Choosing an IoT Platform Provider

The IoT Landscape is large, fragmented and changing fast. As a consumer, app developer or “thing” maker the amount of choice is bewildering and takes the Paradox of Choice to an anxiety level of eleven.

Matt Turck of FirstMark Capital does a good job of capturing the current ecosystem in his Nascar-like diagram of devices, platform providers and technology building blocks. Matt created this diagram at the end of last year and it’s already out of date.

The Thing Makers are on the march

At the digital agency where I work, we’ve seen a crescendo of requests from clients in the past twelve months to do projects in the IoT space. In particular, from the “thing” makers, aka those companies that are making devices that connect to the internet. Each one has different business and technical needs and constraints but one thing is always the same, the first decision they need to make is which IoT platforms and providers to choose for their architecture.

In helping them make this important decision we’ve developed a robust criteria with which to evaluate platforms and providers. We’ve found it flexible enough to use across different verticals, whether you are targeting personal devices, wearables or industrial scenarios.

8 must-consider criteria for evaluating IoT providers

  1. Business Stability — we ask a number of questions related to the corporate background and stability of any provider. We want them to be around in 12 months!
  2. IoT Standards & Consortiums — we examine which technology standards the provider has adopted and if they use proprietary technology. The goal here is to adopt a platform that is technologically future proof and also provides access to markets that drive specific business goals.
  3. Hosting Model — we look at how they provision environments for customers and which providers they leverage for this. For example, do they provide public or private cloud options and who provides their underlying infrastructure.
  4. External Communication — the ability to develop on top of a platform is important for customization and we ask how extensive their API coverage is and to what extent is it standardized.
  5. Big Data — Again, flexibility is the key here, so we look at how data is stored and how flexible the storage model is in addition to extraction and reporting tools that might be available.
  6. Trust — Particularly in the consumer market, trust is very important. We want to know about policies and track record for security and privacy of user data.
  7. Device Communication — There are various ways that IoT devices can communicate with the cloud and each has its advantages and disadvantages. We want to know how they support connections and communications to IoT devices both in the cloud and local (M2M).
  8. Device Management — does their platform and hardware modules (if available) make it easy to support and maintain IoT device remotely including over-the-air updates.

IoT Standards and Consortiums

Probably the most important criteria included above is the IoT Standards and Consortiums.

Like any emerging technology trend, there are a bevy of commercial and not for profit organizations lining up to have a say in how the foundational technologies should be defined and standardized. IoT is no different and we expect that tech companies will lead with platform innovation which will inform points of views among consortium groups and lastly standards-bodies will aggregate and normalize architectures and technologies. An example of this is Nest with its Thread technology group, around which a working group of companies like Samsung, ARM, Freescale and a growing army of companies.

The big question on everyone’s lips is who will win and therefore which consortium and technology approach will become widely adopted by the rest of the ecosystem. A good leading indicator is the mobile platform ecosystem wars as many of the technology players and approaches are the same. In that world, Apple and Google provided the best economic opportunity for participants in the ecosystem by creating a marketplace connecting developers with consumers and simple ways to monetize. In the IoT world, those platforms that provide the easiest way to make money will ultimately win. Apple and Google have literally billions of consumers already on their platforms and just need to connect the dots to unlock that market for their IoT ecosystem partners in order to win.

Since this is so strategic, this evaluation feeds directly into our recommendations for IoT platform providers.

Final Thoughts

As with any technology decision make sure you have full understanding of business and technical constraints and requirements and feed those into your evaluation of IoT providers. This important step will inform the relative importance you place on different criteria and therefore help to focus your efforts leading to a more targeted decision.

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