Going Digital with IoT: Do I Need an IoT Platform?
IoT is more than devices
When you think about IoT, what you probably have in mind is the opportunity to "go digital" by installing some of these small, low-power devices to acquire data and improve your business processes, create new digital services, or new business models.
However, IoT devices are just a tiny part of the game
Like every technological system, IoT is complex. Devices are just the beginning and visible part of an IoT solution. If you look at the whole IoT stack, it becomes more apparent that we are dealing here with a complex system.
Without diving too deep into technical specs, let's discover what each block means.
The IoT stack
First, we have the devices, i.e., the "thing" of the Internet of Things.
The only physical component of the entire architecture is actually by itself, a complex system. Sensors, actuators, smart devices, and embedded systems are the interface with the real world.
Due to the multitude of manufacturers in the market, IoT devices support various technologies and varying specifications for data encoding. That means that when launching your Proof of Concept (POC) project and as you make your first learnings with the technology, there is a chance that the first sensor you will be implementing will not be the one that you are going to use eventually. That is why you need to ensure that your project can be flexible enough to accommodate changes in the choice of sensor technology. By doing so, you mitigate the risks of your project from the beginning.
On the top of devices lies the communication layer. Made of communication protocols, it is in charge of transferring data from the device up to the rest of the stack. There is a bewildering number of options for choosing the suitable communication protocol for your application. The right connectivity technology will depend on several parameters such as your network coverage, data bandwidth necessities, frequency of communication, and power requirements.
MQTT, COAP, HTTP, LoRa, Sigfox, GPRS, LTE, NB-IoT, 5G... you will need to choose the right IoT connectivity for your particular application. As requirements might evolve during the project lifetime, you should have the possibility to easily switch your application seamlessly from one to another without redoing everything from scratch.
The device management layer is the component in the middleware that routes the IoT messaging and acts as a protocol gateway. It is in charge of registering devices and managing the whole device fleet in one central cockpit. To simplify the registration process of sensors and avoid losing time jumping from one management platform to another, you want the selected IoT platform to have built-in integrations with standard connection providers.
Being able to organize your devices into groups that represent certain use cases, localization, or organization hierarchy is a noticeable feature that will help you at the moment of scaling from a small PoC to a project supporting thousands of devices.
Data Management is where data is going to be stored, decoded, cleaned up, and aggregated. It is a fundamental step in which the raw data from your device's payload is extracted and translated into meaningful, usable data. Ideally, you want to create your device profiles so that the payload decoding process can be automated for future uses. State-of-the-art IoT platforms typically include a sort of "device catalog" to seamlessly and effortlessly switch between different devices without writing a single line of code. Having such a library at hand makes all the difference when launching a PoC in which you have to test numerous devices in a short amount of time!
Without a proper security layer, your data cannot be safely managed and accessed. Security is a widespread concern when we talk about IoT. Every weakness, every entry point could lead to loss, alteration, or stealing of sensible data. That is why security affects not only the device or the data transmission but the entire stack.
Together with security, roles and access rights management are critical functions that affect the solution's scalability and applicability in enterprise IT systems. The possibility of being integrated with industry standards such as Microsoft Active Directory is an absolute plus to consider.
Analytics platform & business solution
At the top of our system, we find the Analytics Platforms and Business Solutions (usually considered outside the IoT technology stack), which are essential parts of the IoT use case. Here is where data is going to be visualized and analyzed to generate business value. The result of data analysis and data elaboration can be exported to ERP Systems or used to make critical business decisions. If you want to learn more about that, we have an article that will help you understand how to Integrate IoT into your Business Processes.
Typically, you will want to choose a tool with built-in visualization options to provide immediate feedback about the IoT data. Alternatively, standard interfaces should make it easy to export the decoded data to third-party applications like Business Intelligence or AI algorithms tools without restrictions.
What gives value to your business?
As we have seen, Device Management, Data Management, and Security are the foundation of the entire architecture, the core of the IoT stack. This solid foundation supports the two elements that will generate a significant ROI on your business case, namely the Data Analysis and Business Solution blocks at the top of the IoT stack.
