This article appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.
What you’ll learn:
- Current approaches to IoT device integration.
- Going modular with single-purpose tools to integrate the IoT.
The Internet of Things is an unseen driver of immense progress in countless industries, with more than 43 billion connected devices worldwide delivering valuable data in smart cities, supply chains, agriculture, and much more. But the IoT and its cutting-edge technical advances in wireless technology aren’t being implemented at the speed or volume as projected or needed, in large part because of poor integration of connected devices.
What’s lacking is the widespread development and deployment of a single, functioning piece—a soup-to-nuts integration of five key elements: hardware, firmware, connectivity, cloud, and front ends. These five elements live in different worlds, and for the most part, are incompatible with each other due to different technology, different cultures, and different goals.
Approaches to IoT Device Integration
Most product manufacturers don’t possess the capability to integrate all of these components themselves. Today, they have three possible approaches:
1. Integrate themselves: Hire IoT engineers and let them create generic IoT technology to send data from the device into the cloud.
- Pros: Full control and maximum flexibility.
- Cons: Slow time-to-market and massive investment outside of the manufacturer’s core business focus.
2. Use IoT platforms: Purchase an end-to-end solution, often including hardware.
- Pros: Faster time-to-market.
- Cons: These “all-in-one” solutions lack flexibility, offer suboptimal user experience, require paying for features that are included but unnecessary, and have less control over the entire process—manufacturers may end up with a product that doesn’t meet their specific requirements
3. Rely on contractors: Use system integrators or end-to-end solution providers and let them do the integration.
- Pros: Convenient.
- Cons: Over-dependence on a third-party, little control over the process, and likelihood of valuable IP being shared with competitors.
With these options, it’s no surprise that product manufactures are skeptical of pushing too heavily for connected products in their portfolio.
What if integrating the IoT value chain could be as easy as copy-and-paste of a few lines of code?
Looking outside of IoT, the payment processor Stripe shows how it’s done. No business should build technology to charge a credit card on their own, so Stripe provides a tool to solve this problem really well: they enable payments through the copy and paste of just nine lines of code. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Single-Purpose Tools to Build the IoT Value Chain
Companies that need to collect data through networks of connected devices should demand the same ease of use and developer experience for the IoT value chain. Interoperable, single-purpose software tools have the potential to initiate such a paradigm shift.
By breaking down the complex process of IoT integration into smaller and manageable parts, businesses can build connected products with greater ease and control, as well as adapt for changing operational needs more quickly. Each individual tool must provide a clear value and solve one defined problem only, following the Unix philosophy of "doing one job well" and harmonizing well with other tools.
Why purchase an entire IoT platform just to transfer data from the device into their cloud? Why pay for an entire security system when all that’s needed to protect against unauthorized access is a tool for device authentication? Why buy an entire support system when all that’s needed to diagnose and fix issues with connected devices in real-time is in-field support? Aside from the obvious waste of resources and finances, it just doesn’t make sense to tie one’s wagon to bloated vendor solutions.
Seamless IoT Communication is Paramount
To succeed, it’s crucial for the single-purpose tools to be not only compatible with each other, but also compatible with other systems in the IT landscape. Open interfaces, APIs, and industry protocols such as Lightweight M2M, CoAP, or HTTP play a critical role in ensuring seamless communication within the entire IoT solution.
It aligns with the "composable business" approach outlined recently by Gartner. This fast-growing corporate trend turns away from monolithic platforms and instead embraces singular components that can be individually added, removed, or replaced—as needed—and without affecting the overall stability of the system.
The modular approach to technology enables businesses to quickly adapt to changing demands while providing the flexibility and scalability to support growth. No longer must companies draw their focus away from their core capabilities, nor slow down their time-to-market by building IoT technology on their own.
Software Tools with a Single Purpose
Single-purpose software tools offer a cost-effective alternative to all-in-one IoT platforms, as they only charge for the specific functionality they provide. And it’s future-proof, enabling longevity without getting tied down to comprehensive platforms that almost certainly will need to be overhauled by vendors in just a few years.
The IoT vendor industry is notoriously slow and reluctant to drive innovation, so there are few single-purpose software tools out there today. In fact, the rest of the industry is unfortunately going in the exact opposite direction, bloating their existing platforms and stacking more services on top.
It’s time for enterprise and small business customers alike to stop tolerating this behavior. Instead, push back. Single-purpose software tools are the future of the IoT value chain. Therefore, if a vendor doesn’t offer them, it’s time to look elsewhere.