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How to select the right IoT platform

When in late 2013 I decided to launch OIES Consulting, I thought the selection of IoT platforms would be one of the most useful services that we would offer and certainly one that would bring more benefits to the clients wishing to accelerate the adoption of IoT. At that time I had identified about 60 IoT platform vendors and despite some analyst reports specialized in this subject, the confusion was brutal. Today is worse, there are more than 700 platform vendors.

I was tempted to maintain, classify and publish my own list of IoT platform vendors, but looks like almost an impossible task these days. There are other bloggers and reputed industry analyst firms that also try to maintain an updated list. For now, I include below some useful links ad sources:

Nobody doubt that the IoT platform market need a quick and urgent consolidation.

What it is an IoT platform?

ABI Research in “M2M Software Platforms” differentiates between connected device platform (CDP) players, application enablement platform layers and IoT middleware.

Beecham Research has long studied platforms, focusing on the services they enable. Beecham refers to this business and technology area as service enablement services (SES).

Machina Research, now part of Gartner, discussed “The critical role of connectivity platforms in M2M and IoT application enablement.”

MachNation believes that communication service providers can triple their IoT/M2M revenues with an IoT application enablement platform. The company offers a research article with five best practices describing how carriers can most effectively leverage their relationships with IoT AEP vendors.

It is not strange to be confused when defining what an IoT platform is. Luc Perard from ThingWorx in “Are you confused about IoT platforms?” prevents us from comparing apples with oranges.

We find out there are a large number of companies that offer us IoT platforms in the cloud or on-premises, horizontal or vertical, for embedded software development or industrial applications development, with data capture and analytics in real time, able to manage all types of devices and protocols, with connectivity to any network, platform for developing applications for smart home, for smart cities, for connected to the car, for wearables…

The current generation of IoT platform represents the second iteration in this space, but we can already see marked differences between different types of platforms. As an organization looking to embrace an IoT platform, this initial diversity can result very confusing.

Buying vs. building an IoT Platform: How to make the right decision

The eternal dilemma of whether to build from scratch or buy an off-the-shelf IoT platform to fulfill the needs of an enterprise will continue for a while. Here’s what you need to know about both approaches before making this critical project decision.

  • Step 1: Validate the need for an IoT platform — Focus on validating that a business need exists prior to deciding, and estimate the return on investment (ROI) or added value.
  • Step 2: Identify core business requirements — Involving the right business people will determine the success of the process.
  • Step 3: Identify architectural requirements — It is extremely important to identify any architectural requirements and follow the status of the confusing IoT standards world before determining if an off-the-shelf or custom solution is the best choice.
  • Step 4: Examine existing IoT platforms — At this point, a business need has been pinpointed, ROI has been estimated, and both core business and architectural restrictions have been identified. You should now take a good look at existing IoT vendors (a short list of IoT platforms, to be more concrete).
  • Step 5: Do you have in-house skills to support a custom IoT platform? — It takes many skills to design and deploy a successful IoT platform that is both scalable and extensible.
  • Step 6: Does an off-the-shelf IoT platform fit your needs? If your organization does not include a development group comprised of personnel experienced in designing IoT solutions to support your enterprise wide business solutions, an off-the-shelf IoT platform will probably provide the best long-term ROI.

Open source IoT platform vs. proprietary IoT platform

There are many people that believe IoT needs open source to be successful. The rate of innovation is supposed to be faster with open source IoT platforms.

The IoT Data Management (IoTDM) project is an open source middleware solution started at the Linux Foundation under the auspices of the OpenDaylight project. IoTDM is compliant with the oneM2M effort which provides an architectural framework for connecting disparate devices via a common service layer where a given application can be associated with a dynamic network of users, devices and sensor data.

Eclipse Open Source IoT platforms project is another source of information to look at.

Regarding IoT proprietary platforms, this is a nightmare with some tech giants leading the market and many startups adapting quickly.

Vertical vs. horizontal IoT platforms

My prediction is that only tech giants or industrial giants will be able to maintain horizontal IoT platforms; for the medium-size companies the best approach is to differentiate in verticals.

Criteria for choosing an IoT platform vendor

Below some must-consider criteria for selecting an IoT platform vendor.

  • Business stability – Ask a few questions related to the corporate background and stability of the IoT provider.
  • IoT standards and consortiums – Examine which technology standards the IoT provider has adopted and if it uses proprietary technology.
  • Hosting model – How it provisions environments for customers and which providers it leverages for this.
  • Integration – Ability to develop on top of a platform is important for customization. Ask how extensive its API coverage is and to what extent is it standardized.
  • Analytics/edge analytics – Again, flexibility is the key here. Look at how data is stored and how flexible the storage model is in addition to extraction and reporting tools that might be available.
  • Edge computing — Quicker response times, unencumbered by network latency as well as reduced traffic, selectively relaying the appropriate data to the cloud.
  • Security and trust – Ask a few questions about end-to-end security, device security, device-to-cloud security, cloud security and application security. Also ask about policies and track record for security and privacy of user data.
  • Device communication – How it supports connections and communications to IoT devices both in the cloud and local.
  • Device management – Does its platform and hardware modules (if available) make it easy to support and maintain IoT device remotely including over-the-air updates?

Final thoughts

The internet of things is going to transform the way we live, work and interact with each other, and is going to transform the way the global economy functions. But to succeed, we need secure, scalable, robust, easy-to-integrate IoT platforms.

As with any technology decision, make sure you have a full understanding of business and technical constraints and requirements and feed those into your evaluation of IoT providers. This important step will inform the relative importance you place on different criteria and therefore help to focus your efforts leading to a more targeted decision.

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