One of the many benefits of my role at Sierra Wireless is that I get to talk with a diverse set of product managers, engineers, and other professionals who are responsible for developing new IoT business models and applications at their companies. The markets these professionals’ companies are in, the size of their companies, the types of problems they are trying to solve, and their experience (or lack thereof) with IoT technologies all vary greatly. Nonetheless, despite the fact that their situations are often quite different, in the end all these people are seeking to realize a common goal – to reduce the risk and improve the business outcomes of their IoT projects.
Innovative new edge-to-cloud solutions, (such as Sierra Wireless’s Octave solution) are helping make it easier for these professionals to achieve this goal. Just as AWS, Azure, and other cloud services simplified development, deployment, and management of traditional business applications, these new edge-to-cloud solutions are simplifying what we like to call IoT infrastructure. With these solutions, these professionals are discovering they can securely connect industrial equipment, machine sensors, and other assets to the cloud almost as easily as they connect their PCs and smartphones to it. This enables them to quickly build and test new IoT business model and application ideas without the risk associated with a major investment.
By connecting these assets to the cloud, these professionals can use the data from these assets to deploy a wide range of IoT applications that help them overcome difficult business challenges and realize new business opportunities. For example, these professionals can deploy IoT applications that allow them to create new long-term revenue streams with equipment as a service (EaaS) offerings, reduce operating expenses by remotely monitoring equipment, lower machine repair costs and downtime with predictive maintenance, and improve other business outcomes. These are just a few examples of the kinds of the transformative IoT applications that companies can quickly develop, test, and deploy using new edge-to-cloud solutions like Octave.
However, whatever their IoT application deployment volume or experience, professionals need to always keep their IoT project end goal – lower risk and improved business outcomes — front of mind. In trying to achieve this goal, I see most of them traveling on some variation of the following IoT journey:
Some professionals enter this journey at the technology experimentation phase due to their firm’s lack of experience with IoT. Other professionals who have utilized IoT technologies in the past jump in at the business case hypothesis phase.
What I have learned over the years is that no matter their starting point, these professionals should start their IoT journeys by targeting a specific business case hypothesis and keep their mind open to modifications as they learn what their customers actually value. I have often seen professionals trying to “boil the ocean,” leading them and their teams to quickly lose focus and get derailed in the complexity of the IoT.
In addition, there are four other IoT application development best practices I have learned over the years that these professionals should follow as they progress along their journeys. By following these best practices these professionals – and you – can improve the outcomes and lower the risk of IoT projects.
The first best practice comes during the iterative business case hypothesis/proof of concept/analysis phases of the IoT project. In these phases you typically have an idea of where you want to go, but there is an element of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” During these phases, you are looking to develop your IoT application’s business model (remember, you only have a business model hypothesis to start and most hypothesis rarely survive first contact with customers).
In my experience, it is not until you get an IoT application proof of concept deployed and in front of internal or external customers that you can really start having the types of conversations that allow you to truly validate your business model hypothesis. I have found that the best voice of the customer is when I am talking to an end user with an active proof of concept running. It is then that they tell me what their pain points really are. All too often, you learn that the original hypothesis is either wrong or needs to be adjusted. As I like to say, a hypothesis is interesting, but until we get outside our four walls and test it, it is irrelevant.
You should also keep in mind that IoT application development is an iterative process that can be time consuming. On the one hand, you need to iterate on the application – for example incorporating feedback from customers, as described above. But you need to make sure you iterate quickly, as the time you spend modifying your application increases your development costs, threatening the ROI of your project. In addition, while you are doing this your competitors are not standing still, and working to bring their own applications to market.
Yes, you might need to re-test your hypothesis several times until you get it right. But you want to “fail fast”, and be agile with your course corrections. Fortunately, new edge-to-cloud solutions, like Octave, allow you to quickly make these course corrections by enabling you to easily update your application at the edge to reflect any changes you have made to your business case hypothesis.
Then when you are confident that you have a minimum viable product, you should move to commercialize the application, while ensuring you have in place tools (like Octave) that allow you to quickly make additional changes to your application even after it is commercialized.
