The Internet of Things or IoT is a “hot” topic right now. Put simply, the Internet of Things is a way of connecting physical “things” to the internet that you wouldn’t normally think to have a network connection – those things can be a smart meter, a hand sanitizer in an office or even an autonomous robot in a super market.
When you make IoT versions of these “things” you can power them up to the next level by adding real time status reporting, optimise power and run-time efficiency, and unlock new business opportunities by tying the data that you can collect from you IoT device to other data and logic to build new, more insightful solutions for your customers.
But how do you manage all of these devices, and critically how do you make sure you can trust the data they are sending?
This is where a device management platform comes in.
Managing IoT Devices
We cannot just connect the devices, sit back and enjoy the benefits of all the data they send us. These devices need careful management if we are to get the best out of them and use them to achieve timely insights for our business.
Starting right from the point of commissioning and installation of a device into its new home, IoT devices need to set up a secure connection. They also need to be monitored for correct performance, maintained to achieve this performance, tweaked with new operational parameters, and diagnosed if anything goes wrong. That ongoing secure connection is the cornerstone to trusting that your remote-management view is correct and trusting message contents from your device.
This is best done through a device management platform – a software platform that implements secure communication to devices, ensures devices are always up to date and can send urgent notifications if they detect that they’re not operating efficiently. Such a platform will make the ongoing management of your devices much easier and help you optimise the performance of your deployments both with direct device monitoring tools, and with system integration options so that you can unlock the highly valuable data insights now being captured by real devices in the wild.
Device Lifecycle Management – Onboarding to End-of-Life
The first stage in bringing IoT devices into play is onboarding. It’s the process of connecting them to the internet and to your network securely, so that they can operate safely and avoid hostile attacks. The process involves the sharing of encrypted keys to establish a secure connection between the device and the IoT service platform and establishing mutual trust that the device is really connected to your account, and that your account is really only receiving data from your real devices and not from fakes or clones that might set out to destabilise your system.
Once the device is operating, it isn’t a case of fit and forget – devices will need to be monitored throughout their life. Diagnostic features in the device management software should monitor the fleet of devices to detect possible security breaches, unpredicted device behaviour that falls out of the original design implementation, and early warning reporting of RAM or processor excessive loads – but diagnostics goes beyond this. Gathering data about device performance and the environments they’re monitoring makes predictive maintenance possible, allowing action to be taken to prevent failures before they occur.
Securing devices and data
Maintenance also encompasses the wider issues of keeping IoT devices secure and updated. Over the useful lifetime of the device bugs in the device’s firmware will inevitably need fixing, and even if they don’t you’ll be thankful that you forward-planned for the event just in case. The scope of the project may change, requiring your devices to have new functionality, or new cyber threats may emerge that must be mitigated. The management platform should offer facilities to update software over-the-air at scale and with tools and controls to minimise whole-system downtime and outages, allowing you to keep your devices updated and secure, and your product offering available at all times.
Finally, when your device has come to the end of its life, you’ll need a system that can manage the decommissioning stage. This should be done in such a way as to prevent data being leaked, keep downtime to a minimum and avoid the danger of miscreants gaining access to the network to cause disruption or access information.
Why IoT Device Management is so important
Without an IoT Device Management platform your deployment is going to be at a disadvantage, not just at deployment but throughout its life and whatever new opportunities arise for greater integration and value generation come your way. A device management platform should ideally be selected at the inception of a project and included as a central part of your IoT infrastructure. This will allow you to get to market more quickly, build on a secure foundation that means you can trust your devices and their data from day one, deploy much more efficiently, gather better data about your deployments and allow you to optimise on the fly. It is also a critical component in allowing your deployment to continue effective operation for many years to come without creating significant additional maintenance burden.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly when you want to scale your solution into a viable business, a Device Management platform needs to have the tools and methods in place to operate at scale. Whether that’s automated, trusted secure key provisioning on the production line, technician role management for authorised installation and commissioning setup, and large scale Over The Air (OTA) firmware update management tools you’ll be reliant on your Device Management platform to support your opportunity as it expands and grows.
You don’t want to make business decisions based on bad data, you don’t want to leave your operational infrastructure exposed with vulnerable devices, you don’t want to be able to successfully operate 10s of devices in the field but then hit a wall when your business needs to scale to 100s, 1000s, 10000s of units that you can’t possibly ever touch when the unexpected happens.
A comprehensive and easy-to-use IoT device management platform is an essential aspect of a successful IoT project – with support from an experienced platform supplier, you can deploy and manage devices easily and gain full benefit from the opportunities of the Internet of Things.