Deploying an IoT-based solution is not always as easy as it seems at first glance. Check below tips before venturing your first IoT project.
Since a couple of years, there is plenty of discussion about the Internet of Things that will be connected to the Internet by a certain year. While the Internet of Things, or IoT in short, is already something we see in our daily lives – with “smart” washing machines, fridges, and more, being connected to the Internet, it is also getting more and more tangible in the industry as well. Use cases range from optimizing parking spot governance in the cities, through monitoring microclimate, air quality, and power distribution through smart grid in urban areas, all the way into the factories with connected machines (either new robots and machines which are usually connected by design, or through retrofitting older machinery with different sensors to achieve smarter service intervals), reaching industries like farming and agriculture, where animal living conditions or soil moisture is measured, and irrigation is automated.
Even though it is not the goal of this article to discuss the current uptake and industrial push in different segments of IoT, the differences are visible and can tell us something about the current maturity and certainty of different solutions for different industries.
Elmitel worked so far in different areas of applying Internet of Things to real-world scenarios: from the very demanding and special market of Smart Agriculture, where we managed to co-create use cases on 5 continents of the World with the IoT technologies, to optimizing mobility with the help of real-time data from data sources installed in some of Europe’s capitals, all the way to incorporating IoT technologies in the industrial environment. Based on years of experience, we would like to share a few points which we highly suggest everyone venturing in deploying an IoT-based solution, to consider.
1. Technological Maturity and Exploitability of the Solution
Certain verticals (industries, or rather subsectors of the industry) today enjoy the benefit of having technologically and RoI- proven solutions. However, even when this is the case, no installation is the same as the other, and many factors influence the appropriateness of the solution for the problem, including, but not limited to:
- Cultural/human factors, like how people perceive the matter which is to be monitored and automated by IoT technologies
- Technical factors, like connectivity and power availability
- Natural factors, like climate conditions and geography
It is therefore very important to consider all of the readily deployed solutions and use cases through the prism of the conditions in which the IoT project is to be held.
2. How to Identify “Best of Breed” Solutions
A certain solution may be composed of different components from different vendors, for example, a company providing software solution, another company providing hardware devices, and an integration company. The points to consider on that front include:
- Connectability and compatibility of different components
- The support level for a certain solution
- Use cases that can be provided by the solution vendors
- Technical specifications
In many cases, analysis of those aspects requires specialist knowledge about the solutions for a particular industry, which already at a relatively early stage brings us to the point of the usefulness of having a consultancy involved throughout the process.
3. Good Practice: Consult
It is not always required to hire a consultant for the task, even though in some cases, that may pay well in the long run. Our experience, as we are a software company, taught us that particularly with hardware devices, it is worth rather checking three times before deploying, than being sorry afterward. Problematic or quirky hardware can render the cost of deployment in the sky, and what you want to achieve is to assure that you are picking devices which will be low maintenance, reliable, and will do their job correctly.
A checklist on that point includes:
- Discussion with partners of the hardware vendor about reliability in deployments
- Obtaining information about warranty issues from the vendor themselves (can they share it, or can’t they?)
- Discussion with some users about their experience
An insider in the industry, possibly a software company that works with multiple hardware vendors, can give you a solid understanding of that point. We pride ourselves as a company that works with multiple IoT hardware tech providers and also offers consulting to our clients, particularly in the area of Smart Agriculture where besides offering a software product proven on different continents, we also have a very solid grasp of the specifics of hardware deployments that we remotely supported on different parts of the world. Building an understanding of those aspects is definitely an important step if you are venturing towards an IoT project.
4. There Is Never Too Much Possibility for Customization
No 2 situations, no 2 projects, are the same. Even if the same technologies, the same blueprints are used – the will sooner or later pop up a need to customize something. And this is where good solutions provide space, mediocre solutions provide a custom development offer, and bad solutions are rigid (but often cheap in the very beginning).
A very simple step to do is to:
- Identify value points of the solution and check each of them towards the specifics of the project
- Identify the space for customization within each of the value points of the solution: is there any, is there none?
You may not want to work on developing the customizations yourself. A good solution should have an ecosystem of partners who can provide different services, like customizations, for the project in question.
5. Maintenance Budget: Count with More, Work Towards Less
This is an important one. Even though there is a golden rule of saving some 30% of the deployment cost for the annual maintenance (I agree, that’s a whole lot of the deployment cost), nobody will be able to give you the exact long-term TCO. Things can go wrong, and – they will go wrong. Mainly in the areas, you don’t expect. So with every project, answer the questions about:
- Who is going to maintain the system installment
- How are we going to assure the finances
- What are the warranty levels for hardware
- What are the support levels for software and complete solution
Things can get tricky here and it is good to read all of the fine print and conditions of different vendors when assuming the long-term TCO of the IoT solution. If you come to the number below 30% of the initial investment, rather assume 30% instead. 🙂
6. Physical Installation
This one goes back to consulting. Are you retrofitting sensors to machines? Are you installing microclimate and soil moisture devices in an agricultural field? Well, you want to make sure they will be powered properly in the building, and when they are in the vineyard or orchard, that even when the canopy grows, they will not be shaded. You want to ensure they will not be hit by machinery, and obstruct the work processes.
You want to make sure to understand:
- Who installs the devices
- What is the on-field support level for those devices, who will make sure they are running
- Who takes care of provisioning and ensuring the network/data transfer availability
7. Responsibilities and Borders Between Vendors and Customer(s)
Imagine the problem: devices are not reporting, and they should report over a 4G network. The end-user calls the integrator who sold the complete solution, but the SIM cards are paid for by the end user’s organization. Problems like this can become costly for everyone involved, due to physical visits, system downtime, and so on, if not planned and agreed upon correctly. This is why it’s good to ensure the following:
- Who is responsible for the physical maintenance of devices, who for the network
- Who is responsible for end-user support
- Who is responsible for communication channels and provisioning
- Ge7 Things to Consider Before Venturing into Your First Iot Projectt Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in a place where necessary
Bonus: Some “Classic” Questions
At last but not least, the checklist of questions that need to be answered include:
- On-Premises or in the Cloud?
- Data ownership
- Privacy aspects of the solution deployed
There is a lot written already about those topics, which are present both in theory as well as in practice. They are beyond the scope of this article, the goal of which is to give you some added value from our 5+ years of practical experience with IoT projects in different industries, but they definitely need to be considered seriously before going into any deployment.
While the purpose of an IoT project is usually to capture some data, transform it into information and potentially trigger some activity through automation, this simple problem becomes complex due to the many pivot points involved. Pivot points are not only the people, the network, the devices and the software, but also the intangible assets like subscriptions, service levels, and responsibilities – and all of those must “click” in order to build a success story from the project. Some of them are easier to handle, others are harder.
If you require help on planning a project, consulting about what to chose and how to time the deployment, as well as if you require help with customizing the solution or building your own mini-application on top of the world’s leading IoT platforms, you are welcome to contact us at Elmitel Development. With years of experience and dozens of IoT installations under the belt on 5 continents, we are happy to help you plan, develop, find deployment partners and remotely support the deployment of your IoT solution – almost anywhere in the world.