Promo featured image

Announcing: Particle B SoM - LTE Modules and Dev Boards for Cellular IoT Development

Request your devices today

Building an IoT device: 10 things to know before you get started

Everything you need to know to build a profitable IoT device that provides continuous, recurring value.

Jeffrey Lee article author avatarJeffrey LeeNovember 17, 2020
Building an IoT device: 10 things to know before you get started

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a popular subject across industries and commercial enterprises alike. The promises of better connectivity, enhanced monitoring, and measurable efficiency improvements are hard to ignore.

It’s no surprise that IoT device development has become such a popular trend. By 2021, industry experts expect over 35 billion installed IoT devices worldwide. To create a functional, helpful IoT device, you’ll need to do more than just invest in this technology. However, before you jump in with both feet, take some time to learn some IoT fundamentals.

Making strategic decisions about IoT products is challenging, but this list of dos and don’ts is an excellent place to start. There are multiple paths to building an IoT device. However, there are key steps that successful companies tend to accomplish before taking their IoT device to market.

What are some things you should do when building an IoT device?

1. Start with the right problem

Before you begin, ask yourself what problem you are trying to solve with IoT connectivity. Many businesses connect for the sake of connecting and waste valuable time and financial resources on unfocused solutions. While there are multiple ways companies can create value through IoT, we’ve found that there are five primary methods companies make money off of their connected products:

  1. Preventative maintenance — Companies can connect essential equipment with sensors to receive proactive alerts about the health and status. 
  2. Fleet management — Companies can increase service profitability, ensure compliance, and reduce fuel costs with an IoT-based fleet management solution
  3. Asset tracking — IoT technologies allow companies to monitor their constantly moving assets (like equipment or vehicles) in real-time. With increased visibility, they can solve problems before they occur.
  4. Compliance reporting — By remotely monitoring sensitive assets, IoT devices are allowing manufacturers to dramatically reduce the costs associated with regulatory compliance.
  5. Environmental monitoring — IoT sensors can be used for commercial farming, water monitoring, and more. By protecting valuable resources, companies can deliver recurring value for customers and their business.

A focused IoT approach that solves problems having to do with one or more of these tasks can improve the way you conduct business.

2. Build a prototype

An IoT Device in action

The prototype building process can be time-consuming, but it is time well spent. You’ll discover the minimum parameters you need to complete your IoT project before deployment, when it is easier and more affordable to make adjustments. Building a prototype also allows you to discover any skill or technology gaps while you have more time to conduct a comprehensive talent search.

This is a smarter approach over hiring someone in a hurry and hoping for the best. If your goal is to scale, a prototype can give you insight into what you need to put into place to enhance your scaling efforts. If you’re unfamiliar to product development, this process can be challenging. However, there are tons of resources available to get inspiration and help from real IoT experts:

  • Particle Community — Particle’s community offers a supportive team of IoT experts who can answer any of your IoT project questions and concerns.
  • Hackster.io — Hackster.io offers a development community for learning and building an IoT project. You can take inspiration from the thousands of IoT projects that are listed on their website.
  • Adafruit — Adafruit is the go-to place to learn anything about building IoT projects. They offer tons of resources, hardware, and guides to help you get started.
  • Stackoverflow — While primarily for programmers, Stackoverflow has a large supportive community that can you help answer your IoT-related questions.

3. Build the right team 

Companies must bring together the right domain experts with the right skill sets to build a successful IoT device. This is where many companies go wrong because they don’t know the actual experts they need to build a connected product. An IoT initiative requires new types of teams that traditional org structures don’t support or are not familiar with. To build a successful IoT device, companies typically require the expertise of firmware engineers, electrical, mechanical, hardware, and so forth.

Not only do teams fail to bring in the right experts, they fail to build the right teams that makes these experts’ initiatives worthwhile. The best IoT teams are collaborative and span business decision makers and technical experts (such as C-suite executives, operations, IT, engineering, marketing, and support). For example, product and marketing teams need to build a long-term vision of the product and a short-term executable roadmap together. These teams ought to live under one roof for effective planning collaboration. Decisions cannot be made in isolation. 

4. Think about the Customer Experience

By the time you’re deep into production, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the end user. Remember that after all the hardware, software, and connectivity building and tweaking, a real person needs to be able to use your product. Think about how your typical customer will want to use the product. Brainstorm with your team to find answers to customer experience questions, like:

  • Do customers need to access the product via an app?
  • Can you device communicate vitals (like cellular strength) to customers easily?
  • Is your device “tough” enough to withstand harsh environmental conditions?
  • Does the device or app make sense to your tailored end user?

When you put yourself in the shoes of the customer, you’re sure to gain helpful insight. This approach is at the heart of a strategy that delivers informed, customer-facing solutions. 

5. Find the Right Partner

When building an IoT device, don’t take on all of the work alone. Consult with experts who have access to technology that can make the task at hand easier. Invest in the right partners now so you don’t have to hire people to fix mistakes later.

