When it comes to technology and its deployment to solve business challenges, I am always reminded of the familiar quote – “losing sight of the forest for the trees.”
In Internet of Things conversations, it is easy to get lost in the trees. As technology practitioners, we tend to focus on the underlying technology when addressing customer problems. But what customers really want is to know whether a technology can solve a business problem that they are trying to address. In other words, they want to see the forest.
One of the more frequently discussed subjects with customers is the relative merits of point versus platform solutions.
What are Point Solutions?
Point solutions deliver highly targeted feature sets to solve a single business problem with best of breed features and functions. Historically, this is the traditional way businesses have consumed technology. The merits of this approach are often centered on speed of deployment and proven ability to execute – “it works.”
What is a Platform Architecture?
Platform solutions and associated architectures evolved to address the weaknesses that are common with point solutions. While point solutions work for very specific situations, there are some significant downsides. Namely, managing a multitude of vendors, systems, databases and integrations, this in turn creates an incredibly complex IT environment.
A well-designed platform provides a stage where common tasks can be executed across multiple solutions and design requirements. This commonality creates an environment that is more manageable, secure and scalable across the enterprise.
While most business leaders are conceptually aligned on the relative merits of platform technologies, they are not willing to invest in a platform without a clear-cut value-creating opportunity that can be deployed and operationalized in the field.
They want to know how we can make IoT work in the field with a platform architecture that can support multiple use cases in a multi-asset and vendor environment. This has become the starting point of any IoT discussion.
IoT End to End Solution
In the world of IoT solutions for energy and utility customers, both the point and platform solution providers are happy to discuss the relative merits and disadvantages of either approach. Customers today better understand how they want to engage with the two respective camps.
For the IoT point solution providers (where it is absolutely a no-brainer for a “best of breed” solution), the common question asked is, “how do we manage all the IoT devices distributed across our operations in a centralized manner, independent of vendor, asset type and non-associated application?” Unfortunately, the common answer is to disclose that their focus is on their thing, where the capability for centralized device connectivity and management needs to be developed outside of their solution.
IoT platform providers have increasingly focused on the principal end-to-end solutions they can support with their platform. From a customer perspective, their interpretation of turnkey extends beyond the platform and focuses on the sensor devices, application logic, integration requirements to the broader application environment, and who will do the end-to-end system deployment.
An industrial strength IoT platform must have the capabilities to support it all – legacy and future IoT point solutions for centralized device connectivity and management. This has become table stakes; it is imperative to be able to manage and secure the plethora of IoT type devices that are being deployed in energy and utility operation environments. But, just as importantly, any IoT platform vendor worthy of a conversation needs to discuss in detail how it does third-party device certification, supports hybrid integration environments and creates go-to-market partnerships to manage field and enterprise integration turnkey deployments.
The end justifies the means, which is why end-to-end IoT solutions are now the starting point of many IoT conversations.
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