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The Internet of Things: What the hell is an ‘IoT platform’?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is on the tip of everybody's tongue. Giant brands like Coca Cola are revolutionising supply chain management. Independent retail stores are using all-in-one credit payment machines to create online coupons and promotions. The lady around the corner is monitoring her cat's comings and goings via her 'smart' cat door. We live in an ever more connected world, and the estimates regarding the impact of this connectivity are staggering.

Promises of unprecedented insight accompanied by predictions of massive efficiencies and cost savings are abundant. So too is the reinvention of existing industries and creation of new ones. However, buried beneath the hype, the starry eyed predictions and the extraordinary statistics, is an exceptional technology evolution.

As momentum gathers, more and more technology solution providers are falling over themselves to jump on the IoT bandwagon. Suddenly, everybody has an IoT solution. More specifically, everybody seems to be offering an 'IoT platform'.

‘IoT platform’ is a confusing term

The term 'IoT platform' has been adopted and co-opted by everyone trying to enter the IoT solutions market. The risk of everyone using this term, though, is that 'IoT platform' loses its meaning. And as a result, companies who are looking to learn more about IoT can be deterred from finding out how IoT can help transform their business.

What exactly is an IoT platform? Does it manage the connectivity of devices? Does it enable your developers to build new mobile software applications? Does it allow you to collect device data? Does it allow your backend IT applications to communicate with your devices?

IoT platforms are all of those things because different platforms on the market solve different needs. For example, some:

  • Automate the management of connectivity throughout the lifecycle of your device so you can ensure that the service you’re providing is reliable, secure and can run at the lowest cost
  • Enable the rapid development of software applications that run on different devices
  • Collect, integrate and report on device data in real-time
  • Enable direct device management into your backend IT systems

There are at least 300 so-called IoT platforms on the market today and – because of the market potential – that number will continue to grow.

Platform impostors

And just to complicate things further, there are at least three other types of platform that are often referred to as an 'IoT platform' but are actually general-purpose solutions that are used as a part of your overall technology stack:

IaaS back ends

Infrastructure-as-a-service back ends provide hosting space and processing power for applications and services. These back ends were previously optimised for desktop and mobile applications but IoT is now also in focus.

Hardware-specific software platforms

Some companies that sell connected devices have built their own proprietary software which they tend to refer to as an IoT Platform. Since the platform is not open to anyone else on the market, it is debatable whether calling it a platform is accurate.

Consumer/enterprise software extensions

Existing enterprise software packages and operating systems are increasingly embracing IoT device integration. Currently these extensions aren't typically advanced enough to classify as a full IoT Platform.

IoT platforms – the bottom line

Ultimately, IoT is about enabling business transformation. More specifically, it’s about transforming companies that were previously focused on selling products into connected services businesses that are able to enhance their customers’ experiences through connectivity.

We will soon see the creation of entirely new industries that build business models solely on IoT data. The different types of IoT platforms have become essential enablers, a means of gathering and making sense of data and delivering the right kinds of services at the right time.

Ultimately, connecting, monitoring and gathering data points from billions of physical objects is fundamental to letting new IoT business cases come to life.

Becoming a connected services business brings huge opportunities, but with the opportunities come operational challenges. These can seem daunting and complex, but by breaking them down it becomes far easier to understand which options are best suited to your business. As you plan your IoT initiatives, make sure you get a clear understanding of the ongoing costs involved, the potential revenue from new service offerings, the cost savings and the time it will take to achieve ROI. By following these simple steps, you'll be in a great position to take full advantage of the benefits of IoT.

Theresa Bui, head of enterprise product marketing, Cisco Jasper

Image Credit: Chesky / Shutterstock

Theresa Bui
Theresa is involved in driving cross-company collaboration between Cisco's business units to develop and execute cohesive IoT strategies that drive customer business transformation.