrid deployment. It aggregates that data, converts it from machine-readable to human-readable formats, and pushes it quickly to the business platform, where you can use it to speed up better business decisions. With a middleware platform, it’s easy to deploy multiple network technologies at the edge—without costly development on your business platform. That’s the core value of IoT middleware, and it’s particularly valuable for massive IoT projects.
Benefits of Middleware
Companies that add middleware to their massive IoT projects report a range of benefits, including:
- Cost savings: Without middleware, IT departments have to create at least one full-time position, hiring someone with the skill set to convert data from machine-readable to human-readable formats. Middleware does it automatically.
- Faster time to market: Middleware integrates all the devices in a hybrid deployment into the system quickly, so you can activate them in the field without weeks (or months, or even years) of preparation.
- Faster time to insight: By aggregating and preprocessing data from the edge, middleware places it in the hands of decision-makers much faster. It eliminates many of the data delays that make it hard to respond quickly to changing conditions.
- Limitless scalability: Many IoT projects run into difficulty when they have to scale up the operation. With a middleware platform, you can go from 100 devices to 100,000 without straining the IT infrastructure.
Middleware providers are ready to grow with the industry. As new protocols and connectivity technologies reach maturity, they’ll add them to their platforms. That makes your massive IoT project effectively future-proofed, no matter where IoT technology takes us tomorrow. But how do you know which middleware platform is best for your project?
5 Questions to Ask Middleware Providers
There are multiple IoT middleware platforms on the market. Some of these focus on specific verticals—utilities, facilities management, asset tracking, etc.—while others offer a more general suite of services. Start by finding a middleware provider that offers expertise in your industry. Next, ask these five questions to find the ideal middleware partner.
#1: Where, geographically, does the platform route data?
In many industries, data is legally bound to remain within certain regions or nations. If this data sovereignty affects your business, be sure to ask middleware providers if they can support your needs.
#2: Are APIs available for data transfer?
Ideally, a middleware platform should be invisible and fully integrated into your business platform. The best way to accomplish this is through APIs—but not all middleware platforms offer API integration. An API-first option will make things easier on your operations team, with the middleware platform quietly doing its job in the background.
#3: What support do you offer?
In any massive IoT project, issues will arise. Look for a middleware provider that provides comprehensive documentation, plus strong support teams that can always answer your questions.
#4: How does the platform handle security?
Large-scale IoT projects may require security certifications, such as ISO 27001—but not all middleware platforms comply with these standards. Choose one that does.
#5: What additional services are you working on?
A middleware provider is a long-term partner; in many industries, you’ll be working with them for 8-10 years at least. So, it is helpful to know what services they’re planning to roll out—and whether they’ll listen to your feedback to make beneficial changes over the years.
Hybrid IoT Deployment
Once you find a middleware platform that is the right fit, you’ll be prepared for a massive, hybrid IoT deployment that works seamlessly—today, tomorrow, and long into the future. Middleware solves the problem that leads to half of IoT failures in massive deployments. Our advice? Take advantage of this technology.