IoT Platform Comparison

IoT platform choice: How companies find an appropriate provider

The desire to connect machines, devices, vehicles, buildings and other objects with the Internet of Things (IoT) to achieve competitive advantages is growing. The success of such projects is largely determined by the selection of a suitable IoT platform. But how do decision-makers find a suitable IoT provider? This article describes how the selection process should proceed and what factors need to be considered.

Image: IoT platform comparison - what needs to be considered to find the appropriate provider?

What types of IoT platforms exist?

Whether it’s the construction industry, the OEM sector, machine and plant engineering or a smart city: anyone who wants to embark on the journey towards the Internet of Things must first of all decide on a make-or-buy approach. Should an in-house IoT infrastructure be built or should an external IoT platform be used? Owing to the high level of complexity, the numerous requirements and also due to time constraints, the majority of companies opt for the latter option – the use of an already established IoT platform. However, when it comes to the scope of functions, solutions of this type can differ significantly from one another. Let us therefore first clarify the question of what types of IoT platforms currently exist on the market. The following categories can be distinguished:

  • Connectivity platforms: Manage connectivity to IoT devices, orchestrate connectivity, manage billing.
  • Device management platforms: deploy, authenticate, log, monitor, control, update (OTA) and maintain IoT devices
  • Analytics platforms: Collect large amounts of data from IoT, process and transform the data, store it, provide analytics (some with artificial intelligence)
  • IoT orchestration hub: combining multiple IoT services (e.g., connectivity and device management), mostly open solutions from the cloud
  • Developer-focused platforms: solutions for simplified development of IoT applications
  • Application enabling platforms: Focus on processing and analysis of IoT data, often with interfaces to own applications
  • End-to-end platforms: Provision of all IoT value chain services (e.g., connectivity, security by design, interoperability, device management, analytics, data visualization, app development studio, app store, APIs).

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The path to the right IoT solution

As an interim conclusion, let’s keep in mind that a whole range of different IoT platforms exist. Around 500 commercial solutions of various types are currently available. To ensure a targeted selection process, the number of potential IoT providers should therefore be narrowed down in advance. To do this, it is helpful to first understand the customer’s objectives and appropriate use cases. Is it about analyzing device data to understand user behavior and optimize products? Should machines be monitored remotely? Is the focus on automating processes? Are additional IoT-based services such as predictive maintenance or IoT apps for end customers in the pipeline to strengthen customer loyalty? Or do you want to implement a completely new business model that will open up new market segments?

The creation of a cross-functional use case roadmap has been proven to be effective. That is: Possible use cases are evaluated and assessed together with all relevant company departments (product management, IT, finance, service, CDO, etc.). On this basis, functional as well as business and operational selection criteria can then be defined.

IoT platform comparison – The most important selection criteria

As a rule, the number of potential providers can be significantly reduced on the basis of the use case roadmap. Now the remaining group of candidates must be confronted with an individual list of questions or requirements. Ideally, this should also be compiled on a cross-divisional basis. We would like to outline the most important general criteria for selecting an IoT provider below.

1. Fulfillment of own requirements

Of particular importance is, of course, the question of the extent to which an IoT provider can cover a company’s individual requirements. Solutions with an industry focus often have an advantage in this respect, as they already include numerous specific features and templates as standard. This shortens the time-to-market and at the same time brings best practices into the project.

In addition to the technical requirements, the conformity with the company’s own business model must also be checked. For example, the number of objects to be connected to the IoT in the future and whether the data will be processed locally or stored in the cloud must be determined.

Equally important is the question of which data points are sent by the devices and how frequently, and also whether these can be processed in real time.

2. Connection of devices

The IoT platform must be able to process and synchronize data from a wide variety of data sources and generate information from it. Compatibility of all IoT hardware, IoT sensors, and other systems and data transmission technologies must be ensured.

3. Scalability

Also significant is the question of the extent to which an IoT platform can respond flexibly to the growth in the volume of data. It should also be possible for the provider to absorb peaks in data volume, for example, due to the simultaneous connection of numerous additional devices.

4 Integration capability

Ideally, an IoT platform should work smoothly with existing systems (e.g., ERP or CRM). This is realized via interfaces and APIs.

5. Support for application development

Users of IoT solutions should find it easy to create apps and web applications surrounding their IoT devices. This is made possible via code-free modular systems with templates that allow application development by configuration.

For individual requirements, the existence of an integrated software developer kit (SDK) for the target hardware and operating system is also helpful.

6 Automation capability

For efficient processes, the IoT provider should allow workflows to be automated. There should ideally be events that, when they occur, automatically trigger certain processes and actions – such as notifying users, sending alerts, or sending a command to a machine.

7. Security

Another important aspect is data security. When devices are networked, it must be ensured at all times that information cannot be intercepted by unauthorized persons. In addition to securing the components involved (devices, apps and platform), it is essential to ensure that all transmission paths are secure. Regardless of the communication channel (broadband, Wi-Fi, mobile communications, NB-IoT, etc.), end-to-end encryption must be implemented.

An IoT project is of course not completed with the one-time purchase of a specific solution. Rather, the Internet of Things is a journey that companies embark on with their platform provider.

- Markus Kohlbacher, IoT expert, t-matix

Conclusion: An individual approach is necessary

As a whole, it is clear that across-the-board recommendations for specific IoT platforms are not possible. Instead, the selection of an IoT provider must always be based on company-specific requirements. Particularly important points, however, are connectivity, the ability to automate workflows, an open architecture, scalability, industry suitability, ease of application development and data security. In all cases, vendor selection should be conducted wisely. After all, an IoT project is of course not completed with the one-time purchase of a specific solution. Rather, the Internet of Things is a journey that companies embark on with their platform provider. Together, they develop their initial approach step by step. It is only if they have a strong partner that this journey will be successful in the long term.

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