There is a lot of buzz around IoT right now, and many companies are trying to figure out how this fundamental change in communications will impact their businesses, both as opportunity and threat. We recently had the honor of being invited to the Microsoft Taipei IoT Expo as one of Microsoft’s North American Azure development partners to speak to a crowd of largely component and product manufacturers about the IoT projects we’ve been launching on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, as well as the lessons we have learned on our journey. Adding to the excitement of the event, Microsoft used the conference to announce the launch of its IoT Innovation Center in Taipei to foster R&D collaboration across Asia. With the announcement of the new Innovation Center and Microsoft’s support for companies creating hardware innovations, you could get a sense that the time to adopt an IoT strategy is now.
IoT is Complex
Perhaps the most fundamental lesson learned is that IoT is complex. It has a lot of moving parts requiring knowledge from disciplines that can be hard to find under one roof. These range from hardware engineering, UX research and design, and production to developing software for power-constrained embedded systems, managing and drawing insights from big data, developing mobile apps, and, of course, secure and reliable connections to cloud-based applications. In addition, there are regulations to be dealt with for product safety, security, and consumer privacy. You can see how challenging it can be to bring all these specialized skills together in a coherent project and at competitive cost/price point. With the sense that traditional integrators are not up to the challenges of IoT, we shared our strategy, which is to build a carefully selected formal partner ecosystem with companies that excel in their fields. This enables us to provide integrated, concept-to-market solutions where everyone has a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for the client’s success.
IoT: A New Mindset
It can also be a challenge to embrace the new mindset demanded by IoT. Companies that are used to selling things, like thermostats or blood glucose meters, in one-off transactions, now have to start thinking about selling value, considering the entire ecosystem (not just their product), and building customer relationships potentially over the lifespan of the product. Offering value is key to justifying healthy margins. You have to ask yourself: “why will a customer pay four or five times more for my smart device than for a traditional one?”
To find where that value is, you have to be able to test ideas quickly and inexpensively. In our talk, we introduced the audience to the Macadamian IoT Jumpstart Kit, a platform and service bundle that anyone can use to prototype IoT solutions for the Azure IoT platform in 4 weeks. The Kit distils years of experience navigating IoT complexity into a solution for companies to prototype their ideas without making a huge investment in either time or money. It’s an excellent starting point for semiconductor manufacturers who want to jump into specific IoT verticals by standing up a reference platform that will drive chip sales.
Selecting a Cloud Platform
Another lesson was that it’s incredibly important to choose the right cloud solution. One analogy that stuck with us was likening cloud providers to mom-and-pop ISPs back in the 90’s. Many of them were acquired or washed away by waves of consolidation, leaving customers stranded. Trying to spin up your own cloud solution or using a second tier IoT platform can’t offer the rich solution development and enterprise integration tools of large incumbents like Microsoft — or the scalability and redundancy of global data centers.
Wider IoT Adoption In Healthcare
One area of our presentation that drew a lot of attention was healthcare. We talked about a project we recently completed, the LifePod voice enabled in-home assistant for seniors, to illustrate how enabling patient data on connected devices will enable better decision-making and patient outcomes. In the Q/A portion of the talk, attendees were curious about the hurdles to wider IoT adoption in healthcare. In addition to the technical challenges discussed above, privacy regulations like HIPAA mean that you have to get secure transmission and storage right the first time. Vendors take on risk when they receive patient data and may need to provide ongoing training to employees, designate security personnel, and perform ongoing security audits. The details vary across jurisdictions and industries, of course, but for Asian hardware vendors thinking of entering the North American market, these regulatory frameworks can be confusing.
Cross-cultural development can be as big a barrier to success in new markets as regulation. Culture exerts a very subtle influence on successful product design and market presentation, reflecting nuanced trends, and concerns that are difficult to pick up from the outside. Not understanding these can make an IoT offering seem awkward or even absurd. This is an area where Macadamian’s strengths designing solutions for the North American market can help new entrants avoid embarrassing mistakes and hit all the right notes.
IoT is real. Clever, compelling solutions are changing communications, business, and personal life every day. In healthcare alone, it will lower costs, improve outcomes and empower patients to live better, more independent lives. For most companies, success means rethinking many aspects of their business and embracing a degree of complexity that can seem daunting at first but can be successfully managed with the right development partner.
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