Quality not quantity: Finding the right balance for IoT projects

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Our working lives would be made much easier if we could deliver projects we’ve been tasked with on time, within the budget criteria and to the high standard clients have come to expect. However, in practice this rarely happens. To save on costs and get projects out of the door on time, corners are cut, and quality is sacrificed; which makes it more likely for other problems to arise weeks or months down the line.

This is common with Internet of Things (IoT) projects, –where the struggle between balancing time, budget, and quality is having a huge impact. Businesses are facing daily pressures to launch and implement new IoT projects, to keep up and compete within their markets. But it’s not as simple as blaming business decision makers for these issues. Organisation of all sizes have pressures to ‘transform’, ‘innovate’ and to ‘embrace’ new technologies in order to remain competitive.

And while the need to keep costs down and keep up with the pace of innovation has never been higher, sacrificing on the quality of work is often the difference between success and failure for modern businesses.

A careful balance

The root cause of this problem is actually very simple. Most teams don’t consider focusing on quality early enough in the IoT project timeline. In this context, quality means that every element involved in the project is fulfilling or exceeding it’s expected role. It must be understood, planned, and accounted for from the very beginning. If it isn’t, it will either be insufficient, or cost and time will go up to accommodate additional testing, longer Quality Assurance (QA) periods, and so on.

Quality should be maintained throughout the project lifecycle to the very end. Additionally, successful delivery also requires an agile approach. Regardless of what is being built, teams must be prepared to adapt, make difficult decisions, and even fail, while continuing course towards their original requirements.

Making way for the internet of (quality) things

There are so many moving parts and undefined areas of the ever-changing IoT ecosystem, that the technology involved brings much more complexity in implementation compared to that of conventional IT systems. The nature of such technologies also creates a bigger risk when analysing what could go wrong.

Considering how popular IoT products are becoming within the consumer space –  whether that’s through wearables, connected homes, connected car devices, and similar products that make our lives more convenient by enabling us remote control via our smartphones – it’s crucial for these kinds of systems to be implemented with quality. When they’re not, it’s consumers and their personal data that are put at risk. Customers want to have absolute confidence in the products they buy. If an oversight in the implementation of an IoT product causes personal information to become available to hackers, the results for the vendor would be extremely damaging.

Because IoT is not just one technology, but an enormous group of different technologies and devices communicating in a volatile and open environment, security is a greater concern. This is especially important when decision makers are selecting providers to build a robust security system, before launching a IoT project. If this step is skipped, rushed or not considered properly, then unreliable IoT systems become more vulnerable to hackers looking for an easy way in to gain access to sensitive data. No corporation wants to become the next headline in terms of hacking and data breaches, but ignoring quality makes this a real possibility.

In fact, this approach should be the same for the planning and implementation of all technology-based systems, as a fault in the manufacturing development side of a project could lead to disastrous results. A notable high-profile example of this was seen with the use of smart meters in people’s homes in the UK. The business producing these devices was under extreme pressure from the government to hit a target of 53 million by 2020. As a result, this caused several poor installations causing fires in people’s homes; as the race to release the product forced the quality protocols to take a back seat with disastrous results.

Keeping your eyes on the ‘quality’ prize

A common pitfall with IoT systems is that even when QA and testing are carried out, it’s only concerned with individual components in isolation. The M2M technology that IoT systems is based on, requires thousands of separate endpoints communicating constantly. The compatibility and integration of all those ‘things’ must be tested thoroughly in this new context to ensure they can function as part of a larger product or service.

As a result, it’s crucial that businesses select the right partners to work with, in order to ensure those M2M relationships are suitable and will always perform to the right standards. For example, a quality assurance partner who is independent of system integrators and technology providers, will be entirely focused on helping manage business and technology risks to achieve fit-for-purpose business outcomes and ensure the project is a success.

The hard truth is that to guarantee a digital product or transformation initiative will last in the long-term, investors and businesses leaders must prioritise quality first in the short-term. That’s not to say everything will take longer and cost more to develop. Through embedding quality into IoT projects from the very beginning, businesses will have the best possible chance of delivering within the agreed timeline and within budget as a direct result. Ultimately, the benefits conferred by a successful IoT project will enable them to deliver a superior product and gain deeper insights on the market and customer demands.

Kevin Cunningham, Managing Director UK, SQS
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