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Looking for Digital Transformation Success Through IoT? Start at the Bottom

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It’s easy to focus on the transformational potential promised by Internet of Things (IoT) data, applications, and services. After all, the excitement of IoT-enabled digital business transformation happens at the 10,000-foot level.

But don’t be tempted to skip ahead before paying attention to all the seemingly mundane ‘foundationware’—i.e., bottom-layer—decisions. What do I mean by foundationware? That’s the IoT platform level that starts with the connectivity of physical devices themselves, their virtualization or digitization, and management—including sorting out all the various standards, protocols, data, and service inconsistencies and incompatibilities.

Foundationware issues might not sound as exciting as the higher-level bells and whistles, but the success of your business transformation initiatives, especially as you scale, will depend on those foundational IoT decisions.

Business Transformation Through IoT
When companies seek digital business transformation, they want to:

  • Launch new product and services faster, to remain or become more competitive in global economies.
  • Overhaul and modernize their business models, moving from product-centric to services-centric models.
  • Enhance the customer experience they provide to drive brand loyalty and lifetime value.
  • Become more agile and innovate more rapidly.

The problem is that most companies jump straight to working on the application or data analytics level. I understand. That’s where the obvious fun kicks in. And smart-enabling physical devices is rarely seen as unique. Most enterprise execs likely assume that foundational IoT activities are simple and even commoditized.

But the truth is that failing to put the right IoT foundation in place risks all the goals for business transformation. That ‘right’ foundationware, or bottom layer, is what enables billions of physical ‘things’ around the world to be connected, managed, and able to generate future value.

Here are some of the considerations that must be handled correctly at the bottom layer:

  • Manufacture and configuration of smart devices. Smart-enabling a physical product requires choosing an embedded software agent to provide connectivity between the smart product and the internet, and often also with one or more cloud environments. What networking and communications protocols should your device support? How will you not only provision your smart products, but also do so securely and scalably?
  • Secure infrastructure. IoT presents novel challenges for achieving secure connectivity and access control. Compared to computing devices, establishing secure connectivity to the cloud by virtualized versions of diverse physical devices—many with extremely limited memory and/or processing capabilities—is significantly harder. How might you approach the enormous differences between wearable fitness trackers and commercial HVAC equipment, or between smart coffee makers and office lighting systems?

    Then, access to the connected device and its data must be controlled through each step of the connected product’s operation, including sale, distribution, deployment, and long-term operation by end users. Access control means maintaining data privacy standards while ensuring that only qualified individuals execute various device management activities. What kind of framework will you establish to control access to connected devices and their data? How can you restrict access to things like configurations and OTA functionality?
     
  • Monitoring and reporting. Especially as your portfolio of smart products expands, you must be able to understand the status and operational health of the entire fleet. How will you track all your devices and monitor their status? What processes should you implement to monitor devices during manufacture and distribution as compared to after they are deployed in end-user environments?
  • Stability and performance. Smart connected solutions need to be treated more like services than what we traditionally think of as discrete products. End users expect that their connected products will be continually updated. Updates, as well as enhancements, are best delivered via over-the-air (OTA) communications with the device’s firmware. How will you store and manage firmware images and initiate firmware OTA updates on selected devices or across an entire device fleet? What reporting mechanisms will you use to understand the outcome of both current and historic OTA sessions—and to troubleshoot any problems that arise?
  • Data management. By now, everyone knows that the power of IoT to drive business transformation lies in using IoT data for analytics and as the means to gain greater insight into the operations and performance of fleets of smart devices. What’s less appreciated, however, is what it takes to collect, manage, and ingest that data into the systems that generate those insights. For instance, what policies should you put in place to control the export, retention, and management of IoT data? What kinds of rules should you establish to govern dynamic actions such as notifications, device interactions, and data privacy?

Paying Attention to the Foundation Pays Off
With the right IoT foundationware in place, companies are better positioned to achieve the business outcomes they desire. On the other hand, failing to pay attention to these foundational technologies can risk the eventual success of any digital business transformation efforts.

Find out more about how the Ayla Networks IoT platform, with its ability to connect any device to any application on any infrastructure, can provide the crucial foundation for your business transformation initiatives.

About the author: Mr. Shetty is Vice President of Global Marketing at Ayla Networks in Santa Clara, Calif. Contact him at prashanth [at] aylanetworks.com.




Edited by Ken Briodagh


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