Enterprise IoT: Top-down > Bottom-up

Our experience in working with several customers pursuing IoT initiatives has led to the following general conclusion, “Companies that operate IoT as one independent project at a time are better off than those that, attempt broad platform approaches.

Enterprise IoT discussions typically focus on platform layers starting from sensors and connectivity going all the way up to applications and analytics. These debates follow a script familiar to preceding enterprise technology initiatives like mobile, SOA, Web, application suites, or client/server where coherent and comprehensive platform rollouts are perceived to be the key to success. This perspective is favored by large technology vendors, seeking to provide broad IoT platform offerings and is in the context of many industry analysts. For many companies, however, a comprehensive bottom-up approach to IoT may be a bad fit.

Many high-value IoT projects do not require significant upfront investments in infrastructure and should just pursue on their own merits. For many companies, the case for a comprehensive IoT platform strategy may be weaker than a policy that advocates a project specific approach.

Why might this be the case?
● IoT projects span from various types of “things” and very different kinds of solutions: Even at a single company, IoT projects could span smart buildings, fleets of vehicles, employee biometrics, industrial equipment monitoring, and production line process optimization, and connected products. These diverse projects will require different solutions that no general purpose IoT platform could serve well.
● IoT platform technology is changing rapidly: The rapid improvement and expansion of IoT technologies and ever-smarter devices will accelerate solution obsolescence. Long-horizon and broad scope of investments are likely to be high risk.
● IoT projects can piggyback on many existing platform technologies: IoT, for the most part, puts a new solution lens on many current technologies for data communications, data collection and storage, data processing and analytics, integration and application development. Therefore, many IoT solutions can move forward with minuscule and focused additions of technology.

Top down IoT Solution Emphasis
IoT favors best of breed solutions over pre-integrated platform approaches. IoT solutions, therefore, would benefit from a top-down perspective on design and implementation. Start with a particular solution need, e.g. “Allow operations teams to improve reliability and power efficiency of all compressors in our facilities,” and then work down the stack addressing specific needs along the way, e.g. end-user application UX, analytics, data storage, data communications, data acquisition.

Each solution can independently choose from a large and rapidly evolving set of available building blocks. An agile process can be applied where an outcome is targeting the technologies which are selected to serve a purpose and replace with changes in the objectives. This approach is apt when a business case is unproven and when budgets are tight. IoT will bring a different set of challenges than previous technology initiatives and a diverse supporting ecosystem. Past technology initiatives relied heavily on integrated platform and application vendors to guide solution design and architecture. System Integrators and IT groups mostly followed the direction set by the technology providers. For IoT solutions, solution design and architecture are likely to be much more problem specific, and leadership will need to come up from those close to the solutions context – System Integrators, VARs, and internal IT teams. Instead of selecting similar integrated platform offerings, solution architects will need to assemble a stack of components appropriate to their solution need.

The Challenge
Our primary challenge today and then, is that the IoT solution ecosystem is still very immature. There is a vast set of rapidly evolving technology building blocks that need to be understood and correctly assembled. There are far too few solution architects and designers who know how to build solutions. Not only do we need more providers due to growing demand, but because of the inherent diversity in IoT solutions, we will require greater specialization among system integrators, VARs, and other solution providers.

Conclusion
IoT offers tremendous opportunities for value creation, and it is here now. Most companies are best served to attack IoT one project at a time to monetize the full potential and learning as they proceed to defer concerns about technology homogeneity and uniform architectures to the future.

Nikunj Mehta, CEO, Falkonry Inc.