IoT platforms are almost at the peak of Gartner’s Hype Cycle for emerging technologies. Currently there are tens, or even hundreds, of IoT platform providers, which can create the appealing idea that they can solve all of your IoT related challenges. Actually, it’s not just a marketing trick – IoT platforms do have lots of compelling benefits. Many out-of-the-box platforms offer fast, easy and initially cheap solutions to solve many of the IoT related challenges. But, like in life, the most significant pitfalls are hidden in what is left unsaid.
Working in a passionate, multidisciplinary IoT data team, I have to admit we repetitively run into a few misconceptions concerning IoT platforms. This article views the differences of out-of-the-box IoT platforms and IoT Infrastructure through the eyes of a data engineer.
IOT PLATFORM AND IOT INFRASTRUCTURE ARE NOT THE SAME
IoT infrastructure and IoT platforms are often compared to each other. However, it’s very important to understand how these two differ from each other. Cloud giants like the Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure are essentially cloud infrastructure providers. They offer a vast variety of cloud components and services for building IoT platforms. Combining these services with other great data tools offers basically unlimited possibilities to create the most suitable IoT business solutions for any customer needs.
Properly designed IoT infrastructure is fully scalable for different needs – for performance and for functionalities.
In fact, most out-of-the-box IoT platforms sublease their infrastructure from AWS or Azure. IoT platforms are basically simple software that you can start to use straight after you’ve paid for it. When using an IoT platform, you can use only the tools provided with it. Sometimes, these tools do fit the customer’s needs, but sometimes they also restrict the desired value creation. Properly designed IoT infrastructure, on the other hand, is fully scalable for different needs – for performance and for functionalities. Being able to use the tools that create the most value for your business just makes sense, doesn’t it?
CONNECTIVITY IS EITHER EASY OR VERY DIFFICULT
Connecting IoT devices is not difficult. There is a huge variety of gateways and smart end-devices that can connect using some of the most popular message protocols, like HTTPS, MQTT, AMQP. If end-devices are highly constrained and if they operate on low-power radio or by wire, they are always connected to a gateway or to a sink. Gateways, on the other hand, are capable of handling almost any Internet protocol suite. Thus, connectivity in a protocol sense is not difficult, even for the most constrained devices. On top of the IoT-related protocols, IoT infrastructure offers more traditional message protocols that might not be present out of the box on IoT platforms.
Connecting IoT devices is not difficult.
To create actual business value from data, it needs to be enriched. This means that your IoT data needs to be combined with data from other sources in order to create meaningful insights. Data sources other than the IoT often cannot be integrated using IoT messaging protocols; they require other methods instead. Some data sources might even be legacy systems where connectivity needs to be custom-built. Unfortunately, many IoT platforms make system integration very difficult. With IoT infrastructure, you will not restrict yourself to any subset of connectivity options; instead, you can use the full potential of the cloud offering.
YOUR DATA IS YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET, DON’T LOSE IT TO UNREACHABLE SILOS
The true value of the Internet of Things lies in the data, not in the things. Connecting things to an IoT platform is vital for acquiring the data, but what end-users truly wants are the stories derived from that data. One of the most harmful features of out-of-the-box IoT platforms is that they generally create yet another data silo within your organization. These data silos are often hard to reach, which restricts your ability to use multiple data sources. If data is eventually your only valuable asset, why on earth would you allow some of it to rest, unused?
The data produced by IoT devices is only one data source.
The data produced by IoT devices is only one data source. IoT infrastructure can provide unrestricted access to all of your data sources. This accessibility is also vital for providing business insights about your core business areas.
You should also consider the accessibility of your data from customers’ perspective. The GDPR will take place on May 25, 2018. Wherever your data is located, you need to offer a complete possibility for EU citizens to access, remove and query all data that concerns them. If your IoT platform provider subleases data infrastructure from a public cloud provider and creates a silo for the data, can you be sure their data policy requirements match yours? The GDPR can be seen as a great opportunity to trigger you to create transparency and usability for all of your data assets.
A well-designed IoT infrastructure is a part of your organization’s data architecture solution. A rashly selected platform, on the other hand, is just part of the problem. I encourage you to select it carefully and with patience.
Veli-Matti Ojala works at Solita as a data engineer in a team specializing in IoT data, and he has a strong background in both tech and education. Veli-Matti says that his job is extremely inspiring because it combines IoT tech, data and purpose. This trio is also what really makes the difference and creates the maximum value for your business, he says. In regard to his spare time, he lists another trio: family, sports and hiking.