Choosing the right enterprise IoT platform can be a complex endeavor. Every vendor on the market seems markedly different, and they all stress varying value propositions (such as the power of AI or a stellar connectivity offering) to convince you that their platform is perfect for your IoT solution.
If you are currently comparing IoT platforms and feel overwhelmed, it is completely understandable. That is why we have put together this quick and scannable guide to help you understand the IoT platform market space and how to choose the right one for your specific needs.
What is an IoT Platform?
Fundamentally, an IoT platform is a fully-integrated service that offers everything you need to connect and manage IoT devices at scale. An IoT platform needs to be capable of supporting millions of simultaneous device connections and easily allow you to configure your devices for machine-to-machine communication. In other words, like a lot of tools, an IoT platform takes care of the complex IoT infrastructure and allows you to focus on your product and business.
“Like an operating system for a laptop, a platform does a lot of things in the background that makes life easier and less expensive for developers, managers, and users.” — McKinsey Digital
The different types of platforms
We’ll be honest with you – it can feel nearly impossible to define all the different types of IoT platforms on the market. The truth is that they don’t fit in neat little boxes. Some vendors try to focus on multiple parts of IoT, while others just try to offer you one piece of the puzzle. Regardless, here are some common types of solutions you’ll find when comparing IoT platforms.
1. Edge-to-cloud IoT platforms
An edge-to-cloud platform tightly integrates all the infrastructural components you need to power your IoT product into a single service. These infrastructural components usually include the hardware, software, connectivity, device management tools, security, and integrations you need to build and connect your IoT product. The benefit of this type of platform is that all the infrastructural work is already taken care of for you, so you can focus on your connected product and business.
2. Connectivity Management Platforms
This type of IoT platform is pretty self-explanatory – they provide all the connectivity technologies you need to connect your devices to the Internet over Wi-Fi or cellular. These platform providers typically act as an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) and provides SIM cards and connectivity management tools.
Examples: Mulesoft, Hologram, Sigfox
3. IoT Cloud Platforms
Cloud-focused IoT platforms provide all the building blocks you need to service value from your device data. They typically focus on providing you 1) storage, 2) data-routing, 3) data analysis, and 4) seamless integrations.
Examples: Google Cloud IoT, Salesforce Cloud IoT
4. Data Platforms
While every IoT provider deals with IoT data in some ways – these platforms provide tools that allow you to gain more insights from your devices. You can store or upload data with these platforms from the web or from devices. And typically, they also provide tools that allow you to transform and visualize data or trigger an action.
5. AIoT Platforms
When comparing IoT platforms, you may run across some vendors that offer Artificial Intelligence as a core part of their offering. These platforms enable you to create intelligent devices that can learn from their data and experience, which helps stimulate more smart behavior and improve decision making without human interference.
How to choose the right IoT platform
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer here. Much of this depends upon your business model (how you plan to profit off this product), your resources (do you already have access to IoT experts), and the type of device you are trying to build. While we can’t tell you the exact solution for your needs – we do suggest you consider and ask yourself the following questions to make sure you find the right IoT platform for your business.
1. Market Longevity
How long a vendor has been in the market is an essential factor to consider when choosing any tool, and this is no different when selecting an IoT platform. Unlike other spaces and industries, IoT is still relatively new, which means most vendors won’t have been around for that long. However, you should still make sure that business has customers and a proven business model that helps you get a return on investment for connecting your operations and assets.
How do you plan to connect your product or operations to the Internet? You are most likely going to need IoT hardware, so it is important to find an IoT platform that is compatible with the hardware you have chosen for your device. Some platforms don’t provide IoT hardware and claim to be hardware agnostic, meaning you can use any hardware with their platform. While this sounds nice, you essentially have to invest in two forms of IoT technologies (a hardware platform and an IoT platform), which can be tricky if all the integrations between the two vendors don’t work together the way you expect them to.
Does the IoT platform cover the regions your business needs? For instance, do they provide the latest IoT cellular connectivity protocols (like Cat-M1 and NB-IoT). Do they provide an embedded SIM with global support? These are important questions to consider when examining connectivity models.
4. Device Management
Does the vendor provide tools that allow you to manage and monitor your IoT devices wirelessly? Most platforms provide some of device management, but try them out if you can and compare features between vendors. At the very minimum, a platform should enable you to: connect devices to the Internet, send software updates to remote devices, diagnose disconnected devices, manage billing, setup integrations, and organize administration roles.
5. IoT Data
How does the vendor handle data generated from your solution? Are you allowed to store and process that data whether you like – or are you restricted to their platform? Also consider the analytical and data routing tools they provide – compare and try them out. Most business models make their money off the data collected from devices so this is an important thing to consider when choosing a provider.
6. Security / Privacy
How doe the vendor ensure your IoT solution remains secure? Do they take care of the security for you? Do they have latest security certifications such as SoC 2 Type II? Are they aware of how security / privacy laws might impact your IoT solution in the future?
How does the vendor integrate all the complex stuff that you need for IoT — like cellular modems, carrier / sim cards, device diagnostics, firmware updates, cloud connections, security, application layer, RTOS — into a simple package that your engineering team won’t have to worry about?
8. Domain expertise
Building an IoT solution can be hard and sometimes you need experts who can help you build it. When comparing IoT platforms, look at their support services. Do they help you get your IoT product connected and working? If you lack IoT expertise on your team, look for a platform that provides professional engineering services that can not only help you with the development, but the manufacturing aspect too.