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IoT platforms: The time has come for productization

Spring is around the corner, so thoughts will soon turn to de-cluttering, and what better way to apply it to the IoT world than to try to lend some structure to the amorphous mass of middleware, software and actual platforms collectively titled “IoT Platforms” — over 200 at last count. The platforms space has grown so much that the term “IoT platforms” has become overused and misunderstood. Machina Research has put together a taxonomy of platforms that defines the types of IoT platforms that exist; types of platforms may be considered under the groupings “connectivity,” “applications enablement,” “device management,” and “analytics and business services.” There is no one vendor that can provide a single end-to-end platform comprising all four groups of platforms on its own.

Therein lies one of the unique attributes of the IoT platforms space: the role of the partner ecosystem. If a customer wants an end-to-end solution, there can be one single vendor point of contact, but that vendor will be the client-facing frontend of at least two partners that are providing the solution. Usually, one of the partners will be a systems integrator as the lead or in a supporting capacity, as projects have a requirement to either piece different vendors’ components together and/or frequently to connect with the existing business systems of the customer.

Integration with customer systems like CRM or ERP is no coincidence as IoT serves to enrich the offering of the customer by taking sensor data collected by a machine in a traditional M2M solution and integrating it with other points of information to create a solution that is transformative to the business. As a result, for example, instead of just gathering meter data in order to manage capacity, a utility can now provide a more enriched user offering through integrating into their CRM system to offer individualized solutions to customers based on their usage, on a timely basis.

As the platforms space grows, it also matures. And like other maturing industries, there can no longer be a features bake-off. As IoT vendors move from being engineering-driven to customer-driven, being able to explain business value not only becomes necessary, but the norm. This is especially true in IoT, where the transformative and strategic nature of its impact on the business means that other business units outside of IT are stakeholders, if not outright decision makers. Business technology decisions as big as what CRM system to use, what handset OS, what enterprise email solution, are explained to an organization’s team members outside the IT team in terms of what it means for productivity, efficiency, ease of use, integration with legacy systems, ROI, impact on running the business and impact on the customer, among other metrics. Why is it then that when determining why a type of IoT platform should be considered, the default is still to only talk about APIs, architectures, MQTT, HLRs and more? That may be part of a platform’s value, but it cannot be all of it.

Technology powerhouses such as IBM, Microsoft, Amazon and others know about mature technology solutions and therefore know that the above is the way to be successful in business. As platform vendors grow from start-up and mid-market, the key way to succeed is to speak and engage in the way the successful older players do — and because technological one-upmanship is ephemeral.

If a vendor knows what type of platform it is selling, it has partnerships (where applicable including systems integrators in place), it can speak to its features, it knows how it connects to customers’ systems and how it will provide transformative business value, then the amorphous mass that is “IoT platform” is now tidied up into something that can be productized.

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