What is an IoT Platform?
An IoT platform is an application or service that provides built-in tools and capabilities to connect every “thing” in an IoT ecosystem. By providing functions including device lifecycle management, device communication, data analytics, integration, and application enablement.
An IoT platform harmonizes the many moving parts that contribute to your IoT system. An IoT platform is the foundation for building IoT solutions that deliver value to your business, your customers, your customers' end users, and your partners. By enabling you to maintain visibility, security and control over connected assets, IoT platforms enable you to start and scale IoT projects efficiently so you can launch customer-centric services and remain competitive in an evolving market environment.
Why use an IoT platform?
An IoT platform is critical to building an IoT ecosystem, it simplifies IoT, making it more secure, regardless of where you are on your IoT journey to build smart, connected products.
IoT is a complex ecosystem that spans a network of devices and software applications touching multiple parts of the physical and digital landscapes. It is rare for an organization to maintain in-house expertise across all the relevant domains to build a complete set of IoT capabilities. As a result, in the “buy versus build” debate over IoT capabilities, most enterprises see value in buying an IoT platform to provide an out-of-the-box set of key capabilities, on top of which the business can build differentiating logic and applications.
An effective platform enables you to rapidly connect and manage existing assets while creating and supporting new, differentiated services. It helps get your IoT projects off the ground quickly, and removes the technical complexity from IoT projects, enabling you to focus on real business outcomes.
As IoT-enabled services become an increasingly important part of how organizations serve their customers, delivering IoT at scale can be a challenge. The approach that works for an initial proof-of-concept connecting a handful of machines may not scale properly—for example, it’s common for system management to become a drain on innovation, or to find that costs spiral out of control with thousands of deployments.
Additionally, IoT solutions are a service, not a project or a product. They don’t have a defined start and end date, but rather a lifecycle that needs to be managed. IoT solutions built without the right IoT platform means developers may be forced to shift from building new products to supporting, maintaining and updating existing products. In doing so, IoT maintenance become a cost center—leading to inevitable tradeoffs between sustaining what you have and building new innovative products.
With these factors in mind, the fastest, most sustainable path to IoT innovation is not to buy or to build—it’s to buy and build. Buying a flexible IoT platform delivers the foundation for innovation and differentiation. Ready-to-use solutions help you achieve strategic business outcomes fast, while intuitive tools enable you to easily build your own services on top. You get a solid, reliable, scalable IoT platform as the foundation, with the ability to drive innovation and differentiation.
Figure 1: An IoT platform provides a means to control your various applications and IoT devices, as well as manage the process of collecting, analyzing and storing the data you generate.
IoT platform capabilities
At a basic level, IoT platforms should allow you to connect and manage your devices with ease, offer application enablement and integration tools, and analyze your IoT data for actionable insights.
Connection is at the heart of IoT: devices are connected using protocols to share information and enable new insights. An IoT platform provides out-of-the-box connectivity to many device types and protocols.
For devices that do not support standard IoT protocols, an IoT platform is especially valuable if it offers a software development kit (SDK) to integrate devices with the rest of your ecosystem. Leading IoT platforms enable connectivity and integration using publicly documented APIs.
IoT device lifecycle management
An IoT platform allows you to manage the lifecycle of IoT devices and sensors—from planning and onboarding, monitoring and maintenance, through to retirement—remotely from a centralized location. Robust device lifecycle management processes are often neglected in early-stage IoT projects, when the focus is on building and launching a solution, but they are fundamental to scale a rollout and maintain reliable performance.
Enterprise IoT users need to update and communicate with devices efficiently in a controlled, secured and phased way. One example of this is the bulk registration of devices. Another is updating software and firmware to maintain performance, uptime and security. An IoT platform should allow you to access and monitor critical information easily, such as system resource information, alarms and errors, cellular signal strength or GPS location.
Scalable IoT data management
IoT data is the source of insights. An IoT platform handles data logging, storing, and processing, and manages data transactions. IoT data comes from many devices and locations, and spans many data types. IoT platforms can orchestrate action based on real-time data, and coordinate the long-term storage and analysis of large data sets to power analytics.
An IoT platform needs to be much more than a passive destination for data from IoT sensors. IoT needs integration to fill its promise, as integrating IoT data with other systems builds value exponentially by helping you use insights from IoT in your existing systems and processes to make better business decisions.
IoT platforms can offer powerful and intuitive routes to IoT integration. You can integrate device data with enterprise apps, cloud apps, big data apps, data lakes and third-party ecosystems and automate actions, workflows and processes across your operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) assets—ideally, without coding.
IoT application development
Building and maintaining IoT applications involves technical expertise, time and resources. An IoT platform with application enablement features can help remove the resource technical hurdles to building and deploying applications.
Many businesses see value in enabling their IoT users to develop custom applications with an application builder—or by extending the platform’s default applications to meet their specific business needs and requirements.
From amending existing applications according to customer needs to effectively scaling successful applications, an IoT application enablement platform provides users with self-service, low-code/no-code tools for developing, deploying, operating and extending custom IoT applications.
IoT data analytics
The value of IoT is not in the fleet of devices and sensors an organization is monitoring, but in the accurate and relevant data derived from these IoT devices and sensors. And the value of that data comes from analytics.
IoT analytics, which encompasses historical analytics, real-time analytics and predictive analytics, applies context to IoT data to reveal useful information, so you can make accurate, real-time decisions that deliver value.
An IoT platform with powerful analytic capabilities enables you to access this key data and discover insights. You can create dashboards that pull together data, so you have a single view of the status of all devices and how your project’s performing.
An IoT platform with self-service analytics puts key data into the hands of many. The more widely accessible your insights, the greater their value across the entire enterprise.
