Up until now, the Internet of Things (IoT) has only existed in the peripheral vision of small and medium-sized businesses. With companies such DropCam raising an eye-watering $30 million and SmartThings taking in $12.5 million in investments to kick start their businesses, the expense of designing an IoT platform or prototype has put many smaller manufacturers out of the picture.
Even the inclusion of simple IoT components in products takes considerable solution engineering and an ongoing commitment in IT to maintain the customer support service. As a result, only extremely well-funded enterprises have had a hand in the network. However, a new breed of solutions is here to level the playing field.
In this article I will look at how the tech landscape is changing and why education, a new IoT as a service model, and a crop of bright-eyed startups will see the rapid development of a multitude of new IoT products from a whole range of manufacturers.
The Problems for Smaller Manufacturers
Today, the IoT seems to be a hot topic with everyone except technology manufacturers. A recent survey of 561 executives worldwide by The Economist Intelligence Unit, suggested just how far the average business is from using IoT in manufactured goods. Only 19% were planning radical changes to harness the potential of smart things; and only 39% had introduced training in digital skills.
This is not surprising. When we look at the IoT, it is a galaxy of concepts in formation, making it difficult to understand and even harder for companies to get on board.
There are myriad problems at play. Firstly, it’s essential that devices can talk to each other — the value for consumers is a network of smart objects that can be controlled and can intercommunicate, no matter their brand or function. This not only involves complex engineering of both software and hardware, but also requires competitors to collaborate to ensure their devices function together. Without an exclusive international standard for IoT communications protocols, this is an extremely tough task for smaller businesses.
Then there’s the problem of security and customer confidence, as well as ongoing issues with network, engineering, and even purpose – does IoT connectivity add value to the consumer? It’s an expensive question to get wrong, and few smaller producers are willing to stick their necks out and do it themselves or hire costly iTechnology outsourcing solutions.
Three Big Solutions for Small Manufactures
1. The knowledge: Enterprise leading the way
Education and mentoring are essential for companies stepping out into new territory. iTechnology enterprises like AT&T and Hitachi have formed consulting groups to help businesses take on the IoT challenge and start offering their own integrated IoT solutions.
AT&T’s connection kit promises to “accelerate IoT device development with exceptional support” and provides development testing to speed up production and reduce costs. Hitachi Consulting runs an IoT/Innovation Workshop to educate and “drive business value,” ultimately promoting innovation in the field.
Once there are footsteps to follow, we can walk with confidence. Moves like this will help educate and encourage SMEs to take a risk and enter this exciting new market.
2. The Hardware: IoT as a Service
We are now seeing a new breed of “IoT as a service” platforms, known as Smart Tag Consumer Technology companies (STCT), entering the market. They are taking away the need for expensive technology outsourcing houses and making the IoT accessible to manufacturers everywhere. These companies allow manufacturers to incorporate IoT functionality into their goods with virtually no overhead.
Powered by a cloud-based service and requiring no electronics or batteries, the smart tags can be included in a variety of materials, ranging from metal to synthetic laminates, with full branding of the sponsoring company. STCTs offer “Instant-on,” Smart Tag solutions — manufacturers simply need to attach the tag to their product and they are ready to go, only requiring activation by the consumer.
The Smart Tags provide a number of data-gathering functionalities, as well as offer value to customers with product recovery services for lost items. As the technology and functionality develops we will see increasing numbers of producers including tags in their products and a whole lot more value added for customers.
3. The Software: Startups making IoT connection easy
Currently, 93% of developers are exclusively designing apps for smartphones, rather than software for the IoT. However, a number of startups have entered the market, with platforms and APIs, which gives small businesses and developers an easy way to connect their products to the Cloud.
Konekt is another service that offers cloud infrastructure, network and APIs to businesses, helping them connect their devices and allow for interoperability and communications. The startup offers a SIM card that works in 100 countries and APIs which provide device management and troubleshooting. Konekt also offers robust security with device-to-cloud data encryption services.
As awareness of these types of services grows, developers and manufacturers will be able to concentrate on creating great products, rather than having to worry how to manage the deeper problems associated with security, connectivity and interoperability. It’s a new dawn for the IoT and it’s the consumer who is about to benefit.