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.
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.
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!