By Emma Fenton-Wells, xelba
The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t new – the term was coined more than 25 years ago by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton. But this exciting wave of technological advancements has only truly come into fruition over the last few years.
Now it seems that IoT is everywhere: from talking kettles and Alexa, to city infrastructure applications like smart parking and utilities management. The number and scope of potential applications of the technology continue to grow and intrigue. IoT is spreading, often in spite of some underlying public concerns about potential risks.
Security issues continue to be the hot topic on the media’s lips, and with it, there is often a misguided fear of what a truly connected world might look like. Other hurdles include the cost of set-up and retaining of staff, concern at the risks of abandoning trusted legacy systems, or even not recognising the digital transformation potential in their business. Even to the most innovative of businesses, IoT can often seem dense and impenetrable.
So, if you’re a business providing IoT solutions or products, how can you work to make them accessible – and therefore, adoptable?
Through the process of developing our business xelba, we’ve noticed a trend in the conversations we’re having with customers and partners: in its current form, IoT isn’t easily adoptable. And that’s for a number of reasons. Here are the four main ones we’ve come across:
This is key for the scalability of IoT. Right now, devices can only work together if they’ve been designed to. Why? As technology has progressed, companies have appointed themselves pioneers by creating new communication protocols, hoping that they can set the standard that everyone will use. Well, that’s problematic. Typically, these new protocols are not compatible with earlier devices, making them unable to integrate with the new technology that is expanding the market.
Communication protocols also vary based on use and security requirements; at its simplest, think about the uses for NFC (like an Oyster card) versus WiFi. They all have different uses and no new protocols appear to serve all of these uses. Therefore, we need interoperability.
“There's way too many standards, too many operating systems, and hardware types out there. You need something to kind of tie it together. The only way that this market scales out is with greater interoperability. There's really no way that you can scale out a market like this without it.” – Joe Shepherd, IoT CTO of Dell Technologies.
Interoperability is a simple concept, difficult in execution, but entirely necessary for IoT to fulfil its potential.
Replacing legacy devices and systems costs more than just the new equipment. The cost of change is magnified by the need to retrain staff, adapt working practices and, of course, allowing for teething issues as the solution is implemented.
When a company wants to go through the process of creating an IoT programme, many will be dissuaded by the sheer reality of these costs. Providing interoperability with existing systems helps with this of course – integrating the new with the trusted can reduce setup costs and risks of error – but it is also critical that IoT companies refine their business models to ensure that their products and subscriptions are affordable for all types of business. There should be affordable digital transformation options available regardless of customer, ranging from the local independent convenience store to the mega-sized Tescos.
Companies often feel as though the only options available to them are 'off the shelf' - meaning their businesses have to fit the solutions on offer, rather than solutions being tailored to their needs. This is further complicated by the fact that companies have different levels of existing integration: they may already have a few sensors, or a legacy system that they don’t want to give up - realistically, companies developing IoT solutions cannot assume that the needs and use cases of different businesses are the same. Effective IoT programmes need to be flexible enough to enable a business to solve their own problems – and not simply be another 'system' that the business needs to adapt to.
All or nothing approach
Some companies only want to dip a toe into the IoT pool before diving entirely in. They may want to first integrate it into a specific, low-risk element of their business before connecting the whole thing. This may be so they can demonstrate the potential savings to justify further investment, to mitigate the potential risk of new technology, or to build up expertise and experience prior to a full roll out.
When approaching potential customers initially, it may help to offer a solution that’s specific to their business, and limited in its scope. Once this has been successfully deployed and used, the scope is there to expand it to other areas. IoT can best demonstrate its benefits by allowing people to try it out, and then looking to build onto it.
The world of IoT is constantly evolving and key to facilitate its adoption is to ensure that customers feel in control of their tech and that they’re equipped with the tools to identify and harness the opportunities within their own ecosystem. IoT businesses should be pitching themselves as long term partners in this enterprise, and not a quick fix to tick a box.
xelba delivers hardware and software tools to help companies – from large enterprises to innovative SMEs – to transform the way that they deploy and integrate cutting edge IoT.
A new venture from a team of tech industry veterans, xelba is striving to be the world leader in making the future of connected technology accessible and available – today.