IoT Blog
IoT Blog

Asset Tracking: Should You Build or Buy?

IoT-enabled asset tracking is at the core of many digital transformation initiatives that businesses are launching to streamline supply chain operations, accelerate product delivery times, avoid supply chain bottlenecks, reduce damage to assets, and prevent asset theft. In particular, greater visibility and control over the movement of high-value assets, such as cars, pharmaceuticals and heavy machinery, offer these businesses an opportunity to reduce costs, optimize supply chain return on investment (ROI), and deliver better service to customers. For example, knowing the exact location of all shipments of automobile parts on their way to a manufacturing plant provides an opportunity to reduce the chance of delays along the supply chain and the resulting negative impact on product availability, worker productivity and customer expectations. A recent study estimated that $1.9 trillion of economic value could be created by using IoT devices and asset tracking solutions in the global supply chain and logistics sector alone.

Today, several different asset tracking solutions are available, and while they might meet the needs of some businesses, other businesses often find that many of these solutions don’t meet their specific requirements. This means that businesses looking for an IoT-enabled asset tracking solution basically have two choices, build or buy – build their own custom application or buy one of the complete, pre-packaged asset tracking managed services currently on the market. 

Whether they choose to build or buy an IoT-enabled asset tracking solution, every businesses will still need to use wireless networks to collect reliable data from devices attached to or embedded in their assets. They will also want to have a cloud-based system to manage these devices, their network services, and their data. This means no matter what asset tracking solution development choice they make, they should ensure it is powered by a comprehensive Device-to-Cloud platform that fully supports the asset tracking applications their business needs to deploy today, while still being able to incorporate future technology advancements. The platform should also provide robust network connectivity in all environments wherever the assets will be located or moving through, unify device and connectivity management services, ensure asset tracking data is available for access by other applications, and offer an operational dashboard that makes it easy to control and safeguard the data being transmitted.

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Keeping this Device-to-Cloud technology platform in mind, businesses need to answer the following three critical questions as they determine whether they should build or buy an asset tracking solution: 
  • What type of asset tracking functionality do they need?
  • What in-house application and IoT development expertise do they have?
  • How quickly do they need to roll out the solution?

What type of asset tracking functionality is needed?

IoT-enabled asset tracking solutions range from the simple to the very complex, so it’s important to fully define the requirements before choosing a solution. Knowing the location of assets at any point in time is paramount, as this allows the business to keep customers apprised of delivery times. However, businesses might also need more complex functionality, including:
  • Active alerts, enabling immediate response to any supply chain bottlenecks that may delay delivery or slow production.
  • Predictive analytics to help them forecast delays, machine repairs, or shipping interruptions before they happen.
  • The ability to monitor the temperature, pressure or humidity of sensitive shipments, such as medicine, seeds or food. 

If a business’s required IoT-enabled asset tracking application calls for more sophisticated functionality, such as that described above, then it may be necessary for them to build a custom application, especially if this functionality will create a key differentiator or a core competency for the business. 

However, if an off-the-shelf managed service meets all the functional requirements, the business will be able to save significant time and money by buying it instead. An asset tracking managed service is also already tested, so the business can be more confident the solution will work as they expect when it is deployed.

What software application and device development expertise does the business have in-house?

Building an IoT-enabled asset tracking application, even when using a comprehensive device-to-cloud platform as a foundation, requires considerable hardware and software expertise. If this expertise does not exist in-house, the business will need to factor in the time and cost of bringing this expertise in or contracting it out when calculating time-to-market and ROI. However, if the business already has extensive application and hardware development expertise, leveraging this expertise to build a custom asset tracking application could enable it to create a competitive advantage buy building a customized asset tracking application. However, businesses adopting this strategy should keep in mind that if they attempt to build a complex asset tracking application without all this expertise in place, they could find that they have wasted significant time and resources on a solution that doesn’t work as expected.

How quickly does the application need to be rolled out?
Building an IoT-enabled asset tracking application will take considerable time – months, if not years. If a business needs to roll out an application in a matter of weeks or a few months, buying a managed asset-tracking service is likely the only option. If the business requires custom functionality, such as monitoring specific characteristics of an asset, then a build strategy may be necessary, with the time and cost needed for development factored into their business plan. 

In some situations where a longer timeframe (3-5 years) for rolling out custom functionality is acceptable, the business may be able to buy a managed service with basic capabilities to get up and running quickly, while they also begin building a custom application that will support their long-term needs – and that can be deployed when the managed service contract runs out.

If the Decision Is to Build a Custom Application

While building a custom solution takes time and expertise, technology platforms are available to help businesses realize success. For example, businesses can build their application on top of Sierra Wireless’s comprehensive Device-to-Cloud platform, which provides them with the end-to-end IoT infrastructure to design, develop and deploy a custom asset tracking application, including:
  • Wireless Modules and Routers – Sierra Wireless offers a range of embedded wireless modulesrouters and gateways that support LPWA, 4G LTE, 3G, 2G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GNSS. These standards-based technologies support open source initiatives – such as the mangOH open hardware platform – that can be used to develop custom devices for the application.
  • Smart SIMs – The Sierra Wireless Smart SIM is specifically designed for mission-critical mobile and fixed IoT use cases. It supports multiple operator agreements on a single card, so it provides access to more MNO networks than any single roaming SIM. It is the most cost-effective single SIM solution for IoT connectivity.
  • IoT Cloud Platform – AirVantage® is a single, unified, cloud-based platform on which to build, deploy and manage a complete IoT-enabled asset tracking application, including any third-party devices or MNO SIM cards. The result is a more streamlined operation, with lower operating costs and a simpler process for resolving issues.

In addition, with the Sierra Wireless Device-to-Cloud platform business are able to rely on a single provider for global connectivity solutions, IoT hardware, and support.

If the Decision Is to Buy a Managed Service

Sierra Wireless also offers the  asset tracking managed services. These market-ready solutions include everything a business needs – smart devices, diverse network connectivity and a cloud-based asset-tracking application – and can be deployed immediately. 

These managed services are also built on Sierra Wireless’s highly reliable IoT connectivity technologies to enable wirelessly tracking, monitoring, and managing assets – whether in the hundreds or thousands – even in extreme environmental conditions in remote locations where connectivity may be difficult. 

Sierra Wireless managed asset tracking solutions include:
  • FASTrack Fleet – If a business is managing moving assets, such as a fleet of vehicles, heavy machinery, or equipment, FASTrack Fleet may be the perfect solution for tracking the assets, monitoring driver behavior, and gaining insight into vehicle performance to help them prevent loss, increase safety, and improve ROI. The system includes advanced administrative controls for configuring users, devices and information, and supports features such as alerts for panic situations, geofence violations and high speeds. It also offers stop and idle reports. 

The build or buy asset-tracking solution decision is not always an easy one to make. But by partnering with Sierra Wireless to build an application on their Device-to-Cloud platform, or to buy their managed service asset-tracking solutions off-the-shelf, businesses are more likely to be successful in deploying their asset tracking solution, whatever decision they make.

Start with Sierra to find out more about how Sierra Wireless’ comprehensive Device-to-Cloud solution or prepackaged IoT-enabled asset tracking managed services can help you roll-out the right asset tracking application for your business.