IoT Maintenance: A Platform Guide for Small Businesses

The buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) is intensifying, but the vendor landscape remains crowded and highly fragmented.

Hundreds of IoT vendors are flooding the market, each with its own industry focus and marketing spin. This makes selection a real challenge, especially for smaller organizations. According to Gartner:

“Through 2018, there will be no dominant IoT ecosystem platform; IT leaders will still need to compose IoT solutions from multiple providers.”

(The full report, “Market Guide for IoT Platforms,” is available to Gartner clients.)

Despite this complexity, IoT’s business optimization and cost-saving capabilities are quite valuable to certain industries. Businesses such as manufacturing, health care and facilities management will find great value in IoT, particularly for maintenance management operations.

Gartner recommends adopting the technology soon to get ahead of the competition. They state:

“By 2020, more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the Internet of Things, whether large or small.”

This guide will provide a map of this technology landscape, looking at what constitutes an IoT platform, and what to bear in mind when evaluating IoT systems.

What Is an IoT Platform?

In a recent report, we looked at what lessons can be learned from the mining industry, which is at the forefront of adopting IoT technologies. The applications in this industry include adding remote control functionality to heavy trucks and continuous miners, and automating fresh air pumps so they are used only when and where necessary.

In that piece, we defined the three basic components of IoT:

iot basic components

 
In a simple sense, an IoT platform is a software suite or cloud-based service that enables and manages the connectivity among “things.”

The things in question can be just about anything:

  • Manufacturing companies can attach condition sensors to production machines to stream data and optimize performance.
    • Health care organizations can use devices to track expensive assets or patients who may get lost.
      • Facilities managers can create a “smart building” by integrating various building systems and performing analytics to more efficiently manage a facility.

      An IoT platform enables these types of connections and applications. While functionality differs among systems, the following capabilities should be present in any platform, according to Gartner:

      • Management of IoT endpoints, or “things.”
        • The ability to create and customize applications.
          • Event processing: the ability to aggregate and analyze data related to a specific “event” (such as temperature readings in an overheating AC motor).
            • The ability to process decisions using rule engines and business process management.
              • Analytics using IoT data and visualizations with dashboards.
                • Cybersecurity: authentication, encryption, certificate management.
                  • A physical layer (such as Wi-Fi) and a data layer (such as HTTP) to support IoT device communication.
                    • Integration tools to connect to other business applications.
                      • API management.
                        • User interfaces for end users and development.

                        Organizations can find these capabilities in most IoT platform vendors today, but certain limitations should be kept in mind when searching.

                        IoT Market Limitations and Pricing

                        Companies need to have a clear idea of what they’re seeking in an IoT solution; otherwise, they’re bound to be overwhelmed by the confusing vendor landscape.

                        The key consideration to keep in mind: No IoT platform is a complete solution.

                        Any platform will require some degree of configuration with other systems and data sources to best meet the needs of a specific IoT project. In many cases, a platform supports the integration of multiple specialized technologies.

                        For more context, Gartner identifies a couple reasons why this market can be so confusing:

                        • Vendors are developing industry-specific platforms. Hospitals and manufacturers, for example, will have different requirements for IoT endpoints and connections. Depending on the region, they may face industry-specific compliance and regulatory issues. Eventually, dominant vendors will establish standard platform configurations for each major client vertical.
                        • The IoT market includes both startups and large, established vendors. Gartner calls 2016 the “year of the marketing message of the megavendors,” in which large companies such as AT&T, GE and IBM aggressively reached out to potential clients. These vendors may have great marketing and roadmaps for IoT solutions, but are likely still building out their platforms.

                        As is expected in such a volatile market, prices remain fluid, and costs to implement a platform can vary wildly. Some factors that will contribute to pricing include:

                        • License fees for the platform, which can range between $5,000 and $250,000.
                          • Monthly fees for wireless connectivity.
                            • Fees based on the number of connected devices—ranging from 20 cents for a consumer device, to $10 for an average enterprise asset to thousands of dollars for complex, industrial assets.
                              • Tiered fees for support, ranging from standard business hours to 24/7 availability.

                              Keep in mind: these numbers are estimates and may not factor in complexity of assets, capabilities of a given platform or implementation or integration services.

                              IoT Vendors to Evaluate

                              Most IoT platform market contenders provide the capabilities listed above, but some focus on cloud-based platforms, while others opt for more traditional on-site deployments.

                              The list below, while not exhaustive, offers an overview of some popular platform vendors in the market and lists some of the common applications for each platform.

                               

                              IoT Platform Name Top Use Cases
                              Amazon AWS IoT Asset management, predictive maintenance
                              Bosch IoT Suite Industry 4.0, smart buildings
                              AT&T IoT Platform Asset management, vehicle solutions
                              Electric Imp Energy management, asset management
                              GE Predix Asset performance management, automation
                              IBM Watson IoT Product life cycle management, asset performance management
                              Microsoft Azure IoT Remote monitoring, predictive maintenance
                              Oracle IoT Cloud Fleet management, connected assets
                              ThingWorx IoT analytics, industrial connectivity
                              relayr Cloud Predictive maintenance, infrastructure management
                              SAP Hana IoT Asset optimization, connected energy
                              Teezle IoT Fleet management, connected products
                              Telit deviceWISE Industrial automation, application enablement

                               

                              These vendors can work with your organization to customize and implement a platform that meets your needs. When choosing the right IoT platform for your business, you’ll want to consider their capabilities, services and pricing.

                              Next Steps

                              Gartner suggests some short-term actions for those companies committed to enhancing their operations with the IoT:

                              1. Establish an IoT strategy that will include making tactical decisions for the next three to five years as the market matures.
                                1. Create an IoT team to ensure you have the IT architecture required to support these projects.
                                  1. Evaluate vendors based on your list of requirements, including:
                                    • Technical capabilities of the solution
                                    • Alignment with your specific industry requirements
                                    • Partnerships with system implementation providers
                                    • Alignment with your system infrastructure
                                    • Security features and future upgrade options

                                  Companies should expect to learn more about IoT as they use it. Since it’s a relatively new market, IoT has the potential to gain value as companies experiment with new applications.

                                  Industries that rely on maintenance management processes can benefit greatly from IoT applications. For example, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) stores tons of valuable maintenance data which is then used to enable greater predictive maintenance and automation and further reduce costs.

                                  You can review the top CMMS systems or give us a call at (844) 689-4876 for a free phone consultation to narrow down your maintenance software options. For any specific questions, contact me at taylorshort@softwareadvice.com.

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