How to choose an IoT platform when there are so many options

There are hundreds of platforms in use, and who knows which will last? Here are some ways to narrow down your decision.

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Worldwide, there are more than 600 different Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, with no guarantee they will interoperate, or even be around for the next three to five years. It's a difficult challenge for IT managers who want to employ IoT devices in their enterprises, but who also know that they will be held accountable if a vendor or a solution doesn't work as advertised or disappears altogether.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free Pdf) (TechRepublic)

"In a fast-evolving ecosystem space like (the) IoT, a product can quickly be left behind by changes in standards, unavailability of 'bridges,' discontinuation of a cloud service, etc.," said Sanjay Sarma, professor of mechanical engineering and vice president for open learning at MIT. "A second reason is that a number of products are coming from startups, which may themselves go bust." 

The net of this is that when you make an IoT device or platform choice, you're not only vetting a solution to see if it meets your business needs, you're also calculating whether the solution (and the vendor) will be around for the lifetime of the product. 

These can be dangerous waters for IT decision-makers to tread—so what do you do?

Develop an overarching IoT architecture

Your initial need for IoT may only be in one business area today, but it still makes sense to develop a strategic IoT roadmap that covers the entire enterprise and imagines what IoT you could be running over the next five years. By projecting where you are likely to be and sharing that vision with management, you can begin to lay down a foundational platform with which all of your IoT must operate.

SEE: IoT standards: The US government must create them, and businesses will follow (TechRepublic)

Microsoft and AWS already offer IoT platforms, so considering one of these widely accepted platforms is a pretty safe bet. By selecting a widely accepted platform, you're positioning yourself for IoT solutions that are sufficiently standardized so they can operate on these platforms and that can be substituted by similar solutions if a situation arises that warrants it.

This is important because too many IoT solutions come with proprietary operating systems and have limited interoperability. If they operate on a widely accepted IoT platform, they are less likely to have interoperability issues. Also, in the Wild West of many small and startup IoT vendors, you never know when the company you select might be acquired or cease operations. If you operate on a common IoT platform, there is a greater chance that you can find an alternate solution.

Get IoT assets under central control

Many organizations already have shadow IoT that IT might not even know about. A central IT function should minimally be able to account for all corporate IoT assets. This makes assets trackable and also helps assure that interoperable and long-lived IoT solutions are selected in the first place. Upper management needs to support centralized IT asset management, but it is up to CIOs to explain why centralized IoT asset management is needed.

SEE: Pandemic accelerated the adoption and sophistication of IoT technology (TechRepublic)

Standardize your staff's IoT skills

With IoT, the key to training your staff is to encourage the development of general IoT skills that can be applied to any IoT solution or product. Staff can always adapt to the nuances of different products. What you want to avoid is focusing training too narrowly on just one or two products because your IoT product portfolio will certainly change, and your IT staff has to be able to adapt its skills accordingly.

Measure your IoT payback

With every IoT purchase, there's an expectation that the investment will pay for itself over one or two years. This payback is defined during the budget process, and if a vendor or product ceases to exist shortly thereafter, you still want to show that you reached the initial ROI target. Another guideline is the three-year rule: Before you sign a contract and make a financial investment, what is the likelihood that the vendor will be around in three years?

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