An entire stack is required to make an IoT solution work. But do businesses really need to worry about the whole IoT infrastructure, including its inherited complexity, or can they instead focus on the final application generating business value?
As a company, there is no need to reinvent the wheel for each new IoT venture.
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Choosing a state-of-the-art IoT platform to take care of the IT complexity is a viable option.
Choosing an IoT platform
Relying on an IoT platform can be the key to the success of your project: it directly affects the time required to make your solution work and, therefore, how much you can focus on your own business.
Choosing is not an easy task, but there are fundamental elements that can make the difference between a platform and another:
- Device agnostic
You should have the possibility to choose the device that best fits your case and be able to change if a better product or technology surfaces at a later stage. The platform shall offer a device library containing pre-integrated devices and support creating standard device types with just a few lines of code.
- Connectivity agnostic
Each connectivity technology has its own strengths. You should always have the best technologies at hand and be able to accommodate different connectivity technologies over the whole project lifecycle.
- Scalability & deployment
Flexibility is key: You might start with one sensor and later scale to millions of devices. Be sure that the selected IoT platform can scale from the PoC stage to a massive IoT solution. For large projects, this means that the IoT platform shall support the deployment in a private cloud.
State-of-the-art security processes must ensure the highest level of data protection.
- User management
Role-based access control and SSO integrations shall meet security requirements and ensure that the project fits an enterprise environment.
- Data visualization
Built-in data visualizations allow you to gain direct insights into your device data and behavior. Your IoT platform shall offer such visualization features either in the product or by integrating third-party visualization tools.
- Application agnostic
The platform shall provide a powerful API and comprehensive documentation to support the creation of your end-user IoT applications.
- Low complexity and no-code capabilities
From sensor payload decoding up to integration with third-party applications, one should be able to generate the data processing flow without coding skills. Moreover, a smooth onboarding in self-service mode and solid usability are elements to consider as they will directly impact how fast you are when starting your IoT project.
Of course, technical features are not the only aspect to consider when evaluating an IoT platform. Behind a solution, there are always people with a set of knowledge and expertise in specific application fields to take into account. The support of experts and the guidance of consultants can make the difference between success and failure. Be sure to have the right people at your side when you start your IoT journey.
Make your data seamlessly flow
The main goal of an IoT platform is actually to take data from the sensor to the cloud, but is it sufficient? Once data are decoded and stored, you may want to do more out of the generated data. A proper IoT data flow considers the entire IoT stack from the bottom to the top… and back!
Indeed, visualizing your data into online dashboards and digital signage screens, using the data in your business applications and processes to drive decisions is not the end of it.
Going further in the data flow, relaying data back to the real world via downlink to actuators allows you to set up a feedback system opening a horizon of endless possibilities for process automation!
Imagine an adaptive system in which the data collected at one endpoint directly generates a set of actions back at another end of the system. An easy example would be the automatic ventilation of a meeting room when the measured Co2 level reaches a certain threshold, all without human interaction.
The IoT platform of your choice shall support these advanced features (such as configurable rule engines and automated downlink output actions) that will make the difference between merely visualizing the data and, much more interesting, acting based on it.
The IoT ecosystem
When it comes to business, expertise is the key to your success. Nowadays, projects are done through collaborations where partners can provide the right skills to achieve outstanding results in a shorter time and ensure positive ROI.
The IoT Ecosystem is no exception to that. We call it an ecosystem, as every component of the solution has to work seamlessly with the other to increase the quality of the final result, maintaining at the same time flexibility and scalability.
akenza is at the heart of this ecosystem.
Theakenza IoT application enablement platform is your partner for future IoT projects. If a partner's role is to help succeed, we do that by significantly minimizing the complexity of new IoT endeavors. Thanks to no-code functionalities, self-service features, and numerous integrations, akenza allows you to concentrate on what is really important: generating value for your business.
From out-of-the-box IoT solutions to complex enterprise applications, akenza is at your side to guide you in your IoT journey with the expertise it requires.
Discover why akenza is trusted by many, from startups to large corporations, and explore our customer's intelligent solutions.