With IDC predicting that 30 billion “things” will be in use by 2020, it’s clear that the internet of things is playing a critical role in many companies’ digital transformation strategies — whether to enhance customer experiences or improve operational efficiencies.
While most enterprises are already enjoying some benefits, they often struggle with a series of challenges when attempting to aggregate available technologies and devices to maximize the potential of their IoT ecosystems. Most of these IoT device management challenges are common, irrespective of the industry vertical or the specific problem they’re trying to solve. Working with some early adopters, we’ve identified five key challenges and ways to address these in your organization:
Defining device needs. First you need to identify what you want to measure to obtain the necessary insights to support your business decisions and define the device types required to do this. Picking the right devices depends on the atmospheric conditions/locations where they will be deployed, connectivity options available, source of power, local data processing capabilities, remote management and monitoring capabilities, and a way to extract and analyze the data.
For instance, consider an organization that wants to monitor and control the temperature of its geographically distributed warehouses. Key criteria include the sensor’s coverage range; warehouse size; inter-sensor connectivity options, such as BLE, XBee and Z-Wave; and the sensor’s internet connectivity options, such as gateway support. Some deployments might even require local computing (edge computing) capabilities to enable these to work in offline mode when connectivity to the cloud is unavailable. Devices may not be limited to sensing and will have actuators that can do things on command.
IoT data integration. Once you’ve deployed the required devices, the next challenge is to seamlessly integrate them with existing applications to ensure the data collected and transmitted is sanitized and error free. An IoT gateway helps bridge the internal network of sensor nodes and the organization’s external infrastructure.
Data from a deployment, such as a warehouse, could end up going through several physical layers before reaching the cloud application layer given the communication and computing capabilities of sensors. Once devices are connected to the IoT platform, making these available externally is a challenge. On one side, devices bring in sensor data that needs to be stored, summarized and grouped or that requires real-time decisions.
Meanwhile, there are device actuations exposed externally via proper authorization, and some may have management interfaces that will allow its functions to be controlled. For example, a cooling plant inside the warehouse can be programmed to operate from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. Once the data is received and control functionality and management capabilities of devices are connected to an IoT platform, you need to expose these via managed APIs for external parties to make use of this data.
Device management. Once a properly working system is established, the next challenge is to streamline the day-to-day management of these devices given the business’ dependence on the available data. This includes the ability to monitor a device’s outgoing performance, push updates to remote devices, and carry out resets as needed to ensure proper maintenance. To do this, you need to ensure your cloud-based server has detailed records of every device that’s connected so they can be programmed.
Sensors in the warehouse, for instance, will have a preconfigured pattern of pushing data into the cloud, and the data will have a networking route through which it reaches the IoT platform where failure and anomaly detections are done. It also must be able to perform predictions based on historical data to support business demand. The type of operating system that runs on the device/gateway, too, has a direct impact on how you sync the device within a distributed device deployment. For example, a fairly powerful device running Android or a lightweight Linux variant will have existing platforms through which they can be updated.
Scalability. Another challenge is the deployed device network system’s ability to scale to accommodate future needs. Scaling, however, can be multifaceted. It could be device deployment at the ground level, computing in the edge gateways or related to the IoT platform that facilitates all communication. Given the high cost of deploying devices, it is essential for you to plan for failover and scaling for future needs. Failover is usually achieved through duplicate devices or reconfiguring another device to take on additional load. Scaling involves demanding increased physical actions from devices or an increase in computing actions by the edge gateway or central IoT platform. In both these scenarios, the IoT platform or edge computing platform’s ability to scale and remote re-configurability will play a vital role.
Security. The last, and possibly most critical challenge, is to ensure the organization’s now fully functional system is completely secure and not vulnerable to threats like tampering or loss of sensitive data. Security threat levels might not be the same for all devices, but the technology platform should include a security layer that will prevent potential risks in each instance.
Security in an IoT platform is applicable at multiple levels. It can be between devices to the platform via multiple communication hops, communication between components within the platform, data received from devices, and how devices are stored and shared with other systems. The security layer will typically address these scenarios with policy-driven device management by enabling compliance monitoring for applied policies and role-based access control.
While connected devices are playing a central role in organizations’ digital transformation, the key is to ensure a centralized management environment for efficiently managing all of these devices and extending its benefits. And to do this, in addition to just deploying IoT devices, enterprises should incorporate a complete technology platform with seamless integration, smart analytics and security capabilities to address the common issues that arise when managing these devices.
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