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What to consider when selecting a managed IoT service provider

Fifty billion connected devices by 2020. And 8.4 billion devices running by the end of 2017. When it comes to IoT, monumental numbers like this commonly cited by big networking providers, like Cisco, or research firms, like Gartner, seem to get all the attention. But companies implementing IoT often overlook the nuts and bolts of how they will handle the massive amount of data transmitted by all of these devices, how they will keep those devices secure, and how they will remotely manage them and keep them up to date. It is a huge undertaking that requires planning, the right skill sets and, quite possibly, a quality partner.

Only a handful of companies are familiar with what it takes to do all of this, and the most visible of those happen to be multinational technology companies that are promoting their own branded IoT products.

Most organizations outside of the information technology sector don’t have a long history of developing sophisticated computing devices internally. Or providing internet-based services. Or creating the business models with recurring revenue that often go along with them.

Increasingly, it seems companies are turning to managed IoT service providers to help them fill in the skill gaps – third-party organizations dedicated to implementing, managing, securing and analyzing a company’s complete IoT landscape. With the right partnership in place, businesses can take advantage of the enormous potential that IoT products and services offer while concentrating their valuable time on core day-to-day operations, where they often have greater in-house expertise.

Companies should first ask the following questions to determine if a managed IoT service provider can help them achieve growth and revenue goals:

What is the market potential for your company’s application?
The cloud enables remote management of IoT systems of virtually any scale, which is important when considering market potential. One such example: Bushnell, a brand known for its outdoor products, takes advantage of managed IoT services to manage strong market demand for its cellular-enabled wireless trail cameras. A consumer using a single Bushnell camera can generate tens of thousands of pictures a year, requiring large databases, real-time notifications, performance-driven websites, and data collection and interpretation. Now, consider managing the data and infrastructure for hundreds of thousands of these cameras. This is typically not a great fit for a single in-house server and IT department.

Like Bushnell, other companies bringing IoT products to market will need to consider the implications of these offerings and what the challenges will likely be given the size of the market for these technologies.

Does your company have the needed skill set to manage cloud infrastructure, device connectivity and over-the-air upgrades?
Developing IoT technologies typically requires various skill sets, ranging from cloud experience to embedded technologies to cybersecurity and more. This complexity can put pressure on an organization’s internal development team when trying to develop and then support internet-enabled products and services throughout the product lifecycle.

In our experience, the responsibilities that come with IoT typically stretch the capabilities of standard device development teams which are unfamiliar with designing products for use over different wireless technologies, or in maximizing the efficiency of a cloud computing platform like Amazon’s IoT platform.

Creating a product that includes capabilities like over-the-air firmware upgrades, device monitoring and diagnostics, device authentication and even ongoing connectivity services is a complex endeavor. To ensure that your technologies are secure and managed properly, your managed IoT service provider will need to have expertise in all of those areas.

The good ones will also provide recommendations for cloud infrastructure that are appropriate for your IoT technologies, keeping in mind all the factors that will influence performance, reliability, security and continuity. This is even more important for companies offering products on a national or international scale.

Choosing a managed IoT service provider

If it’s apparent that managed IoT service provider would be a good fit for your company, then here are some questions to help you vet potential partners:

Does the provider plan for scalability?
When your company’s needs change, your service provider must be able to grow with you. The vendor should have a track record that demonstrates scalability — and a clear plan that allows the company to easily manage growth.

Consider the market requirements for your IoT products, including federal, state, local, enterprise or regulations in the healthcare or financial markets.

It’s equally important that you select the right cloud technology for your industry. There are quality providers whose infrastructures are compatible with most, but not all, industries. For a healthcare company, for example, if the cloud infrastructure isn’t HIPAA compliant, the technology will likely never get off the ground. Similarly, if an infrastructure doesn’t meet federal guidelines, it cannot be used in VA hospitals.

Will the managed IoT service provider use analytics to help transform your business with keen insights extracted from your data?
Many companies that are relatively new to IoT have never used data from connected products to help guide their business decisions. If this is the case for your company, look for an IoT partner that knows how to analyze the data from your IoT products to help manage growth and avoid common pitfalls.

Does your product require ongoing connectivity services?
OEMs should consider the ways their own customers use their devices to determine the needed level of ongoing IoT connectivity services. Managing transactions, device activations, and data procurement and management requires a special level of ongoing service, and your business should select a partner that can keep up with the activity.

Selecting the right managed IoT service provider for your business is a big decision. Making the right choice will help your company reach its goals faster while also providing a top-notch experience for your customers.

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