As the best practice described above shows, you will want to quickly move your IoT project from the proof of concept stage to the commercialization stage when it is ready. Which is why even at the beginning of your project, you need to ensure you have partners who will enable you to seamlessly transition your proof of concept to a commercial product.
I often speak to professionals who did not do this partner vetting, have deployed an IoT proof of concept, and are now turning their focus towards commercialization. It is at this point that they realize that the partners they worked with on the proof of concept can’t support their commercial business case. Their solutions or services do not scale, use the wrong technology, or are too expensive to deploy or maintain over time. This is a common failure.
It is critically important that the partners you work with during the earliest stages of your IoT journey can put you on a path to commercial success that aligns with your business case. For example, I have seen several early stage IoT proof of concepts quickly commercialized because they partnered with Sierra Wireless, and were able to use a fully certified gateway (such as Sierra Wireless’ FX30 IoT Gateway) or our mangOH open source IoT hardware platform to move rapidly from proof of concept to commercialization.
In addition, if your business case requires scaling to support a large number of connected products, you may need to transition from using a gateway device to direct integration of cellular modules into your product to reduce your bill of material (BOM) costs. Again, the right partner can provide you with the solutions you need for each stage of your IoT journey, allowing you to quickly make this transition. You don’t want to switch supplier horses every time you move from one stage to another as this will require additional investment in development, resulting in higher engineering costs and schedule impacts. This will further erode your business case, lower your project ROI, and increase the risk associated with your project.
Partnering with companies that are ready to and have moved from proof of concept to initial commercialization to wide-scale commercial deployments minimizes your development expenses and time, lowers your risk, and accelerates your time to value.
Early IoT exploration and incubation within companies usually starts with just a few individuals. That is great and how I see many firms’ IoT journeys begin. However, as small teams start progressing down their IoT path, it becomes critically important for them to bring all the relevant stakeholders in their organization to the table as soon as possible.
In particular, any executives, business representatives, or technical teams (edge/embedded, cloud/IT) that have a stake in delivering the IoT application should be engaged early in the project. This will reduce the churn and turf wars that can result when the stakeholders operate independently or are not engaged in the early stages of the project.
While executing on all these best practices might seem difficult, it has become a lot easier recently, thanks to innovative new edge-to-cloud solutions, including Sierra Wireless’ all-in-one solution for connecting to industrial assets, Octave.
Octave greatly simplifies the complex task of developing and maintaining IoT applications by integrating together the key building blocks of IoT infrastructure — edge devices, cellular network connectivity (with an industry first pay-as-you-go model), and both cloud and industrial equipment APIs and protocols. It then wraps built-in end-to-end security around all this infrastructure. At the same time, Octave speeds your application development by providing you with an integrated development environment (IDE) and simplifies application deployment with a single user interface for SIM and device management.
Octave supports both gateways and embedded modules, including the open source mangOH IoT hardware platform. These different hardware solutions help ensure you have the edge device you need for every stage of your project, whether you are still in early-stage technology assessment phase of your IoT journey or have moved on to full scale volume commercial deployment.
The benefits of adopting Octave are outlined in this Forrester report. First, users have seen a significant reduction in cost to develop their IoT solutions (average 42% reduction). Secondly, users have seen a significant time to market advantage as a result (average of nine months). The bottom line is that with Octave, your IoT infrastructure to-do list is greatly reduced, freeing you to focus more of your limited resources on your data and your business case.
It is an exciting time for product managers, engineers, and other professionals who are seeking to use the IoT to accelerate their companies’ digital transformations by connecting their industrial water purifiers, liquid fertilizer tanks, rubbish bins, and other industrial assets to the cloud.
Whatever stage these professionals are at in their IoT transformation journey, they can improve their chances of success and the ROI of their IoT project by following the four best practices above, by using new, simple edge-to-cloud IoT infrastructure solutions, and by making sure they keep their end goal – improved business outcomes and lower risk — in mind.
Start with Sierra to learn more about how we can help you succeed on your IoT journey, and unlock more value in the connected economy.
Get innovation delivered to your inbox. Sign up for our blog and stay on top of the very latest from Sierra Wireless.