IoT Platforms – Selection Traps and Tips
Almost every large industrial company is currently working on IoT solutions to make their products smart, enable digital services/ business models and increase efficiency of their operations. Most of these initiatives build the individual IoT solution upon an existing IoT platform, as it already provides 70-90% of the typical building blocks such as device management, connectivity, and data management „off the shelf“. This helps to save costs, accelerate time-to-market, avoid issues and focus on differentiating aspects.
The problem: More than 500 IoT platforms – both commercial and open-source – are currently available and their features, application areas, scalability, pricing, restrictions and security capabilities vary wildly. Although many vendors claim wholeheartedly to offer a „one size fits all“ platform, in fact none of them is even close to this. The reason is simple: IoT and Industry 4.0 are vast and complex areas and most projects have highly individual requirements and specific conditions. To make it even worse, the pricing structures of the IoT platforms are difficult to compare and often subtle aspects can make a substantial difference – we’ve seen cases where the costs of platform A vs. platform B differed by a factor of 5x while in other cases platform B was much cheaper than A.
Typical platform selection mistakes
Many of our new clients that need help with the selection of an effective, future-proof and cost efficient IoT platform have already suffered severe shipwreck in this area before and lost months and large budgets. Typical reasons:
- Selecting the platform with the best presentation/ marketing materials
- Selecting a platform vendor simply because your company is working with this vendor already in other IT areas
- Selecting a platform based upon one or some convincing features, e.g. the quickest MVP or shiniest dashboards
- Political decisions
The good news is however, that IoT platform shipwreck can be easily avoided with the consideration of some simple rules.
Cut through the jungle
First of all, the key to a sound IoT platform decision – and usually the most underrated aspect – is a clear understanding of the specific requirements and framework conditions of the planned IoT solution. As there are more than 120 crucial criteria alone for the technical evaluation of a platform and many pitfalls in regard to a proper documentation, you might ask external experts such as tresmo for sparring and guiding you through a sound IoT requirements specification.
Second, ensure that the requirements specification is not only based upon your internal ideas. Instead, get valuable feedback from your target groups already early in the process through interviews, minimum viable products (MVP), design thinking and other helpful tools to test your hypotheses. Why? If you build your IoT solution on the basis of flawed hypotheses, you might need to start from scratch once again. Sure, in a VUCA world you can’t get it 100% right from the start but without a methodically sound ideation and conception phase you’ll end up in rash trial-and-error chaos.
Third, create a platform shortlist of not more than 30 vendors based on easily identifiable criteria such as IIoT vs. IoT platforms, application areas, data protection etc. that are relevant for you. You can use studies from research companies for this purpose (but be aware that they are based upon the vendors’ marketing materials and don’t include implementation know how – „the devil is in the details“).
Fourth, test the vendors from your shortlist against the criteria from your requirements specification. Ask them many questions and insist on written answers. Here again an external expert can be extremely helpful to structure the evaluation process, ask the right questions and check the answers. As competition heats up, platform vendors tend to overpromise.
Fifth, if you decide to ask for external expert help, make sure that he or she…
- has already worked with different platforms in large-scale IoT projects
- is independent (many system integrators only work with one platform vendor)
- is not solely a consultant but has also proven technical implementation expertise
- allows you to contact reference clients to check that his reference projects were not only small prototypes that have never been implemented.
About the author:
Jan Rodig is the CEO of Germany’s leading independent IoT system integrator tresmo, keynote speaker, guest professor at two German universities, member of BMWi’s Plattform Industrie 4.0, co-author of an Industry 4.0 specialist book and jury member of the Bavarian business plan competition. Prior to founding tresmo in 2011, Mr. Rodig worked for Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, Desertec Industrial Initiative and Deutsche Bank.
tresmo helps its customers to develop innovative business models and new competitive advantages with tailor-made digital solutions and intelligent connected products. The company is a leading independent advisor, system integrator and deep-tech software developer for IoT/ Industry 4.0, cloud solutions and apps. Clients include Rolls-Royce, Viessmann, TRUMPF, VORWERK, BMW and VELUX.
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