The time has come: You're ready to launch your Internet of Things project. You know what you want, but you need help to execute your vision. You’re looking for an IoT solution and services partner.
We could save you time and advise you to work with us, but we know you need to do your due diligence. That means asking the right questions of yourself and potential vendors.
Do you know what you need?
Let’s start with the easy questions – the ones you ask yourself. Before you’re ready to work with a partner, you need to understand your own project. (Yes, we realize that sounds a bit like a self-help book, but it's true.)
- Does the proposed project solve a business problem? (If the answer is “no,” it’s too soon to start looking for a partner.)
- Does your organization have a strategic roadmap for deploying IoT?
- What’s the budget?
- What will success look like? What are the key performance indicators?
- Is the project industrial or commercial? Who is the end user?
- What’s the timeframe?
- Is there a hardware design in place?
- What’s your internal expertise around IoT? What will you require from a vendor?
- Do you have hardware design expertise, or will you need a full-service (hardware and software) engagement?
- Will you need some intelligent automation? Is machine learning part of the project? (Tip: Unless your system is simply shuffling data around, the answer to at least one of these questions is “yes.”)
- Do you have an interdisciplinary team that can focus on IoT? Even if you outsource the heavy lifting, you need to own the project.
Here’s one final question to ask yourself: Is leadership on-board with IoT? It’s a little late in the game to be asking this question, but better to ask it now than after you’ve inked a contract. Before starting any IoT development project, it is vital that your board and C-suite give it their blessing – and see the value.
“Making sure stakeholders from all affected areas are involved in the buying decisions and implementation is critical to ensuring that the project is successful. It may work 100% correctly once deployed, but if the information isn't useful to the people who paid for it or are expected to use it, then the project will likely fail,” James Falkner, technology evangelist and technical marketing manager at Red Hat, told TechTarget.
Of course, that takes us back to the first question about solving a business problem.
After you answer these questions, then it’s time to start looking for a partner. Many vendors call themselves Internet of Things companies, IoT providers, IoT experts, etc. To find the best ones – and the ideal one for you – you’ll need to ask a lot of questions.
Let’s start with the basics.
Narrowing the List
The point of these first few questions is obvious: You want someone who knows how to do IoT implementations and has a history of success. Start with these:
- What’s your experience working with companies like ours?
- Who are your satisfied customers? (Be sure to assess if the use cases match what you have in mind.)
- What’s your timeframe for completing our project?
- Do you have a track record for staying on time and on budget? (You may want to confirm this with one of their customers.)
- Who owns the data generated by the connected products? (Tip: If the answer isn't “you do,” walk out.)
That should narrow your list. From there, you can begin to dig more deeply.
Ask: Do you use a DevOps approach?
DevOps, with its focus on cross-departmental collaboration, integration, and automation, is essential to IoT development. Fortunately for clients, more vendors are realizing this.
Sixty-five percent of respondents to Forrester Research’s 2017 DevOps survey reported that IoT programs demanded DevOps practices to drive success. “These projects require the rapid release of software to the ‘edge’ to curate data and drive enhancements to IoT initiatives," according to Robert Stroud, principal analyst at Forrester Research.
"Companies with solid DevOps processes in place…should be better positioned to evaluate how well-proposed IoT solutions will fit within existing environments, Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told Tech Target.
Ask: What’s your IoT security strategy?
Everyone talks about IoT security, but successfully executing it is something else.
Security is the primary concern of companies planning to deploy IoT solutions, according to Forrester Research. However, the report goes on to say that, because they are overwhelmed by business concerns, “most firms don’t consistently mitigate IoT-specific security threats.” Don’t fall into that trap.
In particular, you want a robust strategy for security updates – and a concrete plan for executing them.
Think this sounds obvious? Unfortunately, it isn’t. According to Trustwave’s IoT Cybersecurity Readiness Report, only 28 percent of those surveyed consider security strategies specific to IoT as “very important.” A third indicated that IoT security is only “somewhat” or “not” important.
Trustwave’s findings mirror Forrester’s, confirming that security is taking a back seat to other business concerns.
“As IoT adoption continues to proliferate, manufactures of IoT are sidestepping security fundamentals as they rush to bring products to market. We are seeing lack of familiarity with secure coding concepts resulting in vulnerabilities, some of them a decade old, incorporated into final designs,” says Lawrence Munro, vice president of SpiderLabs at Trustwave.
Ask: How scalable and future-proof is your IoT platform?
You aren’t just selecting a platform for today or this year; you want one that can adapt to your needs tomorrow and next year. Depending on the size of your project, the vendor’s platform may need to support millions of devices with different technological requirements all while providing you with insights from the data collected. It needs to do it efficiently today and tomorrow.
Here are a few follow-up questions:
- How extensible is your platform?
- As the business grows or our needs change, can the solution adapt?
- How flexible is the IoT platform for legacy systems?
- Will adding new features mean reworking the rest of the solution?
Ask: What are the data management strategies?
IoT development projects generate a tremendous amount of data to store. How will your development partner manage it?
In guidance to its members, the Illinois Technology Association explains the rationale:
[I]f mobile applications are integrated into your business process the data volume will be high as devices produce massive unstructured data which should be routed to the private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, or traditional data center. Thus, it’s recommended to choose an IoT platform that can quickly ingest high-speed data streams bringing a high volume of data and enable real-time decision-making.
While you’re discussing data management, don’t forget to ask the following related questions:
- How will you help us turn data into insights?
- What types of data analytics are available?
Ask: How do you handle mobile and web app development?
This is especially important if you have a consumer application. “Too many manufacturers leave application development for the end of their IoT process,” warns Electronic Design. And yet, that’s at the heart of the consumer experience. Fail there and you fail, period.
Ask: What will happen during an outage?
If the power or internet connection goes down, what happens? You don’t want customers locked out of their cars or offices – or worse.
Find: A partner who will help you execute your vision