Why Device Management is Crucial to Successful IoT Innovation

It’s easy to understand why people at all points on the technology spectrum get so excited about the latest and greatest developments in the Internet of Things. Essential is IoT device management. Done right, it’s the perfect marriage of cutting-edge technology and innovative design – used to seamlessly improve so many of the things we do as part of our everyday lives.

But what happens when we pay too much attention to the Internet part of that equation – and not enough attention to the things (from the IoThings) that make it all possible?

Why Device Management is Crucial to Successful IoT

The concept of device management certainly isn’t a new one – but in recent years, it’s a concept that’s been overlooked. Far too often, we focus too much on what physical devices can do in an IoT setting and not nearly enough on making sure that the device functions properly.

It’s one thing as a consumer to restart a smart speaker or replace a smart light bulb, but it’s something else entirely to dig up a smart moisture sensor because the battery died after two months.

Far too many would-be IoT breakthroughs are often doomed from the start because the otherwise brilliant people involved didn’t plan for what to do about device management.

So what does device management mean from a practical standpoint in an increasingly advanced IoT landscape? In a nutshell, it focuses on three key principles:

  • An effective combination of components in the module and components in the portal working together
  • A clear distinction between data about the device and data from the device, completely independent from application data
  • Single-pane control of full deployment status and operations

Practically speaking, those principles take us fairly seamlessly from the “what” to the “why” of effective device management. This is a quote from Amazon IoT Device Management:

  • “Ensure IoT devices work properly and securely after they have been deployed
  • Secure access to IoT devices, monitor their health, detect and remotely troubleshoot problems, and manage software and firmware updates.”
  • Increase operational awareness about what is happening in each device at any given moment and get exceptions alerts
  • Reduce total cost of ownership through remote management of devices, which reduces the amount of operational effort required to maintain the device through physical on-site maintenance

Now that we have the “what?” and the “why?” it’s time for the real work – the “how.”

In its simplest form, proper device management has four key pillars:

Firmware over the air (FOTA)

We’d all love to think that when we launch a new IoT initiative, the devices we use will be perfect right from the start, but at some point, the device will have to be updated. The update will not just be the behavior of the device or the way it generates data, but the device’s foundational firmware platform.

If that device is installed 50 feet above the ground – or 10 feet under it – you’d better be able to update its firmware remotely, especially when you’re also dealing with multiple devices.

Connection management

In most cases, data is the fruit of the IoT tree, so if we’re going to harvest that fruit and use it in some meaningful way, connection management is crucial.

If one or more of your devices goes offline, do you have a mechanism in place to restore that connection without having to send trucks all over town? And more importantly, are your devices properly configured to queue data so that it can be transferred to you once the devices’ connections are reestablished?

Configuration management for your IoT Device

Whatever device you’re designing, building, or using should be able to reset itself for remote configuration for software updates and other basic tenets of device management.

This is essential for making sure that you can maintain these devices regardless of scale and ensure that you’re able to customize subsets of devices that might require different configurations based on location, use case, or other factors.

Remote access

Of course, nothing else really matters if the device itself is unhealthy, which is why the ability to access it from an overall standpoint is absolutely necessary. Through proper remote access, you’ll be able to monitor devices in the field and measure things like data transfer rates, temperature, battery life and more. Of course, you’ll want to anticipate most problems before they happen.

Orienting IoT Device Management as a Non-Linear Process

Because device management is meant to be a non-linear, ongoing process, it’s not necessary for these pillars to happen in any particular order or even for them all to be happening at any given time. Effective IoT devices mean that these devices should never be thought of as “install and forget,” they should always be part of the overall platform.

When you set to design or deploy an IoT platform for the first time, you know deep down – or maybe even closer to the surface – that you’ve got to think about the electronics on a board.

You also must consider the communications over the air, software and behavior embedded at the edge. You’ll take the time to ensure a back-end solution to help gather and process the data generated.

