5 essentials for building the perfect Internet of Things beast

The challenge is that 'the IoT platform market is immature and there are over 150 options to choose from.'

Identifying and building the best-suited Internet of Things (IoT) platform is probably the most important endeavors an technology leader can undertake this year, but one can be forgiven for being perplexed by all the noise, crowds and confusion that reign in this space. The challenge is that "the IoT platform market is immature and there are over 150 options to choose from," Eric Lamarre and Brett May, both with McKinsey and Company, caution in a recent post,

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

An IoT platform has more elements, and therefore is more complex, than a typical technology platform many are used to, they observe. These new platforms need to reach out to all the devices, sensors and applications and their underlying technology as well.

"Look at the whole technology environment, not just the applications," the McKinsey authors advise. "Use fungible/off-the-shelf technology for the things that are less critical."

Remember, too, that IoT is a different beast for every industry, or for every company for that matter. For a sportswear company, it may mean sensor-loaded sneakers. For an manufacturer, it means embedding sensors into production-floor tools. For an insurance company, it means planting telematics sensors in policyholders' cars.

Despite all this diversity in requirements and applications, there are some common essential elements that make for a well-designed IoT platform. Here are the essential elements that form the basis of a well-functioning IoT platform:

Move toward a hybrid applications environment. Lamarre and May suggest mixing and matching both out-of-the-box applications with custom applications. "Many platforms will include one or more applications that may be of some value out of the box, like the stock market or weather apps that ship with iPhones," the observe. "Sometimes, very simple applications are the most popular." At the same time, they add, customized apps may be essential since "platform providers don't understand your business problems the same way you do." Very important as well: "Make sure the development environment supports a way to containerize applications using a common service so that they can be ported to another platform should you decide to switch." The ability to integrate with existing large applications, such as ERP or CRM is also a critical factor in a platform decision.

Look at ability to ingest and wrangle data. Data is the vital fuel that powers IoT, and that's what an IoT platform is all about. "Important is the ability of a platform to handle and manage a large number of high-velocity data streams coming from multiple different sources," said Lamarre and May.

Pay attention to ownership of cloud infrastructure: The decision to go with one of the big IoT platform providers -- such as Amazon or Microsoft -- means also going with their associated software, hardware and cloud infrastructures, Lamarre and May caution. Smaller IoT players will likely concentrate on one or a limited number of cloud providers. "Make sure your IoT platform provider and your broader enterprise cloud strategy are compatible."

Consider data sovereignty and security: Since data is potentially coming in or being staged all over the world, it's important to understand where it's being stored and processed.

Consider edge processing and control: An IoT platform may be a centralized hub-and-spoke model, or it may support analytics processing at the edge to decrease latency. "Sometimes, the communications overhead of moving data to the cloud is onerous; transmitting terabytes of data from a remote mine or a ship at sea to the cloud could be prohibitive," the McKinsey authors state.

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