IoT platforms: from cloud to edge
Many IoT platforms run in the cloud to take advantage of speed, scale, lower costs and access from around the world. For organizations that run remote assets, it is also important to many customers for an IoT platform to support edge computing.
IoT edge computing puts data processing closer to the sensors, rather than sending a full stream of data to the cloud. It is an advantage for organizations that have sensors and devices in places with limited connectivity, produce too much data to send to the cloud cost-effectively, or need millisecond response times from analytics.
IoT edge computing exists on a spectrum. On one end, thin edge is defined by an architecture where data from devices are collected and transmitted for centralized processing. It is a lightweight and modular approach that provides new or current devices with an easy, rapid way to connect to established systems. Thin edge is often used for applications that rely on low-powered, resource-constrained sensors.
Thick edge is on the other end of the spectrum. In a thick edge architecture, processing is more decentralized and occurs closer to data collection. Consider the processing that occurs in an autonomous vehicle. Instead of sending sensor data to be processed on a distant server, which would lead to latencies too high to safely respond to sudden changes on the road, a vehicle’s systems process data directly onboard for autonomous navigation.
To take advantage of IoT edge computing, an IoT platform should enable you to develop solutions once, and deploy anywhere: on any cloud, at the edge, or on-premises.
How does an IoT platform work?
An IoT platform works by supporting the connectivity and communication between all the components in your IoT ecosystem through one application. It connects your devices and sensors—from registering one new device to bulk connecting thousands of devices. It allows you to remotely manage your devices and device groups, for example, by updating device firmware and software.
An IoT platform then facilitates data transmission and applies analytics to the collected data. It allows you to access IoT device data at both a granular and high-level view.
How to choose an IoT platform
When choosing an IoT platform, ask:
Technicality: Does the platform remove technical complexity from IoT projects? Or does it require outsized investments of time and resources to stand up and maintain?
Scalability: Does the platform scale effectively when many devices are connected? Can it scale to streamline management of many devices across their life cycle?
Flexibility: Does the platform enable you run on the hardware or cloud provider of your choice? Does it allow you to experiment with new concepts and business models?
Extensibility: Does the platform empower you to easily build your own differentiating services?
Simplicity: Does the platform enable you to run with a consistent architecture from the edge to cloud and on-premises?
Universality: Does the platform enable every stakeholder in your organization—including development teams, equipment operators, and business leads—to build solutions, define rules, create dashboards, and manage other aspects of the platform?
Security: Is the platform certified with the highest grade for security?
Cost and ROI: Will the platform reduce IoT operational costs, help grow your revenue and promise substantial ROI?
Speed: Will the platform help you create pilot projects efficiently to test and learn how to build new capabilities and services?
Visibility: Will analytics be accessible to a wide range of people in your organization?
Support: Will you have access to professional services and experts who can help support your IoT journey and empower your team to succeed?
IoT platform advantages
Software AG’s Cumulocity IoT platform is an IoT platform that simplifies things for you with self-services tools and a configuration-driven approach. It’s designed to give you complete business visibility and control of all the remote assets in your organization on a resilient platform you can trust.
The Cumulocity IoT platform helps you do more with IoT for faster business results and sustained innovation. It delivers enterprise grade IoT with unrivalled reliability, security and performance.
IoT platform supports new business models
“As-a-service” business models help you stay closer to customers and gain a competitive advantage by creating new products and differentiating services that can provide resilient, recurring revenue.
However, making the shift to new business models and transitioning to service-based relationships can be a challenge.
An IoT platform provides businesses with data they need to transition with confidence. It helps organizations build bridges with their customers through recurring services for remote monitoring, more smart field services, and performance management, all to improve the customer experience.
The most forward-looking are building Equipment-as-a-Service (EaaS) models that package products and services in an integrated offering.
IoT platform scalability
Because IoT-enabled services are becoming an increasingly important part of serving customers, an IoT platform that can help support your scalability is incredibly beneficial. IoT projects often start out small but then grow quickly when the first successes materialize. An IoT platform should be able to start as a proof-of-concept and then use the same platform and interfaces to expand to multiple sites, devices and data points. And a platform where costs scale efficiently, even as deployments scale exponentially, is even better.
Cumulocity IoT model scales pricing in line with deployments, allowing you to experiment with new concepts and business models without significant up-front investments.
IoT platform security
An IoT security solution is an absolute essential to doing business in today’s connected world. Without security, your business is vulnerable to hacks and data security breaches. Private information can become public and exploited, threatening the well-being and reputation of your company, your customers and business partners.
That’s why security is built into the Cumulocity IoT software development process, woven into every line of code.
An IoT platform can make managing the security of your IoT assets much easier. Our IoT security platform delivers carrier-grade features, such as secure multi-tenancy, scalability, high availability and encryption—making it secure for virtually any IoT use case.
IoT platform cost savings
An IoT platform saves organizations substantial development costs to build IoT-capabilities in-house. And further down the line, an effective IoT platform allows organizations to grow revenue with value-added capabilities to deliver IoT services.
In addition, you’ll keep saving money with Cumulocity IoT’s advanced capabilities, such as predictive maintenance and remote monitoring—for example, by avoiding costs associated with maintenance repairs or unplanned downtime.
IoT platforms enable sustainability
An IoT platform supports sustainability by connecting the physical world. With knowledge—knowledge of how equipment is performing, where assets are located, and the resources your organization is consuming—comes the ability to drive smarter actions, smarter production, and smarter consumption.
Monitoring capabilities help you to evaluate energy consumption and understand the realities of your environmental footprint. With IoT, you can monitor energy use and emissions from the granular to the global, finding new ways to reduce your carbon intensity. Gain insights on equipment use, supporting improved maintenance to extend the equipment’s lifespan. Manage and reduce waste more efficiently. Track the location of materials and understand how products can be designed to support a circular economy.