Like the work of a skilled musician, getting the the Internet of Things right relies on fitting the best mix of musicians and tunes together to create a magnificent symphony, says Daryl Miller
Connectivity has become second nature for most of us; even technologically challenged people are able to connect up to Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop. Loading applications and even configuring high levels of security are within the grasp of the ‘average Joe’. The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect billions of devices to the Internet easily. When we look at the underlying technologies, we find ‘old friends’ like cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, data management, storage, and of course security. This should be easy, correct?
The devil is always in the detail. Steve Jobs was right when he said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” This is one reason why, after many years, IoT (and even its subset, machine to machine communications or M2M) is still in its infancy. According to a 2014 survey by Vodafone, more than 75 per cent of companies worldwide have decided to implement an M2M strategy within the next two years, yet less than a quarter (22 per cent) have launched an M2M pilot or project.
News of failed M2M/IoT projects often centres on cyber-?security issues or the challenges of managing large deployments. These are only symptoms of the root cause of why these projects fail or never even launch: inadequate or poor planning.
As an IoT enabler, my company is often approached by businesses that have tried and failed to launch solutions. More often than not, the failure can be attributed to a lack of time spent in gaining a deep understanding of end-user needs, or the intricacies of the technologies involved. Other concerns include the infrastructure needed for cloud-based solutions, and the trade-offs that occur between product costs and levels of security, reliability, robustness and compatibility.
At a minimum, no plan should go ahead without consideration and early discussion about four key issues. First is connectivity. What method or methods will address the needs of customers and allow your product to be produced within budget? How can the chosen technologies be future-proofed as standards are updated? What are the nuances involved with making the product work in all geographies?
Next comes mobility. We live in a world where user interaction is increasingly done through smartphones and tablets, with workers bringing their own devices and accessing equipment from a wide range of locations. This can dictate the software technology implemented to tailor the user experience for whatever device is used. Seems simple, but can really trip up a programme without adequate planning.
Then there’s management, and the question of how devices will be provisioned. Manual configuration and management may work for a few devices; deploying hundreds, thousands or more will require careful thought and automation. Will we let the IoT device make certain decisions itself, filter the data stream, or care for other local operations or do we want everything pushed to the cloud for central management? These just hint at the tip of an iceberg of necessary due diligence.
Finally, but no less important, is security. At one time a user ID and a password would do. Today, multiple layers of security including authentication and encryption are needed, starting from the device component level all the way to the cloud.
"Simple can be harder than complex," as the saying goes, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The takeaway here is to spend sufficient time planning to really understand the problem to be solved, the technologies that will yield success (connectivity, mobility, management, and security again) and how to create a solution that will not be obsolete before release. Like a skilled composer, success depends on determining which musicians to use and how to fit the parts together to create a magnificent symphony.
Done well, M2M and IoT can deliver elegant simplicity and measurable benefits. It all starts with planning. Working hard to get your thinking clean can eliminate the #$%^!
Daryl Miller is vice-president, engineering for Lantronix (www.lantronix.com).