I have had the chance to participate this week in the IoT world event in Barcelona, meeting all major players and going into more details on the available technologies and ecosystems. I wanted to share some insights on IoT platforms.
IoT platforms – the start point are the IoT standards
They Currently there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different technologies connecting things with things in existence.
These connections use a wide variety of different protocols, networking technologies, and buses. As I wrote in a recent blog about IoT standards: even if more and more devices tend to communicate via IP and often leverage the legacy or proprietary protocols which we see in our EcoXpert domains, IoT standards are still wide open and feel like the ‘wild west’. There are no global validated standardization frameworks at the IoT stack level.
At the same time, there is be an exponential increase in the number and types of smart devices over the next decade. One of the biggest challenges, upon which the eventual success of IoT depends, is the development of interoperable global standards. Without the enforcement of standards, the value and commercial viability of IoT will not reach its full potential.
Interestingly, the current gap and associated need to find a solution regarding interoperability has opened huge opportunities for software bridging those gaps: IoT platforms.
I see more and more IoT platforms promising to turn interoperability into a scalable and sustainable matter. However, at the same time this opens interoperability questions between those platforms. The most important value of IoT platforms comes from the unleashed flow of data enabled by IoT devices and gateways, mixed with the integration of vertical applications, third party platforms and applications (analytics, business intelligence, etc.). In turn, it enables analysis of the data and creates the conditions for artificial intelligence and data-driven decision making.
IoT platforms – from connectivity and integrations to business
When you go behind the marketing stories that all major vendors are currently using to “sell” to the market their full IoT portfolio, I expect the ongoing emergence and maturing of three types of platforms:
- IoT connectivity platforms. The purpose of the IoT connectivity platform is to connect all possible IoT devices and gateways in a seamless and transparent way, regardless of the protocol and associated connectivity(*). Similarly to the Session Layer in the OSI model, connectivity platform provides services to establish connection between entities, to support orderly data exchange interactions, and to release the connection in an orderly manner. Those platforms deliver a basic but highly valuable service: global seamless connectivity which simplifies the task of connecting and collecting data streams. Actility and Sigfox are playing in this space: making it easy for others to leverage the power and scalability of IoT ready networks with dealing with the complexity of the underlying protocols and implementations of antennas and relays.
- Integration platforms or Application Enablement Platforms (AEPs). The AEP is a form of platform-as-a-service meant to enable a developer to rapidly deploy an IoT application or service without worrying about scale-out or scale-up factor. As Luc Perard, head of EMEA IoT partner sales at Thingworx, writes, a true, complete IoT “Application Enablement Platform” (AEP) is not just a “Device Cloud”. It provides and abstracts all the foundational platform services so that enterprises can build their apps at a much higher level. This allows more people in the enterprise to participate in the development of apps while increasing application development efficiency by an order of magnitude. PTC (Thingworx) plays in this space for example.
- Business platforms and applications (vertical and horizontal). When addressing specific verticals in a smart “something” context (smart hospitals, airports, etc.) there will be companies building specific vertical applications (or extending their current offers) on top of the IoT platforms regarding connectivity and the AEP. These applications will also be fully leveraged by the digital channels such as system integrators, general contractors, etc. The actual services are provided by various businesses to service their customers using IoT. For example, a supermarket chain could offer services to connect smart refrigerators with their markets to make it easy for consumers to keep their food stocked and fresh.
Platforms will play a strategic role in the coming years as they are meant to be the meeting point between all major stakeholders willing to avoid the commoditization war of the lower layers. We have strong industrial players who bring deep industrial knowledge into their platforms to the market and see start-ups introducing innovative IoT platforms with robust ecosystems. These would fall under the AEP with vertical and/or horizontal applications. At the same time, integrations platforms are beginning to emerge.
We live in a platform economy whereby connectivity and interoperability needs to happen on all layers: devices, standards, application development and the business platform and services level. That’s how we don’t just connect the previously unconnectable but also maximize efficiency and value for partners and businesses in doing so.
(*) Source: Information technology — Open Systems Interconnection — Basic Reference Model: The Basic Mode. International Standards, ISO/IEC 7498-1:1994, second edition 1994-11-15.
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