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New challenges, new solutions

Today, it is a given that businesses are embracing the possibilities that the IoT can bring, whether that’s collecting data, using data analytics or developing and providing new services or improving existing ones.

While the IoT’s economic potential is huge, that value will only be realised if companies deploy and then manage IoT platforms and systems at scale throughout their life cycle.

“In the industrial space, terminology is changing and M2M has now been superseded by the IoT,” explains Sanjeev Datla, CTO at Lantronix, a provider of secure data access and management solutions. “While M2M was about connectivity, IoT means much smarter connectivity and staying engaged with the customer for longer. It means bringing together applications and requires OEMs to address new issues such as software complexity.

“OEMs are struggling to take data and make it useful. That is where the main challenge is today. Many are trying to become software companies and failing. The IoT is a complex, but also very fragmented market.

“While end markets are pretty broad, there are numerous segments,” he continues. “A lot is happening in these various micro segments, but that then gives rise to serious interoperability issues.”

According to Datla, most development teams are under pressure to develop and deliver IoT applications quickly in order for companies to stay competitive. In the past, developers only had to consider hardware, embedded software, the user experience, packaging, documentation and the warranty before a product was ready to be shipped.

Today, they also need to consider the development, deployment and operation of IoT solutions and be able to navigate the rapid evolution of technology. And they are under pressure to provide IoT devices with a single unified platform.

“Everything has changed,” Datla claims. “Industrial and commercial customers now expect their IoT products to run in the field for years. That means developers need to anticipate what these connected devices will require in the future and plan for the life cycle of the products – from initial product development, to integration with other systems and platforms, as well as deployment in the field at scale. They will also need to consider maintenance and upgrades, as well as eventually decommissioning.”

The IoT’s impact was highlighted in a recent report commissioned by Inmarsat, the mobile satellite company. It found the IoT is considered the number one priority for 92% of organisations and the study – conducted by Research Programme – also revealed that machine learning, robotics and 3D printing were seen as other key requirements for business.

The report – The Future of IoT in Enterprise 2017 – surveyed respondents from a range of industries and found that almost all (97%) were experiencing, or expecting to experience, significant benefits from the deployment of IoT technologies.

But, while the report found considerable optimism about what the IoT could deliver, there were concerns about a lack of necessary skills, particularly when it came to the deployment of IoT, as well as the ability to deliver smarter connectivity.

The majority of IoT products being built today are using connectivity technologies that have been around for more than 10 years. The top connectivity technology desired in microcontrollers by industrial IoT decision makers surveyed in 2016 was Wi-Fi, which led many OEMs to think that all they needed to build a connected device was to deploy some form of networking and firmware.

“It is a lot more complex than that and those challenges need to be addressed if we are going to maximise the potential of the IoT,” says Datla.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Inmarsat Enterprise’s president Paul Gudonis, said that, while the IoT was a phenomenon spreading over every industry in every part of the world, a host of challenges were present.

“The research points to clear concerns – security, skills and connectivity. The increasing interconnectivity of devices, teamed with a heightened cyber-security landscape and a short supply of relevant skills, brings an array of issues,” he said.

According to Datla: “OEMs have to consider new requirements such as security, scalability, hosting and manageability, which in the past were rare considerations for an ‘unconnected’ product.

“Few of our customers understand the complexity of deploying connected devices and services. They take it for granted; they use Wi-Fi every day and don’t understand the amount of work that is required to address different protocols and certifications (up to 80 in a smart building, for example). As a result, we are seeing customers struggling to control, manage and maintain their products.

“Developing modern web-scale software applications can be complex and require substantial investment in time, engineering and other resources,” Datla explains. “That complexity is a result of having to develop, operate and maintain software applications that are capable of providing a secure service to thousands of customers and to thousands of products.”

To be successful, OEMs will need to develop compatible application front-ends capable of working with web browsers and mobile devices that use different technologies and programming languages; they will need to build scalable, distributed application back-ends and databases using a different set of technologies and programming languages; they will need to configure and maintain the platforms that host these applications and build the complex software infrastructure for multi-tenancy, multi-user identity and access control such as user management, device management, device authentication, metering and billing as well as remote diagnostics.

Looking to address these challenges, Lantronix has launched a development platform called MACH 10, intended to help OEMs to deliver successful IoT solutions – establishing secure end-to-end connectivity and providing secure control, monitoring and maintenance of connected devices.

“MACH 10 is an application development and deployment platform intended to simplify the deployment of web-scale applications,” explains Datla. “It’s about helping OEMs deliver a configured product that is actually of use to the end customer.

“That is the challenge for companies. They may be able to produce hardware prototypes in six months and provide the firmware and software on one device, but they’re struggling to deliver software that can manage thousands of end user points.”

“By using APIs built on industry standard protocols, MACH10 allows OEMs to reduce the amount of time spent in developing IoT applications. We’re providing ready-to-use management applications that can be deployed immediately. MACH10 also provides a suite of microservices that allow OEMs to jumpstart IoT application development, while preserving any existing IoT software investments.

“Pre-tested, these software building blocks will enable OEMs to develop web-scale applications much faster and allow them to avoid building applications from scratch.”

According to Datla, platforms like the MACH10 will transform the way in which OEMs deliver and maintain new products and services and make it easier to meet the needs of different stakeholders, partners and customers throughout the product’s life cycle.

“Platforms are essential in managing IoT application development,” he concludes, “and will simplify the process by which OEMs deliver web-scale software applications dramatically. They will enable the full potential of the IoT to be realised.”

Author
Neil Tyler

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