It’s easy to understand why people at all points on the tech spectrum get so excited about the latest and greatest developments in the Internet of Things. IoT device management is essential. Done right, it is the perfect combination of cutting edge technology and innovative design, used to seamlessly improve 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 we don’t pay enough attention to the things (of IoThings) that make it possible?
Why device management is critical to the success of the IoT
The concept of device management is certainly not new, but in recent years, it is a concept that has been overlooked. Too often, we focus too much on what physical devices can do in an IoT environment and not enough on making sure the device works properly.
As a consumer, it’s one thing to reboot a smart speaker or replace a smart bulb, it’s quite another to dig up a smart humidity sensor because the battery died after two months.
Too many possible IoT breakthroughs are often doomed from the start because the otherwise brilliant people involved didn’t plan what to do with device management.
So what does device management mean from a practical point of view in an increasingly advanced IoT landscape? Simply put, 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 device data and device data, completely independent of app data.
- Single dashboard control of full deployment status and operations
Practically speaking, these principles take us fairly smoothly from the “what” to the “why” of effective device management. This is a quote from Amazon IoT Device Management:
- “Make sure IoT devices are working properly and securely after they have been deployed
- Secure access to IoT devices, monitor their status, remotely detect and fix problems, and manage software and firmware updates. “
- Increase operational awareness of what is happening on each device at any given time and receive exception alerts
- Reduce the total cost of ownership through remote device management, reducing the amount of operational effort required to maintain the device through on-site physical maintenance.
Now that we have the “what?” and the “why?” it is the moment of the real work: the “how”.
In its simplest form, proper device management has four key pillars:
Firmware over the air (FOTA)
We would all love to think that when we launch a new IoT initiative, the devices we use will be perfect 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 fundamental firmware platform of the device.
If that device is installed 50 feet above the ground, or 10 feet below it, you better be able to update your firmware remotely, especially when it comes to multiple devices as well.
In most cases, data is the fruit of the IoT tree, so if we are going to harvest that fruit and use it in any meaningful way, managing the connection is crucial.
If one or more of your devices goes offline, do you have a mechanism to restore that connection without having to send trucks around town? Most importantly, are your devices correctly configured to queue data so that it can be transferred to you once device connections are reestablished?
Configuration management for your IoT device
Whatever device you are designing, building or using, it should be rebootable for remote configuration of software updates and other basics of device management.
This is essential to ensure that you can maintain these devices regardless of scale and to ensure that you can customize subsets of devices that may require different configurations based on location, use case, or other factors.
Of course, nothing else really matters if the device itself is unhealthy, so the ability to access it from a general point of view 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 want to anticipate most problems before they happen.
Orientation of IoT device management as a non-linear process
Because device management is intended to be a non-linear, continuous process, these pillars don’t need to happen in any particular order or even all of them to be happening at any given time. Effective IoT devices mean that these devices should never be viewed as ‘install and forget’, they should always be part of the overall platform.
When setting up to design or implement an IoT platform for the first time, you know deep down, or perhaps even closer to the surface, that you need to think about the electronics on a board.
You should also consider over-the-air communications, software, and behavior built into the edge. The necessary time will be taken to ensure a back-end solution that helps collect and process the generated data.
But what about the scale?
But even the smartest and most level-headed IT professional in the world isn’t immune to the thrill of thinking about bottom line first. The end result is that idyllic garden path commonly known as a ladder, where that little idea gets bigger and better over time.
But what if the life cycle of your devices can’t keep up?
Most of the time, people assume that the device itself is just a means to an end, and that it will just work fine all the time, forever. Not so!
The life cycle can seem counterintuitive when you are excited and building your project. On the other hand, who wants to think about worst-case scenarios before starting a project?
Business collapse or end: why you didn’t plan ahead for device management
Planning ahead for managing your device is better than the ending alternative very bad. It can be difficult to really appreciate the complexity of what you’re dealing with in device management until you’ve suffered the kind of mistake that can financially slow down not just the project, but the entire company along with it.
Its end could come from something as small as an environmental factor that was not taken into account and could not be anticipated or replicated in a laboratory.
The fact that you “didn’t think about it” just doesn’t matter once you have dozens or even hundreds of devices in the field.
Now you are left with the worst decision, one that is purely economical: is the cost of repairing the devices justifiable, and if not, can you afford to replace them all? (See how fast you can tank? Snap!)
Of course, these may seem like very simple concepts at first glance, but many incredibly smart people have wept at the crushing hindsight of not thinking about them from the beginning of their own projects.
The best idea in the world means nothing without the means to effectively and efficiently execute it at scale. Scaling 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 is to see all your data in the cloud, if that little device on the edge that is supposed to generate the actual information that you are using to make decisions is not working properly and cannot be repaired. – then you have a major problem before taking off.
Image credit: miguel á. godmother; pexels; Thank you!