The IoT project manager’s checklist

September 28, 2016

Posted by: George Malim

When developing a new IoT product or service, it is all too easy to allocate so much time and resource to the visible elements – the analytics, web GUI, or the smartphone app – that some of the less sexy but equally critical elements get treated as commodities, writes, Matthew Own, the managing director of M2M Intelligence.

But this hard lesson, that “form must follow function” is one that has been re-learned since Roman times.

Sadly, we are on occasion brought in to work with IoT innovators and entrepreneurs when that balance has already tipped too far towards form, and the most critical function – connectivity – has been added as an afterthought with incorrect assumptions that it will “just work”.

Whatever your IoT project might be – a device, cloud service or smartphone app – you can’t afford to forget the fundamentals. Real thought needs to be focused on functionality, otherwise a project will be destined to fail no matter how pretty or shiny it looks.

To ensure this is the case, here are five things every IoT project manager should remember when they start to plan their IoT project:

  1. Connectivity is everything

It might sound obvious for an IoT product, but the complexity of and critical dependency on connectivity can be lost in all the excitement around a new innovation – but without the Internet, IoT devices are just dumb Things.

It’s important to thoroughly understand the device’s connectivity demands and to explore all available options, to match your customers’ coverage expectations and provide a reliable service.

If you do not have this foremost in mind you could end up with a costly rethink further down the line or, in the worst case scenario, failures in the field, a delayed or cancelled product launch.

  1. Connectivity requires reliable coverage

If your IoT device is mobile, and it needs to maintain its connection when your customers enter remote or rural areas, then you may be better looking at a multi-network SIM rather than one from a single operator.

This is something that the RAC realised when they wanted to monitor their fleet of vehicles which often travel through remote geographic locations, with varying levels of signal. As Nick Walker, managing director of RAC Telematics, says: ”The ability to communicate remotely is extremely important in providing the live data when you really need it, such as retrieving diagnostic information and identifying a vehicle’s location in the event of a traffic incident or breakdown. This is all subject to a reliable connection.”

Equally important is international coverage, some major operators offer multi-network coverage in the home market but will only allow roaming on single or a few preferred networks in other countries which can restrict coverage and resilience. Take care selecting a partner that offers true multi network roaming with affordable tariffs in all the territories that you might operate.

  1. An IoT service must be resilient

Businesses and consumers expect technology to work 24/7, without downtime. Just think about how you feel when you’re unable to access your favourite smartphone app or online bank account. The world may not be ending but it feels like it is for a few seconds, leaving you hugely frustrated.

Although no one can guarantee connection 24 hours a day, customers want to know that their product or service will work whenever called upon. Businesses also want those services backed up by service level agreements.

Meeting these standards requires resilient connections and the ability to reduce any problems within the shortest possible time. To resolve issues quickly you need a SIM management system that can monitor data usage, determine where a problem exists and how they can be rectified.

  1. Protect yourself against fraud and misuse

Many companies using IoT SIMs are not aware that many traditional infrastructure-based MVNOs supply SIMs that offer security on their own APN (Access Point Name) but can be open to abuse because they will operate on the public APN of the underlying service provider, out of sight of the MVNO management platform.

In one case, a company came to us after they were presented with a £15,000 bill at the end of the month for one SIM which had been stolen and was being exploited by criminals.

With IoT projects involving hundreds or thousands of SIMs this risks exposure to massive potential losses. To mitigate that risk you need a management platform that gives usage alerts and lets you set hard-stop limits, with real-time analytics. Critically – you also need SIMs that can’t be used on a Network Operator’s public APN.

  1. Connectivity costs have to be controlled, especially when you scale up

Any IoT project manager that is expecting large growth has to ensure that they are able to keep connectivity costs under control. If they don’t it will severely impact the bottom line. The best way to do this is to only pay for the data you actually use. This may seem obvious, but many businesses don’t or can’t do this.

A mind-set persists, as a hangover from the business telecom contracts model, that you need to pay for the maximum level of data that any one device may potentially use in a month – or else face punitive “overage” charges. This model does not exist for any other utility. People don’t pay for electricity they don’t use, nor do they pay a higher tariff for over use, yet businesses seem resigned to paying for data allowances that they will never use.

If you want to create an IoT offering with the ability to grow, you need to monitor usage first and foremost. But you also need access to aggregated tariffs with flexibility that allow for regular adjustments according to actual use, without ‘admin’ or penalty charges.