Selecting any kind of business partner can be a fraught process. But choosing an IoT partner – an organisation which can help you harness the vast possibilities of the IoT, whether in terms of bringing a new product or service to market, or tapping into the data from within your own organisation – can be particularly complex.
Part of the problem is just how vast those possibilities are. The IoT is transforming sectors from healthcare to transportation, utilities to retail. It is helping businesses develop new consumer-facing products, and dive deeper into the big data they generate. With no two IoT projects being the same, how can there be a clear framework for choosing an IoT partner?
The trick is to follow some broad, general principles, but to apply each to the nuances and challenges of your own IoT project.
Set your goals
All business projects should, of course, start with a clear goal. But the important thing to remember here is that ‘choose an IoT partner’ isn’tthe goal. Rather, you should be thinking in terms of the business problem you need your IoT partner to help you solve. Do you want to develop a new connected product, or are you seeking to deploy connected products within your own organisation? Do you need support with hardware – the connected devices that will form your IoT endpoints – or software – the connectivity that will link them together, and the analytics engines that will process the data they collect? Are you seeking a partner for a particular stage in the IoT chain, or an end-to-end solution? Setting clear goals for your IoT partner is the foundation on which the rest of the selection process is built.
Rapid, cost-effective scalability is one of the IoT’s most powerful qualities. But this doesn’t happen on its own. It depends on having an IoT infrastructure that can support elastic scale, in terms of everything from deploying and authenticating new connected devices, to processing and making sense of increasingly large quantities of data.
As such, the potential IoT partners on your shortlist should be able to demonstrate their ability to support your business not just at its current scale, but also through planned (and unexpected) future growth. They should be able to demonstrate how they have considered not only how your business might change in the future, but also potential developments in IoT technology itself.
Cybersecurity and data protection has (rightly) never been higher on corporate agendas, thanks to the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). IoT infrastructures collect, transmit, store and process a wide range of different data types, some of which are likely to incorporate sensitive customer or corporate information, and so robust security tools and processes are non-negotiable. Every IoT partner you consider should be able to demonstrate how security is built into their solution end-to-end, from verifying each device and user on your IoT network, to encrypting data in transit and at rest.
An increasing proportion of IoT specialists now offer an end-to-end approach, covering both the hardware and software required for a complete IoT solution. However, depending on the sector you operate in and the precise challenges you are seeking to overcome, it may be that you need to work with more than one partner.
In this instance, it is important to consider how the different partners will work together, and it can be sensible to make decisions at least partly based on a previous track record of interoperability and shared responsibility.
Review and test
Once you have a shortlist of potential IoT partners in place, it is crucial that you actively test the different concepts and solutions on offer, rather than making a decision based purely on theory. Proof of concept processes may take two or three months, but they can save huge amounts of time and money in the long run. This may involve bringing in third-party testing support – it is worth it. IoT partner procurement decisions could have a huge bearing on the future pathway and success of your business.