Test Driving IoT
How do you decide whether an Internet of Things (IoT) solution would work for your firm – without spending a lot of time and money ? Just as you would do before making a major purchase, like a new car, first take the idea out for a test drive ! This lets you decide how well it matches your needs – before you make the major commitment to proceed.
However, an IoT test drive (or proof-of-concept) presents a few challenges before you can even start.
- The IoT prototype needs to reflect your business needs because there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. So before you can take a test drive, the prototype has to be built.
- There are many different sensors, cloud platforms and analytic tools to choose from different technology providers and the ones you choose will vary based on your needs. Integrating them into a prototype can often be challenging.
- Each technology provider can typically help you with their part of the puzzle, but may have limited expertise on the other components that you need to incorporate in order to evaluate a complete solution.
- You may not have all the skills needed to build the IoT prototype internally and many consulting firms are more inclined to invest their resources on larger projects.
How do you solve this Catch-22 ? You’re not comfortable taking a leap of faith and deciding on an IoT project based on just specifications. But in order to make an informed decision you’re required to invest considerable resources to assemble a prototype.
Each IoT implementation is unique, but most typically share components in common with others. The trick is to identify which of these components are relevant to your business need and how they should interact with each other for you to decide if the overall solution is right for you. Often there are some components which are pre-integrated with others – such as certain sensors working well with particular cloud IoT platforms. The guiding principle is the same as in test-driving a car : its not just about the features – you need to see how well the complete solution meets your needs. Here are some steps to consider in defining your proof-of-concept :
1. Basic functionality – What are the essential functions that a proof-of-concept needs in order for you to decide whether it is right for you? It should demonstrate the complete business process and not just one part of the puzzle.
2. Connectivity – How will the sensors and ‘smart’ products transmit data and receive commands back ? Are there any issues related to interference, such as building layout that might interfere with connectivity.
3. Integration capability – How will the system connect with your existing systems and operation ? You should check to see how the sensor data can be merged with business data. For example, when a ‘connected’ product indicates that it needs to be serviced, you’ll need to extract details on the customer, warranty and spare part details from your customer database.
There is a trade-off : the PoC should give you enough information to make an informed decision – without the delays and expenses involved with building a fully functioning system. For large projects, its even prudent to have multiple milestones in which more functions are added to the prototype before making the final decision on whether to proceed. This protects you from ‘feature creep’ in your IoT prototype before deciding if it is viable and cost-effective.
Once you’ve determined that the IoT project can meet your basic business needs, you’ll need to address critical issues such as :
Full Functionality – Can the system do ‘all’ the tasks I need – and not just the ‘core’ ones ?
Scalability – Will the system scale to the volumes that my business needs – and not just a limited set ?
Security – How will security and confidentiality be handled ?
A test drive lets you compare different options with minimal effort and cost before deciding. By keeping the POC isolated from your regular operations, you can make sure that your regular business isn’t disrupted while you evaluate IoT solutions.
So whether you’re buying a new car or launching an IoT project – remember to take a test drive before you decide. You won’t be able to test everything, but it will give you a much better feel for how closely it matches your needs. Remember : drive safe !