Vendors often have promised their technology and solutions to be plug and play, which is far from the truth for IoT, and it is not helping!
By Anand Tamboli
Internet of Things has been there for quite some time and is now stabilising in the primary market. It is a good thing, because of all the noise during hype-cycle, there was too much to digest.
Now that the tide has subsided, we see meaningful deployments of IoT solutions, and they are on the rise.
However, I can say that things are far from settled, especially from commercial and industrial roll-outs perspective. Projects are still taking longer than usual, although there is no standard definition of what is normal!
Last month, In one of the forums, the audience asked me a question, “ IoT solutions are always showcased as easy to implement/deploy and use, then why so much fuss about it?”. My short answer was, “if and only if it were that easy! However, the fact is, IoT solutions are anything but easy and here is why…”.
Why is it hard?
Before an organisation could start any project, IoT or not, it usually goes through a series of strategic discussions. These discussions are mainly around corporate strategy in the long run (and if you have seen otherwise, then it is a big problem). Later stages mainly discuss the merits of the project, return on investment, break-even, and several other criteria. Typically, you would also prepare a business case for large (by $ or by time) projects.
However, once the strategy and business case are in place, an organisation needs to take care of a few things. These few things include — hardware strategy, communications strategy, middleware-cloud platform strategy, product and service strategy, industrial designs, certifications, data privacy & security, various compliances, device security, integration of multiple platforms & enterprise systems, project change management, on the ground procedures, customer education, technician education, etc.
The fact is — IoT solution is an overarching solution that is made up of several modular solutions. System of systems as I would call it. You must work with numerous vendors, various ecosystem partners, and people from different departments to create a coherent and meaningful system.
This hidden complexity of the IoT solution makes it harder to navigate through. Especially if you do not have enough resources, and are not well informed, this can be a significant challenge.
Some of the vendors promise the contrary
I might be picking on a few vendors’ behaviours here, but that has been the reality all the while. Here are a few things you may have heard:
Hardware vendor: We are cloud-agnostic! Our hardware can work with any cloud/middleware platform. It is plug-n-play.
Cloud or IoT platform vendor: We are hardware-agnostic! Our platform can work with any hardware or software. Our platform is plug-n-play.
Application/mobile app vendor: We are cloud-agnostic! We make progressive apps that are compatible with everything + the plug-n-play promise.
Network providers: We provide the media and backend systems, which are cloud and hardware-agnostic! + The plug-n-play promise.
All this time, you end up pulling your hairs and thinking what to do with all that.
Buying off the shelf IoT platform or hardware does not necessarily solve most of the problems. IoT hardware is not (and cannot be) plug-n-play, and so does the IoT platform. For them to work together, you must integrate them seamlessly.
Hardware-software integration challenges are often thorny at a technical level. Commercial convolutions related to the hardware ownership, warranties, lock-ins, and several other factors are often cherry on top.
The critical chain of IoT solution is fragmented, and there are several weak links.
“Every link that joins two heterogeneous systems is a weak link.”
So, this is where you should be looking for someone who understands the system. A system integrator (or SI), as we usually would call it, would be a key contributor in making sense of these mixed bags of things. The SI would be responsible for stitching them together and create a coherent solution for you.
Whether you establish this (SI) function in-house as a part of a project team, or bring in external support, or do both (hybrid), would depend upon your team’s capability, timeframe, budget, and other relevant factors.
However, be aware that your traditional IT team would not be able to help much here. IoT systems are different beasts altogether.
The crux of the matter
- Plug and play promises are not helping. They are instead becoming detrimental to the IoT success story. These promises are becoming perfect examples of over-promise & under-deliver.
- However, then, you cannot just sit on sidelines and expect things to be more comfortable in the future for your adoption. A better approach is to bite the bullet, start now and improvise incrementally (on your terms). Over time, you can take strides as you would understand IoT system nuances.
- Moreover, relying on the promises of plug-n-play solutions would take you nowhere. You will have to fix the critical chain IoT solution yourself — work on weak links of integration. Get external help if necessary. However, make sure that internal capability is building in the process. Add IoT capability in IT or product vertical. In the long run, it will work in your favour.
- Do not relinquish control of the overall solution, even for free. Eventually, the IoT solution will have to be integrated fabric of your whole operation. Only you can make it work in the best way that suits your organisation.
- Be cautious of promises of plug & play or drag & drop solutions by anyone; they are red herrings in the world of IoT.
“Technology is not a panacea – It takes the right combination of people, process, technology and timing to achieve the best results”
Anand Tamboli is the founder and director of KNEWRON technologies and services, an Australia based IT solution provider. He has nearly two decades of hands-on experience in developing numerous innovative products, services and systems. Besides manufacturing, he also has direct experiences in education, engineering, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, IT & ITES, banking, insurance, and other few industries.
He is also a speaker on business & technology, startup coach and author of the award winning book “Build Your Own IoT Platform”.