Part Five

Building Tomorrow with the New Technology Stack

Harnessing IoT with a New technology Stack

The promise of IoT offers vastly more opportunities for operational efficiencies, functionality, enhanced reliability, and products that transcend traditional consumer touchpoints and product boundaries. (Porter & Heppelmann, 2014) But with these capabilities comes a significant challenge – adopting a technology stack that’s capable of performing these functions securely and reliably, and with the ability to scale.

Tech landscape: hardware, power + connectivity, data + analytics, and digital
Tech landscape: hardware, power + connectivity, data + analytics, and digital

The technology landscape is rapidly changing to support IoT initiatives. Increased processing power, the miniaturization of devices, dramatically lower sensor costs, the ascent of cloud computing, and the ubiquity of wireless connectivity are all lowering the barrier to entry. So it’s no wonder Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than 20 billion such products will be online.

Simply put, if you’re in the business of making products, or in business at all, and you want that business to survive, then at least some of those 20 billion products should be made by you.

Architecting connected ecosystems requires a new technology stack

Building a successful connected product is far more complex than your standard digital service or CPG product. IoT requires the architecting of a complex ‘connected ecosystem’, comprised of multiple edge devices, a responsive platform, and the careful analysis of multiple data streams.

This means that, much like the ‘smart shelves’ example, user data must be distributed seamlessly across multiple platforms or devices. And in an age where user privacy is of utmost importance, with significant data leaks leading to PR nightmares, the technical complexity only increases exponentially from here.

The new technology stack breaks your IoT product into two distinct layers.

1. The Edge layer

Edge devices allow users to connect to and transfer data across a network, moving computing closer to consumers. This, in turn, allows them to remain engaged with your product, so you can collect as much data as possible.  The most common kinds of edge devices include:

Third-party standardized edge devices: These include standard mobile phones and web browsers.

Third-party non-standardized edge devices: These collect unique data to enable smarter connected services for customers.

First-party edge devices: These are edge devices that your company develops itself.

2. Platform layer

Regardless of type, the edge device operates by connecting to a cloud-based IoT platform. This platform collects data from the edge device, stores it, and uses it to unearth business insights and trigger automatic processes. 

“The relationship between a platform and the apps that are built on it is symbiotic. They need each other more than one needs the other.”

—IoT expert, Julien Genestoux

A robust IoT platform enables companies to rapidly develop multiple connected products and iterate on those products quickly—a very attractive proposition for organizations in the product space. To serve these organizations, several top companies have developed Platform as a Service (PaaS) IoT frameworks—vendors like AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, Cisco Jasper, GE Predix, IBM Watson, and Salesforce.

New Hardware IoT Tech Stack

Introducing dramatic changes to your platform

To compete successfully in the connected world (and to protect your company’s reputation) your IoT platform must be built, or rearchitected, with the following in mind:

  • Edge device management: Your digital platform must be able to connect with, monitor, manage, control, and extract data from connected devices, of which there may be an enormous number, and which may be located in remote areas with spotty connectivity.
  • Security: Your platform must handle security and encryption for end-to-end communication, and it must be bulletproof.
  • Over-the-air updates: Your platform must be able to send updates to and from edge devices on the fly, potentially without user intervention.
  • Interoperability: Loosely defined, interoperability is the ability of two or more entities to interact and exchange information. Your platform must maximize interoperability across your entire ecosystem.
  • Scalability: Network resources must be used efficiently. Your platform must feature standards-based solutions for utilizing automation and horizontal device management.

Designing delightful experiences around all this technology presents its own challenges. But we’ve got you covered. Learn more.

Tackling the new technology stack

As you build, you must ensure that your edge devices and platform address a multitude of considerations simultaneously. Enter the new technology stack. In order to collect, analyze, and redistribute your users’ data, consider the following to be the bare minimum of technologies you must implement:

Device hardware: This refers to both the smart connected product itself as well as the integrated sensors and components within the product. Examples of the connected device hardware include such things as home appliance, vehicle, industrial machine, commonly referred to as an edge device. Device hardware within products include microcontrollers to collect, store, and pre-process data; sensors to monitor and measure values such as temperature, humidity, vibration, acceleration, light, sound, and so on; and other electronic components.

Embedded software: Embedded in the microcontroller of every smart connected product is firmware—that is, software that dictates how frequently the device collects data, how it processes that data, how it formats that data before sending it on to the network, and when it sends it.

Connectivity capabilities: Smart connected products use various network tools to communicate with the outside world. There are many options for connectivity, and each has its own tradeoffs, pros and cons with respect to power consumption, range, bandwidth, obstacle penetration, and data cost.

Cloud resources: Smart connected products connect to cloud resources by way of a data gateway. These cloud resources include an IoT platform (which connects everything in an IoT system), other software, a database, security tools, and those tools needed to facilitate integration with enterprise business systems, such as CRM systems.

Big data collection and analytics: Collecting massive amounts of data is just the first step – filtering, structuring, and serving it up to the right audience at the right time also requires significant effort.

Horizontal data integration: The data collected by smart products has the potential to add tremendous value across your entire organization. Digitize and automate your internal value chain with intelligent, cross-company data integration strategies.

Making sense of the data

This technology stack, say Porter and Heppelmann, “enables not only rapid production application development and operation but the collection, analysis, and sharing of the potentially huge amounts of longitudinal data generated inside and outside the products that has never been available before.” (Porter & Heppelmann, 2014)

And unlike the 3 billion humans currently online – each of whom tends to produce data once every few minutes on average – networked devices produce data 60 times per second. Multiply that by 20-odd billion devices and you have a lot of data—data that must be aggregated, cleaned, and analyzed in order to be useful. Thus, your platform must also maximize data provided by edge devices by translating it into valuable business insights and smarter services for customers.

This is what makes possible the ultimate goal of IoT: Creating value through data while solving for customer needs.

The future of everything

IoT and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is rapidly changing every industry, from connected health solutions that monitor patients’ vitals to smart cities that relieve and manage traffic congestion to asset tracking within intelligent logistics, among others. (Fabel, 2018)

Your company can’t afford to get left behind. But embracing IoT means mastering the new technology stack—including edge devices and the IoT platform—that supports it. Rocket Wagon was purpose-built to help you do just that.

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