Industrial equipment, products, or solution providers and manufacturers contemplating or planning IoT, face many unknowns. Foremost among these is what IoT will provide, how much it will cost and how long it takes. In addressing the first, the web is full of blogs, marketing, information (and propaganda) about all the wonderful things IoT will do for your products, so yet another blog is certainly not needed. It suffices to say that properly implemented, ‘IoT-ing’ your business has a lot of upsides.
Correctly done, it most likely does not have that much downside. Understanding the second and third (how much it will cost and how long it will take) is more difficult as there is a myriad of views and frankly opinions coming from suppliers, vendors, opinion makers, engineers, IT, and others in many cases selling their specific solution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but figuring out what the answers are can be both confusing and challenging.
Dividing the Problem
One way is to divide the problem into relevant parts and look at their components and parameters. IoT solutions and implementations can be either very many (10+ moving parts) or few. One example of the latter is describing them as only two parts, The Front End (IoT Thing) and the Back End (The Rest).
In this view, there is a simple division:
- The IoT product, device, system, or equipment – the ‘IoT Thing’.
- ‘The Rest’ – internet connectivity, data handling and processing, and applications.
The reason for this division is that it separates IoT solutions into a part that you, as a supplier of equipment products and solutions, are experts at, your Thing. This is the business you are in, and your engineers, marketers, sales, manufacturing, and managers know all about it. This is separate from the part you may not know well, the Rest.
Let us start with turning your Thing into an IoT Thing. As an implementer of IoT solutions, this is where you begin. The Thing is part of your company’s offering, whether it is a device, control panel, physical equipment (machines, controllers, elevators), or an asset, system, or solution you want to connect to the Internet as part of an IoT solution.
‘IoT Thing’ Development Complexity
This is dependent on your product and system. It always involves the ability to connect to the Internet and the IoT ‘the rest.’ If connectivity is not there, you need to add this in the form of a plug-in, gateway, or an integrated connectivity solution. Depending on what you have, this may involve using existing connectivity and opening it up for web access, adding a plug-in device or add-on board (RaspberryPi?) with connectivity, or developing/integrating new connectivity hardware. Apart from the physical internet connectivity development, your IoT effort needs to include a data model, how IoT data is represented and sent/received from the cloud. This will involve product development or supporting an industrial interface, documentation, and gateway integration effort.
‘IoT Thing’ Development Cost
Every Thing is different, but your existing development organization will be able to assess the cost based on a clear understanding of what needs to be done. The first ‘requirement’ is often an IoT data model. This does not have to be complex and can be represented in a spreadsheet with lines representing data items (rpm, pressure, temperature, location, movement, etc.) and columns representing ranges, parameters, conditions, frequency, delivery method, etc. Yes, the etcetera’s may pose a challenge, but working with a good IoT solutions architect will quickly translate data models into requirements that your engineering team can estimate and implement. The result is pretty straightforward; your IoT Thing must be able to deliver and receive IoT data to and from the Internet (IP address and port) through a reliable connectivity method.
Now let us move to ‘The Rest.’ To simplify the discussion, the term may be characterized as the’‘Backend” In IoT. The ‘Backend’ is made up of three parts:
- Connecting the Thing to the Internet and manage this connectivity (is it working, cost etc.)
- IoT data handling and processing ‘platform’
- IoT applications including web, mobile and integration with relevant existing business systems.
‘The Rest’ Development Complexity
This part depends on whether you know your existing business or not and how you develop a solution. Connectivity may or may not be easy, depending on whether your products are already connected or not. If not, this can be a steep learning curve involving things like approach, method, and how connectivity will be managed, which it has to be. IoT data handling and processing is complex. This is why the market is full of companies offering platforms or ways of creating a platform. The question is whether they provide complete solutions or just piece parts that need to be integrated, something involving considerable complexity. IoT applications may seem less complex as they involve integration with existing business apps or developing new web and mobile ones. In most cases, the complexity is the same as developing a new integration or application.
‘The Rest’ Development Cost
Like with complexity, the cost is directly related to whether you have this knowledge in your existing business or not.” We can do i” is often heard from development or even IT organizations. Still, the chances are that without considerable prior experience, it will be costly. The reason is many moving parts ranging from data models, web listeners, IoT data processing and handling, DB storage, and applications ranging from monitoring, analytics to specialized mobile and web applications. The learning curve for an IoT cloud platform can be very steep. Using a general systems integrator or IoT platform means paying for high development or customization costs involving thousands of lines of code.
“IoT Thing” Development Complexity and Cost is something that only your company can adequately assess. Are your product engineering resources capable of doing it, or do you need assistance? How long will it take? What tools and services are available to accelerate development and reduce costs? Working with vendors and suppliers can provide part of the answers, but in the end, the answer has to come from within your business.
‘The Rest” Development Complexity and Cost is dependent on how you decide to do it. On your own (DYI), SIs (System Integrators), or IoT Platform Providers. The first can be expensive. The latter is dependent on who you choose.