Utilizing an IoT Platform for IoT Product Development

Article Technical Rating: 5 out of 10

Written by Crawford Leeds of Cocoa Electronics

Creating an IoT product is more expensive and risky than creating a non-IoT counterpart. IoT products have the potential to reap a large ROI by adding value to your business and customers.

This article will explain the benefits of using an existing IoT platform as a way to maximize your ROI.

The greatest technical challenge in IoT development is managing the diverse suite of technologies required: embedded hardware, embedded software, RF design, industrial design, compliance, cloud security, server load balancing, back end development, front end development for users, and admin management. This is where the right platform can help.

As an example, something fundamental for most IoT products is the capability for over-the-air (OTA) updates. This is quite complicated to build from scratch at the infrastructure level. There’s an admin dashboard, UI to push updates, a fleet management tool, device firmware to accept updates, and security to consider.

In production, these features must scale to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of devices. This is just one of many necessary functions for most IoT products.

Building this functionality on top of infrastructure with proper security and scalability could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars on its own. Sure, if you’re just looking for a minimal viable product (MVP) this can be done much cheaper, but you’ll only have an IoT prototype, not an IoT product that has a real ROI.

Enter an IoT “Platform as a Service” like Afero, Ayla, Electric Imp or Particle. Fundamental features like OTA updates, fleet management, device authentication, device on-boarding, and security are already production ready.

Your developers can focus on building device specific features that add value with IoT, not building generic IoT features.

Each of these platforms have their own niche and applicability to product types, but at their core they are single entities offering a single solution for the generic challenges of all IoT products.

Of course, these platforms don’t come without some cost. Whether that’s an ongoing fee, device premium, or other setup costs, it isn’t free. However, in our experience, it’s a lot less expensive to use an existing platform than hiring us or your own team of developers to replicate the capabilities provided by such a platform.

If you can use an IoT platform, you are more likely to get a good ROI simply because the platform can distribute costs across multiple customers that all need the same generic IoT functionality.

As with anything in technology, there are exceptions to the rule. There are two big ones we see.

1. Projects with large expected capital expenditures.

I’m talking >$50 million in expected development costs. At this level of investment, you may get enough value from truly customizing your own platform and maintaining autonomy over it.

I think even this value will start to diminish as IoT matures. Consider this analogy – no one would become an internet service provider if they’re building a website just to ensure they maintain control over the delivery mechanism of their website.

The same is usually true in IoT. While it sounds appealing to maintain more control over your systems, it’s not usually very pragmatic.

That said, if you’re a giant putting in a massive investment into a product or product suite, at this stage of IoT, building your own platform may add value to your business. At this point, you’re also probably looking at connecting other products to your ecosystem (think Nest).

2. Established, internally built platforms.

We have a worked with a few companies that have been making IoT products since before the term IoT was coined. These are successful companies with deep roots in managing and deploying hardware. When their products were first launched, there was no IoT platform, so they built their own.

When we step in on these engagements, we facilitate new product development on existing platforms. In these scenarios, we maximize ROI by utilizing a pre-built platform, it just happens to be the client’s own in-house platform.

Perhaps one of the best cases for the use of a platform today is a look at how many fewer players were in the IoT space in 2008 vs. now. Economic downturn aside, scaling a product in 2008 required more resources due to the need to build everything from the ground up.

Only a few players could compete. With production ready platforms, high ROI product development is more accessible than ever.

So far, I have attempted to make the case that utilizing an IoT platform lowers the long run cost and risk of IoT development; now I’m now going to make the case to choose a specific IoT platform early.

As I mentioned before, while most IoT platforms provide a pre-built solution to generic IoT challenges, they do have very different architectures which can make them better suited for some applications versus others.

For developers, this is critical because development effort on one platform (or development effort on a product without a platform), is not usually easily portable to another platform. Aside from the loss of any setup costs (depends on the platform), they use different hardware, firmware, and cloud API’s.

Many IoT platforms are hardware specific, even language specific. Changing IoT platforms partway through development often requires hardware re-designs and extensive software porting.

This has always been true in choosing the right processor for embedded projects. Now, you need to ensure your processor and programming environment is compatible with the chosen platform.

The equivalent is true of a development process that starts without an IoT platform and tries to migrate to a platform later on.

I hope I have made the case that it’s important to utilize an IoT platform for your IoT product and choose one quickly in the product development cycle. This applies to everyone from startups to large organizations.

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This article was a guest post by Crawford Leeds of Cocoa Electronics. Cocoa Electronics believes in the enormous potential of IoT to improve business and society and they’re committed to helping clients extract as much value as possible from their investments in this area.

NOTE: If you're serious about developing a new electronic hardware product then download our free cheat sheets - 15 Steps to Develop Your Electronic Product and Summary of the Costs to Develop Your Electronic Product.


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