I’ve recently come across a number of reports from industry analysts that delve into various suppliers of IoT platforms. One claimed there were 375 such suppliers. As well, in the news recently there has been growing parade of larger (and older) firms that discovered they’ve actually been in the IoT platform business for years and will now offer these platforms to all comers. I’ve been in tech for more years than I care to admit and I’ve seen more than my share of TNBT (the next big thing) cycles but I’ve never seen a TBNT cycle that focused so heavily on platforms.
What is so different about IoT that we’re focused almost exclusively on platforms? Even assuming that we could agree on a single definition for “IoT Platform” (we can’t), what are the actual customers of this technology supposed to do with it?
I’m not saying platform technology doesn’t have a useful role to play here; it most assuredly does. But in some ways we’re getting the cart before the proverbial horse. Businesses don’t suddenly reach a point where they decide “we need to implement an IoT platform across our organization so that we can digitally transform ourselves.” Rather, in many different parts of many different businesses, individual groups set out to achieve specific business objectives (e.g., improve uptime for critical assets, reduce service and warranty costs, improve food safety, build more differentiated products, economically comply with regulatory requirements, etc.). Often, in pursuit of these business objectives, they extract data from myriad devices, apply analytics on that data in combination with other enterprise data sources, search for real-time events in massive data streams, execute rules in order to orchestrate required actions, and so on. In other words, they start doing IoT.
The important distinction here is that it is business use cases that drive IoT adoption, not bigger, better IoT platforms. The advantage to this approach is fast and tangible ROI. The disadvantage, since these uses cases tend to be driven by OT, is that the architecture selected by one ‘O’ may not address the needs of another within the same organization. This is typically where IT steps in and attempts to instill uniformity in order to improve scalability and economics.
It is tempting, and perhaps this is why we have a bazaar of IoT platforms, to take a shortcut and move directly to an IoT platform and then worry about actual applications and use cases. Unfortunately, this is at odds with how virtually every other technology has been adopted by enterprises and industrial concerns. Platforms by themselves are not complete solutions and therefore offer no ROI. Lacking an ROI makes it exceedingly unlikely that businesses will adopt platforms simply on the faith that they’ll need one at some point in the future.
At Bsquare we’re almost exclusively focused on realizable, business-oriented IoT use cases. This doesn’t mean we’re anti-platform, in fact DataV includes all requisite platform functions and can also operate in conjunction with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure IoT services. Rather, it means that in order to truly solve customer problems, suppliers need to provide complete solutions. And IoT platforms are not complete solutions.