2020, the year of a brutal pandemic, has been an eye-opener in many ways. For one, the COVID-19 crisis has underscored why IoT solutions are so crucial to run a modern business. As enterprises worldwide rebound from lockdowns with much lower onsite staff, automation, remote monitoring and management, analytics and other IoT capabilities assume more importance than ever.
And yet, today, many companies are waiting at the IoT adoption fence, stuck in the pilot phase, or simply struggling to gain control over all the moving parts that IoT involves.
Why many enterprises struggle with IoT implementation
Complexity has been the bane of IoT adoption. IoT use cases require the interplay of sophisticated technologies involving connected devices, data and the cloud. Multiple layers of technology demand different strategies and skillsets for integration, operations and maintenance.
“The disparate layers of hardware and software, too many protocols and standards, and cross-layer interoperability issues complicate most IoT solutions,” said Kiran Yeddala, CEO of the IoT services company Nivid Technologies. “Many enterprises lack the in-house expertise to manage all of these. Moreover, multiple-point solution vendors and large IoT CapEx outlay without a clear return on investment make enterprises think twice before they adopt IoT.”
IoT as a service (IoT-aaS) offers a toolkit to even out the underlying complexities and thereby shrinking the time lag from proof-of-concept to proof-of-value.
What IoT as a service is — and isn’t
Over the years, I’ve seen the term IoT as a service used to mean different things. IoT is a well-known enabler of as-a-service business models.
“It’s not just about responding urgently to the disruption facing almost every industry today. ‘As a service’ is increasingly how we like to consume things: in a flexible way, as much as we need on a daily basis, scaling up or down according to today’s need,” said Ericsson’s Customer Success Lead Jeff Travers.
Traditional manufactures such as GE were quick to take advantage of this. Back in 2016, GE’s then business innovations chief Beth Comstock announced the renovation of “GE’s 140-year-old GE Lighting business into Current, now officially selling customers’ energy-as-a-service’.” Energy is one of many commoditized services powered by IoT.
Compared to these IoT-enabled services, IoT as a service offerings work further upstream.
The SaaS and PaaS modeled IoT platforms out there are not to be confused with IoT-aaS either. A Statistica study traced 620 publicly known PaaS platforms in 2019, a twofold jump from 2015. But the growing number of IoT platforms aren’t necessarily simplifying IoT deployments.
These PaaS offerings usually cater to specific layers of the IoT stack, such as analytics, device onboarding or monitoring, and they work with new devices and sensors. Lack of support for retrofitted legacy devices becomes an issue for brownfield use cases, which is common in the industrial sector.
IoT-aaS platforms go a few steps further. An IoT-aaS vendor ideally provides the tools, services, and expertise that span across all the layers of the IoT stack covering deployment, integration, operations and management. Most IoT-aaS solutions support new and legacy assets. Much like cloud services, enterprises may enable their entire use case while the IoT-aaS provider handles the underlying hardware and software intricacies.
“The speed and flexibility that the cloud offers enterprises to quickly deploy and elastically scale their services are very similar to what IoT-as-a-Service offers where enterprises can deploy, manage, and scale their devices and applications without worrying about the underlying platform intricacies or enormous upfront cost. Your entire IoT deployment works on a pay-as-you-go model with minimal CapEx outlays,” said Kiran Yeddala while describing Nivid’s N-Smart IoT-aaS platform.
What to expect from IoT as a service offerings
A good IoT as a service solution should cater to the needs of deployment across the product lifecycle and address issues related to security, usability, etc. Some of the core functions to expect can be summarized as:
Deploying IoT sensors and connected devices. Advanced cloud-enabled mobile capabilities for sensor placement with predictable connectivity expedite the overall deployment process, ensure device performance, and minimize post-deployment issues and associated troubleshooting perils.
Centrally manage assets. Simplifies how organizations manage thousands of IoT devices across local, national or global geographies in a unified view. Takes care of device authentication and provisioning, configuration and control, network health monitoring, patching, and diagnostics through built-in pipelines to collect logs and metrics. Advanced rules and analytics help fix, update, and reconfigure devices without onsite intervention.
Custom applications, analytics, reports. Provides the architectural foundation and APIs to build and scale applications customized to the business-specific use case. Elastic model to scale with usage, advanced analytics with built-in AI and machine learning.
From there, IoT-aaS solutions can further help companies to scale, monetize, and shrink the time-to-value, which worries most IoT adopters
Things to consider
Before you hand over the keys of your connected devices, it’s important to remember that enterprise IoT sectors must meet specific regulatory standards. Moreover, the IoT data may traverse multiple organizations. Also, connected devices are the favorite targets of bad actors.
Consider how the data traverses the cloud infrastructure and is accessed by the customer. In regulated sectors such as energy and healthcare, find out how your IoT-aaS partner manages transient data, data at rest and security measures to be applied to data. Validate how the provider segments data and where the data gets processed and stored. It may also help to evaluate the network design and how security is ensured in the infrastructure.
It is also essential to get a sense of the managed services partner’s capabilities to manage business strategies, data integrity and growth going forward.
Many IoT use cases involve time-sensitive applications where devices may require sub-millisecond response times. If your managed services partner processes your device data, then latency and performance could crop up as issues. To circumvent these problems, be sure to validate their IoT-aaS architecture from a performance standpoint. Make sure the provider’s edge platform is robust enough to handle your requirements.
The IoT as a service market isn’t immature. As the market evolves, service providers with system integration expertise across the stack are more likely to emerge as preferred IoT-aaS providers. Their inherent competency to integrate technologies sourced from multiple vendors into a single as a service solution offers new vantage.
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