Platform powered independence

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the two styles of IoT device evolution; one, where simple sensory devices communicate with a cloud brain and the second, where Smart Internet Devices, or SIDs (thanks to low power and in-memory computing), become more prevalent. There, we had imagined the possibility of localized nano ecosystems made up of SIDs (NEoSIDs) becoming alternatives to large IoT ecosystems. Large like the ones provided by Apple, Google, Amazon and similar players. In Part II, we’ll delve a little deeper into this hypothesis and try to understand the ways NeOSID ecosystems can manifest themselves through platforms.

Understanding IoT platforms

Last year, Eric Lamarre and Brett May of McKinsey beautifully illustrated the role of a platform in the IoT universe: “In order to get value from the Internet of Things (IoT), it helps to have a platform on which to create and manage applications, to run analytics, and to store and secure your data. Like an operating system for a laptop, a platform does a lot of things in the background that makes life easier and less expensive for developers, managers, and users.

But is 'platform' just the next buzzword in IoT? Or is it the real deal? Boston Consulting Group cautions that “The term platform is so loosely defined and overused that it has lost its significance, contributing to buyers’ confusion.”

So, let’s try to clear the air around platforms.

It’s been argued that platforms are the disruptive secret upon which a digital business is formed. In Rise of The Platforms, we discuss how companies like Apple, Uber, and Airbnb have understood, and are leveraging platforms’ potential for business innovation.

At ThoughtWorks, we have been helping clients like SPI Cinemas, India’s leading player in the entertainment industry, serving close to a million customers a day, by building a responsive ticketing system, prioritizing scale. The goal has been to augment the entire movie-going experience, rather than focus on transactional engagements. With Mitchells, the independent, family-owned luxury retailer, ThoughtWorks has built an award-winning clienteling platform that boosts the clients’ sales and bolsters one-to-one relationships. Another example is the work we have done with Expedia, one of the world’s leading online travel companies whose current modern web platform enables the client’s culture of experimentation, and technical excellence to re-emerge from constraints that had cropped up, as their original technical infrastructure aged.
platform enabled org
These platforms of the future that enable new business capabilities and foster innovation are created by combining technology and enterprise strategy. What are the makings of the most capable platforms?
  • An efficient digital platform structure includes an interface that manages the hardware and ensures the platform’s ability to collect data from a variety of sensors.
  • The facility to transfer data to the cloud.
  • The IoT platform’s capacity to monitor and analyze the collected data in real time.
  • The data lake generating intelligent and actionable insights. Platforms often house the faculty to run analytics on data and even ‘machine learn’ it.
The proliferation of platforms will continue to grow in scale. “Digital business drives dramatic changes in organizations’ business ecosystems, making them larger, more complex and essential to strategy,” says Betsy Burton, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. This means it’s no longer uncommon to see large ecosystems support multiple sensors, apps, and domains.

Platforms power independence

The interesting bit about platforms is that while they support lock-in today, they also hold the key to independence in the future. Today’s platforms give the opportunity for independent ecosystems at the domain level while abstracting the tech 'heavy lifting' from businesses and communities. However, privacy, security or a desire to maintain control over tech architecture can drive the need to modularize further down the platform. Let’s explore this with a few examples.

Independence by geography

Let’s imagine a smart city that wants to discharge a variety of public services using the power of connected devices. The services could be in various domains - transportation, healthcare, agriculture, traffic monitoring, etc. The government can choose to build a custom platform that supports all these domains. To build out the platform quickly, the IT team can choose to limit device management to a select set of vendor devices only. This also means that the government has the choice of where they store their data and the protocols to access it securely. The approach isn’t much different from the existing platforms - except that it allows independent choices at a geographical level.

secure data sharing

Independence by domain/enterprise

A slightly different approach can work for large enterprises and specific domains. Custom platforms can allow IT teams to build single domain specialization or proprietary business logic into the platforms. An example of this is precision farming, a farming solution for the agricultural sector, developed over a Low Power Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) technology to increase the quality, quantity, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness of agricultural production. In such cases, development teams have the freedom to collaborate and build applications atop the foundational platforms. Again, the ability to narrow down to a specific set of devices gives the organization the ability to limit device support. Additionally, the organization can benefit from the control over security, privacy and data storage, and access.

There’s a brave new world out there!

This is a depiction of how a tailored platform approach can unleash data-driven power across the board/domains for both, enterprises and governments.

platform across domains

While the notion I present may seem far-fetched, the fact remains that there’s an IoT revolution happening already.

Enterprises and governments are building out their own platforms, and these platforms coexist with the HomeKits and the AWSs of the world. There’s also a proliferation of technology (MQTT, CoAP) to support this revolution—a collection of cloud-connected devices solving a problem.

On the other hand, open source IoT platforms such as Thingsboard, Leylan, OpenRemote, Thingspeak, and Open HAB already provide governments and enterprises the basis upon which to innovate. The technology for a low power computing ecosystem is maturing fast as well the aforementioned LoRaWAN, are revolutionizing how we connect ‘things’ in a large network without the huge amount of upfront infrastructure investment. The past decade has seen a 'winner takes all' pattern to emerging technology. With the fast developing IOT space, I hope to see enterprises buck the trend and improve critical business processes. Considering the benefits of privacy, lower cost of ownership through reduced vendor lock-in isn’t trivial; I expect to be blown away by the impending innovation that we have been discussing at ThoughtWorks.

This story first appeared as a print story in Mint.