How to Evaluate Consulting Services Partners for Enterprise IoT

Illustration: © IoT for all

Now is the time: you are ready to deploy IoT technology. You know what you want to do, but you need help realizing your vision. You need help figuring out how to bring your vision to life. You don’t know what obstacles you might encounter. You want to make sure your deployment is as successful as possible. Looking for an Enterprise IoT Consultant to be your service partner.

This article explains how to find the right service partner to help you successfully deploy your IoT technology.

Do you know what you need?

Let’s start with the easy questions – the ones you ask yourself. Before you’re ready to work with a service partner, you need to understand your own project. (Yes, we realize this sounds a bit like a self-help book, but it’s true.)

Ask yourself:

  • Does the proposed project solve a business problem? (If the answer is “no,” you may want to step back and engage with a partner on a more strategic level, then engage later for implementation.)
  • Does your organization have a strategic roadmap for deploying IoT?
  • What is the budget?
  • What will success look like? What are the key performance indicators?
  • Is the project industrial or commercial? Who is the end user?
  • What is the deadline?
  • Is there a material design in place?
  • What is your internal expertise around the IoT? What will you require of a supplier?
  • Do you have hardware design expertise or will you need a full service commitment (hardware and software)?
  • Will you need intelligent automation? Is machine learning part of the project? (Hint: Unless your system is just shuffling data, the answer to at least one of these questions is “yes”.)
  • Do you have an interdisciplinary team that can focus on IoT? Even if you outsource the heavy lifting, you still need to own the project.

Here’s one last question to ask yourself: Is the leadership okay with the IoT? It’s a bit late in the game to ask that question, but better to ask now than after signing a contract. Before you deploy IoT technology, it’s critical that your board and C-suite give it their blessing — and see the value in it.

“Ensuring that stakeholders from all relevant areas are involved in purchasing decisions and implementation is critical to ensuring project success. It may work 100% correctly once deployed, but if the information isn’t useful to the people who paid for it or are supposed to use it, the project will likely fail,” James Falkner, Technology Evangelist and Technical Marketing Manager at Red Hat, says TechTarget.

Of course, this brings us back to the first question about solving a business problem.

After answering these questions, it’s time to start looking for a partner. Many vendors call themselves IoT companies, IoT vendors, IoT consultants, IoT experts, etc. To find the best IoT consulting services partner – the one that’s right for you – you’ll need to ask a lot of questions.

Let’s start with the basics.

Start with the pre-qualification questions

Before you spend time thoroughly exploring potential service partners for your company’s IoT deployment, make sure they’re on your shortlist. You want a partner who knows how to implement IoT and has a track record of success.

Start with these questions:

  • What is your experience working with companies like ours?
  • Who are your satisfied customers? (Be sure to assess whether the use cases match what you have in mind.)
  • What is your timeframe to complete our project?
  • Do you have a reputation for meeting deadlines and budget? (You might want to confirm this with one of their customers.)
  • Who owns the data generated by connected products? (Hint: If the answer isn’t “you do,” get out.)

Now ask deeper questions

This should narrow your list. From there, you can start digging deeper.

Ask: do you follow an Agile process focused on DevOps?

DevOps, which emphasizes cross-departmental collaboration, integration, and automation, is critical to IoT development.

In an IoT World Today article on the benefits of DevOps for IoT performance testing, Charles Coté, Lead Enterprise Architecture Architect for Capgemini North America, notes, “While IoT and IIoT are evolving. . . the speed of innovation and collaboration provided by DevOps is key to scaling successful pilot projects for smart cities, smart agriculture, and industrial factories.

Coté goes on to say, “The scalability, elasticity, and rapid application development cycles that DevOps provides are a prerequisite for deploying and maintaining complex ecosystems of IoT agents, firmware, gateways , nodes and edge computing algorithms.

Ask: What is your IIoT security strategy?

Since operational technology manages global infrastructure and critical manufacturing plants, security in the industrial sector is paramount. And while everyone is talking about security for IoT and IIoT, executing it successfully is something else.

Whereas a few years ago the main issue was getting companies to prioritize risk mitigation for IoT-specific threats, today companies are recognizing the threats and allocating more and more budget.

Forbes contributor Tony Bradley explains in this article that “the current challenge is that security professionals do not understand how priorities are different between IT and OT and need concrete best practices to maximize security. risk reduction in OT networks…”

In particular, you want a robust strategy for security updates and a concrete plan to execute them. Table stakes for IIoT security should include end-to-end encryption of communications, device identification via public key cryptography, and over-the-air (OTA) updates to support remediation unknown security vulnerabilities that may arise.

Ask: How scalable and scalable is your IoT platform?

You don’t just pick a platform for today or this year; you want one that can adapt to your needs tomorrow and next year. Depending on the size of your project, the vendor’s platform may need to support millions of devices with different technology requirements while providing you with insights from the collected data. It must do so effectively today and tomorrow.

Here are some follow-up questions:

  • How expandable is your platform?
  • As the business grows or our needs change, can the solution scale?
  • How flexible is the IoT platform for legacy systems?
  • Does adding new features require reworking the rest of the solution?

Ask: What are the data management strategies?

IoT projects generate a huge amount of data to store. How will your partner handle it?

To guide its members, the Illinois Technology Association explains the rationale:

If mobile apps are integrated into your business process, the volume of data will be high as the devices produce massive unstructured data that needs to be routed to the private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, or traditional data center. Thus, it is recommended to choose an IoT platform capable of rapidly ingesting high-speed data streams bringing a high volume of data and enabling real-time decision-making.

As you discuss data management, remember to ask the following related questions:

  • How will you help us turn data into insights?
  • What types of data analysis are available?

Ask: How do you handle mobile and web app development?

Ultimately, if your users don’t have a user-friendly interface or application to interact with, your project is unlikely to succeed. “Too many manufacturers are leaving application development behind for the end of their IoT process,” warns Electronic Design. And yet, it is at the heart of the user experience. Fail there and you fail, period.

Ask: what will happen during an outage?

It’s inevitable. At some point, the power or internet connection will stop. Although you can never expect to fully mitigate failures – there are too many factors beyond your control – there are things you can do to reduce the impact while building high-reliability systems, such as leveraging testing heavily automation and system monitoring. And to account for failures, we design intelligent error recovery and offline behavior.

Final Thoughts

Finding the right IoT service partner can help you avoid many headaches when preparing to deploy IoT in your business. There are many service partners to choose from. Ultimately, the best one for you will depend on your needs and your project. Knowing the right questions to ask will help you evaluate each vendor and determine which one is best for your business.

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