The Problem With Generic IoT Platforms — and Why We Avoid Them

From toasters, refrigerators and TVs to thermostats, toys, wearables and much more, everyday objects we once considered dumb are now becoming embedded with technology that enables them to communicate and interact with other systems over the internet. We now call these things, “smart devices,” and they are generally connected to other devices or networks via various wireless protocols to create an “internet of things.”

Over the past two decades, the internet of things (IoT) has developed from an emerging part of the technology ecosystem into what many experts believe will be a multitrillion-dollar industry within the next five years. Whether at home, in industry or in the enterprise, IoT devices talk to other related devices and management systems to remotely control devices, automate common workflows, visualize performance and predict failures or needs for maintenance.

With IoT devices becoming increasingly ubiquitous, companies across industries now have fleets of smart devices. However, myriad obstacles can impede the successful deployment of connected IoT devices, including security, scalability, interoperability, availability and power/processing capabilities. The majority of these challenges can be addressed by adopting standard protocols and best practices or using services offered by a vendor.

Generic IoT Platforms — the Problem

To help organizations overcome challenges associated with IoT deployment, a number of vendors sprung up to create IoT platforms that serve as one-size-fits-all solutions for general problems. The goal? Enabling customers to take advantage of the core use case problem being solved once and applying the generic solution to their devices many times, unlocking cost savings. Essentially, these generic platforms presume their “universal” solution will work for every application.

While a generic IoT platform sounds like a great idea, in practice, it rarely seems to fit. The problem is these “one-size-fits-all” platforms tend to only deliver about 60% of a typical IoT solution. By the time the remaining 40% of the problem is solved and productized, the solution has actually evolved to a bespoke application for that customer.

From device onboarding, security and provisioning to compliance, device telemetry ingestion, workflow automation and machine learning prediction models to visualize analytics, these generic platform vendors are realizing that every customer has slightly different requirements. Even when these generic IoT vendors thought they generically solved the problem, they still had to customize the platform for every customer.

Plus, when companies pay to deploy their devices to a generic platform, they have all of this custom code, and it starts to become fragile. As these customers need to extend to solve a slightly different problem or add new functionality, doing so becomes increasingly difficult. So, rather than this generic platform solving the problem off the shelf, it’s a custom, fragile implementation per customer. These generic platform vendors get customers onboarded, but then seize up in feature development, as they have to make custom solutions for each one of the customers now on their platform.

The Advantages of AWS and Azure IoT Solutions

The other part of the problem is that as one identifies valuable IoT services for the generic platform that solved distinct customer problems, Amazon and Microsoft began building these out as part of their core IoT offerings in a very scalable, common way, which takes away from the value of the generic platforms.

The tech giants have essentially created scalable Lego blocks for developers to put together and place a thin layer of code on top of in order to solve a customer’s problem, whereas generic platform vendors built their own versions of those Lego blocks and worked to solve a customer’s problem with their own custom code. However, it turns out, these folks needed to write and deploy more custom code than they initially thought.

Now that the tech giants are involved in the IoT platform game and adding more IoT services every day, many generic platforms have outlived their usefulness. Plus, because Amazon and Microsoft can generally offer these services at a scale and feature velocity that other vendors can’t, these generic platform vendors face price pressure and reduced profitability.

With AWS IoT and Azure IoT, the barrier to entry and the ease at which you can scale IoT services is unmatched by generic IoT platform vendors. Amazon and Microsoft see so many IoT implementations that they can basically hone in on the right solution, allowing customers and systems integrators to efficiently string together and customize solutions for a given customer’s problem. They’re not building the end solution to satisfy a customer, they’ve built a framework of services from which engineers can pick, choose and configure and then build their business-specific logic on top of to solve a particular customer’s problem.

Simply put, the tools provided by Amazon and Microsoft are very good, easily scalable and allow complete control and customization for the application. Additionally, in the long term, customers can be sure that Amazon and Microsoft will continue to be around for many years — and you can guess that many generic platforms won’t be.

Connected Devices and Cardinal Peak

But, at the end of the day, a customer can’t go to Amazon or Microsoft and say “solve my IoT problem.” They need to go to someone with IoT deployment experience to put together the various services and develop an end-to-end solution. That’s where we come in.

At Cardinal Peak, we are experts at creating custom-tailored connected solutions in the most efficient way possible using many of the major IoT platforms’ and component suppliers’ services. We’ve built an abundance of industrial and consumer solutions both in previous roles and at Cardinal Peak. We know how to efficiently use these services to develop complete solutions, and we have very tight connections to the AWS IoT Core business folks and engineers that help ensure that we build the best solutions possible.

Leveraging this extensive experience and the power of AWS IoT, we empower clients with the ability to rapidly design products that seamlessly integrate with mobile applications and cloud systems. Connect with us to discover how you can reduce both cost and time to market for your next connected device and IoT project.

Looking for a PaaS alternative? Cardinal Peak has developed a comprehensive IoT device management solution that provides the convenience of a PaaS with the control and flexibility of a bespoke system. All software gets installed in your AWS account, development costs approach PaaS options with the ability to innovate novel features like a bespoke system.