Hilton: IoT platforms for today's enterprise

Steve Hilton - MachNation

There is great excitement in the Internet of Things (IoT) world these days. There are more types of IoT solutions that one person can count. There are going to be 24 billion connected IoT devices by 2024, according to MachNation forecasts, and there are businesses springing up in all corners of the world to provide hardware, software and services.

But in order to bring all this IoT excitement to reality we need operations support systems (OSS). In the world of IoT one of the most critical OSS pieces is the IoT platform. In recent months these platforms have become a critical solution for carriers, solution providers and enterprises in ensuring that they have a complete, cost-effective and secure IoT offering in the market. While we have written about this topic extensively, we have noticed a rapid increase in breadth and capabilities offered by these IoT platforms.

In a very general sense, the IoT platform is responsible for making sure that data from devices find their way into IoT applications and other systems. Today these platforms include 5 key components:
Application platform--this OSS component is the layer upon which IoT applications can be built or connected. This component is the processing engine that takes IoT data and does something with it. It is the heart of the IoT platform and its strengths are measured by its ease-of-use, intuitive user interface (UI), speed of adding new applications, flexibility of adding unsupported device types and scalability up and down.
Device management platform--this OSS component is responsible for interfacing with IoT devices. It ensures that operating systems and applications on the devices are updated and devices are functioning properly. It also has a series of security features that allow system administrators to track rogue devices or other security issues.
Analytics platform--this OSS component is sometimes separate from the application platform and allows users to perform analysis on IoT data. These analyses can be automated or ad hoc. Analytics platforms have intuitive UI and graphical (2D and 3D) display capabilities. They allow centralized, edge-based, and hybrid architectures. Analytics platforms facilitate the mashing-up of various data sources, because often enterprises require that various external data sources be combined with IoT device data.
Application store--this OSS component provides enterprise buyers with some ready-made IoT applications or application templates.
Ancillary tools--these OSS components support application, device management and analytics platforms. They can be tools that provide additional visualization capabilities for any of the platforms, a common management interface across various platforms, catalogs of APIs to ease integrations, detailed reference architectures to aid enterprises in the design of their technology topologies, IoT app stores and many other things.

The purpose of these IoT platforms--moving data from devices to applications--sounds easier than it really is. There are myriad data formats, device operating systems, communication protocols, application programming languages and legacy application interfaces. In addition, there is not one proven way to architect an IoT solution, so the IoT platform must be flexible enough to deal with various technology paradigms.

Mini case study of a platform vendor
PTC, a technology company that helps manufacturers transform the way they create, operate and service products, has recently acquired two IoT platform providers--ThingWorx and Axeda. PTC will use these solutions to bolster its capabilities in IoT application management and device management. As PTC brings together its two acquisitions and other solutions in the PTC family, we expect to see more specialized offerings including applications for IoT-ready enterprises.

ThingWorx will provide an applications enablement platform, IoT application store and various other application tools to facilitate the creation of streamlined IoT solutions. Axeda will provide a device management platform, connectivity middleware and some pre-built connected device applications.

In the future, we would expect to see PTC developing common management portals for its IoT product line. This would likely include continued development of quality UI/UX, more interconnections between Axeda and ThingWorx device agents, enhanced focus on the IoT application store, integration with PTC's non-IoT applications and continued refinement of automated processes for rapid device configuration.

MachNation anticipates that vendors and solution providers will continue to develop and refine their IoT platforms. These solutions enable enterprises to more readily launch IoT solutions, speed introduction of new devices on networks, and increase the overall value of the IoT solution with rich data. We will see continued acquisitions in the space as vendors supplement their existing portfolios and develop new integrations between IoT platforms and core enterprise applications. MachNation will continue to follow changes in this rapidly developing part of the IoT ecosystem.

Steve Hilton is managing director of MachNation, the only dedicated insight services firm for the IoT and IoE industries. MachNation specializes in understanding and predicting the IoT and IoE industries including developments in hardware, platforms, communication services, applications and deployment services. Steve has over 20 years experience providing guidance in the technology and communications sector. For more information, visit: www.machnation.com