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75F Vlog: 9 Considerations When Employing IoT

Are you looking to improve your building or workspace by implementing the Internet of Things?  Internet-connected devices offer sensing, actionable data insights, remote monitoring and automation to make buildings work smarter for the people who own, manage and occupy them...cutting costs and improving comfort, health and productivity. At first, the concept of deploying IoT in your building may seem like a complex, unreachable goal. However, it's more affordable and easier than ever!

1. Pinpoint the problem you are trying to solve  

 Will IoT provide a clear value to your end users? Determine how IoT can help you reach your goals and benefit your business. The IoT has sparked some wild ideas for "cool" applications, with mobile phone controls for everything from toasters to tie racks. Yet, it’s crucial to ask if there is true value in employing the IoT, so keep your eye on the problem you are trying to solve. 

2. Ensure your devices generate data, not noise  

 Sensing data has great potential to provide rich insights and improve tasks. You can't manage what you can't measure. Yet, there's risk of generating noise. Consider false positives. It's easy to disregard an alert, if it doesn't require attention. Look at the auto industry, besides looking in the direction of a car alarm, most people don't take action; the owner may grab the keys and click the key fob to turn it off before checking to see if anything was wrong. We have become conditioned to ignore some alarms, which then become more of a nuisance than a value.  The key is to build in reliability and sanitize the data, because real world data is noisy and ugly. Make sure you have a way to exclude outliers or a means to investigate so you can produce clean, valuable data and eliminate false alarms. 

3. The more instrumentation you install, the less reliable your system becomes

There’s a concept called "Mean Time Between Failures" (MTBF). It's simply the average time from one failure to the next. Say you have sensors which have a failure rate of 100,000 hours. With ten of those same sensors in a system, the failure rate increases to one in 10,000, increasing the risk that could cause the entire system to fail.  If you’re considering deploying thousands to millions of IoT devices for solving your problems, you need to ensure that the MTBF of each IoT device is high enough for the overall system MTBF requirements. 

4. The more devices you have, the less of a user interface (UI) you want to provide  

Offering too many interfaces confuses users. Determine where you want the complexity. In a single gateway device? Maybe across all of the small devices?  On the flip side, if you provide too little of an interface, people can end up overloading functions. This can create a poor user experience, leaving users crying for something more intuitive.  Determining device functions and UI, matched with cost and usability, requires an elegant balance. 

5. Have a way of managing your devices 

 With billions of IoT devices flooding the market, supporting components of those devices have the potential to malfunction. Device management can range from monitoring the power status or network signal strength, to pushing firmware updates remotely. Remote firmware updates are critical because they allow systems to be patched when security vulnerabilities and other bugs are found, or as feature enhancements are released. 

6. Consider self-configuring IoT devices  

 One of the most common methodologies for IoT is to have the end devices, like room sensors, connect directly to Wi-Fi. However, this is by far the most expensive solution since each device would require a full Wi-Fi stack. Another option is employing a mesh network, this requires a gateway which communicates data out to the internet through one source, rather than several. Since these devices are not self-configuring, you must provide a simple way of reconfiguring them in an intuitive manner. The easiest solution is to have self-configuring IoT devices that connect to a gateway right out of the box. The gateway can provide a rich interface to allow easy changes to system parameters, such as the Wi-Fi connection.  

7. Ensure your product can scale  

It may be the easiest to use third party platforms which accelerate the adoption of the IoT in its early stages. But at some point, a company must solve the hard problem and take it in-house to ensure that the system runs efficiently and can scale. Platforms can be quite valuable, yet they may not help companies scale. A good example is Facebook. Facebook used a lot of scripting languages in the beginning. As a result, the company has had to completely rework their backend a number of times. So even though they have preserved the look, the backend has been developed without scaling in mind.  

8. When leveraging cloud computing, have a backup plan for local intelligence

 Cloud computing enables users to store and access data via the internet. It’s a great tool to use, but you should not rely solely on the cloud. IoT devices need the ability to make localized decisions to be able to function when wireless connectivity goes down. Some systems are designed to function only with active cloud connectivity, leaving many companies without a backup plan. This causes them to rely solely on getting instructions back from the cloud. Having a fail-safe plan that will allow the system to degrade gracefully is a must.  

9. Create an end-to-end solution  

IoT simply provides the tools for gathering big data. What good is it if you don’t have the ability to efficiently analyze this big data? It’s important to think about how to best leverage this tool to increase efficiencies and improve solutions. 

When you pair the IoT with cloud computing, something truly beautiful happens. You end up with massive amounts of actionable, aggregated data, without having to manage the servers yourself. Now that’s a breath of fresh air! 

Kelly Huang