The IoT industry is highly complex and fragmented, which can make it confusing to choose the right platform for your IoT device. What doesn’t help matters is that every provider markets IoT differently, but inevitably, will try to explain that their solution is best for you. To choose the right partner, you need to thoroughly understand how their solution and expertise would allow you to capture value. For instance, if you are looking to build a fleet management solution for trucks, there are many factors you should consider, such as their hardware, device management tools, connectivity stack reliability, flexibility, and more. You need to consider if you can build a flexible application on top of their infrastructure.

One way to understand which IoT platform may be best for you is to develop a connected prototype with their platform. Developing a prototype that can reliably connect to the Internet and perform the minimum parameters of your intended product is of utmost importance before making any decisions about your IoT strategy. If it takes longer than a few days, you’re missing critical pieces of infrastructure.

What are some things you should not do when building an IoT device?

1. Don’t Underestimate the Technology 

The infrastructure needed to build a IoT device is often underestimated, and thus, many companies don’t make good decisions on where to invest resources. For instance, companies tend to heavily focus their resources on the software layer, but forget that a significant portion of the infrastructure also runs on the hardware and networking layer. The hardware, software, and connectivity need to be tightly integrated together in order to build valuable features that are needed for your IoT device. While integrating these three disparate components may sound simple, there are many components underneath these three buckets that can be complex and confusing.

2. Don’t Underestimate flexibility or scalability 

Every project faces scalability issues, but imagine scaling up from 100 to 10,000 or a million connected devices. If you don’t scale correctly, your costs will skyrocket and your system will fail. When scaling IoT, you are not scaling a single technology or product, you are scaling an entire process. You have to scale business operations, data processes, product infrastructure, and API infrastructure. It’s difficult to adapt to ever-evolving customer and market needs, and even more difficult to add new IoT device offerings. Even when creating a self-hosted solution, network architects need to depend on a number of vendors for sensor hardware, radio technologies, and cloud platforms. If you choose the wrong vendor, you might find yourself stuck with an incompatible piece of hardware or software.

3. Don’t underestimate IoT security 

The same versatility that makes IoT so attractive is what makes IoT security so complex. A single network can have hundreds of connected IoT devices in addition to typical user activity. IoT data moves around at light speed to and from cloud applications and backends. Securing all that data is vital. Hackers are poised to take advantage of vulnerable IoT connections. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” network security approach that protects every IoT deployment.  Your team should go through a comprehensive security risk assessment to pinpoint vulnerabilities in devices, networked systems, and user backend systems. Moving forward without putting robust security measures in place is a recipe for chaos and business losses. 

4. Don’t underestimate certifications

Getting FCC certifications for IoT devices can be numerous and time-consuming, to say nothing of the other certification bodies you’ll need to navigate. This isn’t the most exciting part of the process, but engaging with experts here early in the process has the potential to save months of development time and money. You will need to line up resources and develop a plan to pass several certifications. Most likely, you’ll need to get the following certifications for your IoT product: PTCRB, FCC, CE, IC, GCF, RoHS compliant. The most economical, efficient, and safest approach is to partner with an IoT company that provides the hardware that already has all these certifications for you.

5. Don’t underestimate manufacturing and testing

The manufacturing and testing phases of IoT development are every bit as important as the rest of the build, but teams often underestimate these vital processes. When launching an IoT device to market, you need a manufacturing team who can help you reduce hardware costs, ensure lead times, meet regulatory and compliance concerns, and everything else that goes with managing a supply chain.

And manufacturing testing expertise is just as critical as manufacturing expertise because implementing quality testing metrics is a job within itself. Manufacturing testing experts need to be able to conduct and validate the following tests before an IoT device can be taken to market. If you don’t have these resources, it’s important to find resources who can help you manufacture your IoT product and advice you along the way to prevent supply-chain hiccups.

Getting started with Particle

As a trusted enabler of IoT, Particle can help you power, manage, and scale your connected device. Particle has helped many companies (like Jacuzzi, Logical Advantage, and Opti) build smart solutions that cut operational costs and help grow new revenue streams.

Benefits of using Particle

Developing your own connected device has a few key benefits. First, you can easily customize and tailor a solution to meet your organization’s specific needs. You will not be tied to a rigid system that cannot adapt to your fleet’s evolution and shifting requirements.

Second, you can scale new revenue channels by having open access to any business or performance data you need, and integrate these data streams into your existing analytics platforms. With this data, you can take action in the physical world using predictive analysis on both real-time and historical data, which, in turn, trigger actions on devices or through other web services.

Particle differentiators

How to start your IoT journey

Starting your own IoT project may seem challenging or near impossible (as a matter of fact, nearly three-fourths of self-initiated IoT projects are considered a failure, while a third of all projects were not seen as a success). The two biggest contributors to the failure rate are: lack of internal IoT expertise and platform (hardware/software) reliability. 

With Particle, you have full access to IoT experts, a large community of IoT enthusiasts, support services, and professional engineering services (Particle Studios) to help you get your IoT projects off the ground. Additionally, you will be building on top of an enterprise-grade, production-tested IoT platform used across the industry.

Comments are not currently available for this post.