But What About Scale?

But even the smartest, most level-headed IT professional on Earth isn’t immune to the excitement of thinking about the end results first. The end result is that idyllic garden path commonly known as scale – where that small idea gets bigger and better over time.

But what happens if the lifecycle of your devices can’t keep up with that pace?

Most of the time, people assume that the device itself is just the means to an end, and that it’s simply going to work right all of the time — forever. Not so!

The lifecycle might seem counter-intuitive to think about when you are all excited and building your project. On the other hand, who wants to think about the worst-case scenarios before you even start a project?

The Tanking of, or End of The Company — Because You Didn’t Plan Ahead for Device Management

Planning ahead for your device management beats the alternative of ending very badly. It can be hard to truly appreciate the complexity of what you’re dealing with in device management until you’ve suffered the kind of mistake that can financially tank not only the project but also the entire company right along with it.

Your end could come from something as small as an environmental factor that wasn’t taken into account and couldn’t be anticipated or replicated in a lab setting.

The fact that you “didn’t think of that” simply doesn’t matter once you have dozens or even hundreds of devices in the field.

Now you’re left with the worst kind of decision — one that’s purely about economics: Is the cost to repair the devices even justifiable, and if not — can you afford to replace them all? (See how fast you can tank? Snap!)

Of course, these might seem like very simple concepts at first glance, but plenty of incredibly smart people have been brought to tears by the crushing hindsight of not thinking about them at the outset of their own projects.

The best idea on earth means nothing without the means to execute it effectively and efficiently at scale. Scale really means – the right people and the right technologies to make it happen in the real world.

Device management is a key part of the right people and the right technology in the real world.

Because as exciting as it might be to see all of your data in the cloud if that little device at the edge that’s supposed to be generating the actual information that you’re using to make decisions isn’t working properly and can’t be repaired — then you’ve got a major problem before you ever get off the ground.

Image Credit: miguel á. padriñá; pexels; thank you!

John Keever

John Keever

Chief Technology Officer, Telit IoT Platforms Business Unit

John Keever currently serves as the CTO of the Telit IoT Platforms Business Unit. He came to Telit from ILS Technology, a company that Telit acquired in 2013. Mr. Keever founded ILS Technology and began serving as an executive vice president and chief technology officer in October 2000. He has more than 30 years of experience in automation software engineering and design. Mr. Keever holds patents in both hardware and software.
Mr. Keever came to ILS Technology from IBM Corporation where he was a global services principle responsible for e-production solution architectures and deployments. Mr. Keever enjoyed over 18 years of plant floor automation experience with IBM and is the former world-wide development and support manager for Automation Connection, Distributed Applications Environment, PlantWorks and Data Collection hardware and software products. His prior experience within IBM includes lead marketing and solutions architecture responsibilities for General Motors, BMW, Chrysler, Tokyo Electron, Glaxo-Wellcome, and numerous other global manufacturing companies.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, with minors in both electrical engineering and mathematics, from North Carolina State University. He has also completed post-graduate work in computer engineering and operating systems design at Duke University.
I’ve always been passionate about mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, having pursued them in my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Founding my own company, ILS Technology, and working for a global IoT enabler like Telit has given me valuable insight into both the business and technical sides of IoT and technology that I would like to share with the ReadWrite community.
Along with founding my own company, I hold over 30 years of experience in automation software engineering and design and 18 years of plant floor automation experience with IBM. This experience, coupled with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, gives me the foundation and knowledge necessary to contribute valuable insights for ReadWrite’s audience that can help improve their technical knowledge and share new ideas on legacy practices.
ReadWrite strives to produce content that favors reader’s productivity and provide quality information. With 30 years of experience in automation software engineering and design and 18 years of plant floor automation experience with IBM, I believe I have the foundation and knowledge necessary to contribute valuable and quality insights for ReadWrite’s audience that will not only help improve their technical knowledge, but also share new ideas on legacy practices.



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