What is an IoT platform?
An IoT platform is a centralizing, unifying form of middleware that links IoT devices to an enterprise's overall data ecosystem. Some of these solutions are managed on-premises, while others are cloud-hosted, making the latter a variation on the platform as a service (PaaS) model.
Analysts and other business users can use IoT platforms to manage connected devices and the data sourced from them. These devices can include everything from sensors attached to industrial equipment to devices built into cars as part of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
The typical path of IoT endpoint data
The aforementioned devices are the first point in the IoT chain, collecting data and converting it into a usable format. Because many IoT endpoints are analog, the data is often converted to digital when it reaches internet gateways and other data acquisition systems.
Next comes the edge, which is the area of an enterprise's network—be it cloud-hosted or based on-premises—closest to end users and their applications. Both preliminary analysis and pre-processing take place here, although in various real-time data analytics use cases, all analysis may occur at the edge to minimize latency. Finally, if the data requires more comprehensive analytics and processing—and if neither of those operations need to happen immediately—then it will go to the cloud or data center. Eventually, it will reach the apps or end users in need of it.
Why are IoT platforms important for digital transformation?
An IoT project that's managed on a proper platform can serve numerous purposes in an enterprise's digital transformation journey. The best way to illustrate this is to look at the different IoT platforms that are commonly seen in today's organizations.
IoT platforms that enable modernization
Connectivity platforms: These platforms focus strictly on maintaining a connection between the cloud or data center and the various physical devices and sensors of the IoT deployment, which keeps the flow of data steady. Connectivity platforms operate according to various protocols, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth being the most well-known examples.
Application development platforms: Like PaaS systems and their on-premises counterparts, these tools are used by developers to create and deploy applications—but only apps that manage and control various IoT endpoints and their data. Arguably, the app development IoT platform is what's most often being referred to when someone uses the term "IoT platform."
Analytics platforms: These IoT platforms operate at the edge and use cutting-edge algorithms to run analytics operations on endpoint data and quickly deliver actionable insights, often via data visualization.
End-to-end IoT platforms: As their name suggests, these solutions combine all of the functionality of the tools described above into comprehensive suite-like packages. End-to-end solutions allow organizations to develop IoT apps, comprehensively manage IoT data from smart devices, ensure consistent connectivity, and provide complete visibility and oversight of all enterprise IoT services.
Organizations can obtain a cloud IoT platform from any of the major cloud service providers (CSPs). AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud can either include these tools as part of the overall cloud technology stack or offer them a la carte. Alternatively, enterprises can turn to a third-party IoT platform vendor for their IoT solution.
Accelerating digital transformation
As interconnectedness becomes more important for enterprises, and as the number of connected devices and other data sources continues to grow, the IoT's importance will only increase. Solutions that help business users orchestrate devices connected to the IoT—while more efficiently analyzing the data those devices generate—will also become more vital.
For example, consider that not long ago, it could take automakers days, weeks, or even longer to definitively ascertain why one of their plants consistently produced vehicles with a distinct flaw. With industrial IoT platforms, automobile manufacturers can use analog sensors to identify a poorly functioning machine on the assembly line and repair or replace it before more damage is done.
Furthermore, companies can develop apps that analyze key data trends from every physical device on the line, predict the likelihood of equipment failure, and automatically generate detailed reports for maintenance staff. Additionally, during the assembly process, automakers can build IoT sensors into cars and develop apps to collect and analyze driver data, which can contribute to future feature design.
All of these possibilities are digital transformation in a nutshell.
The IoT in action: Major use cases
Powering smart homes—and smart cities
For today's consumers, the "smart home" system is one of the most recognizable applications of an IoT cloud platform. In these setups, individuals can control everything ranging from televisions to appliances from a single mobile app, such as Google Home or Apple Home.
When scaled up considerably, IoT platforms of this kind are also the foundation of "smart cities." This entails using IoT hardware and apps to collect real-time data that helps municipalities make public transportation more efficient, optimize the flow of traffic, reduce energy consumption, and monitor air quality, among other things. Although the concept of a fully smart city is mostly theoretical now, it could be much further along in just a few years. These projects will offer many mutually beneficial opportunities for governments and private-sector organizations—enterprises looking to get involved in such initiatives may have an advantage if they focus on high-end IoT development.
Driving Industry 4.0
Sometimes known as the industrial internet of things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 has been a game-changer for manufacturing and heavy industrial organizations. The example of the hypothetical automaker from earlier in this article is one example of successful IIoT platform use, but there are countless more, across multiple verticals.
Consider a purchasing manager using data to move over 30 million parts, daily, through an automotive manufacturer's supply chain. An IIoT platform can monitor part usage and send alerts to the manager well before inventory is dangerously low. Or consider the head of a chemical plant hoping to stay compliant with new regulations. IoT sensors can monitor the level of volatile ingredients, and an IoT solution can include an app that triggers actions to ensure these substances don't reach dangerous thresholds.
Many health-minded consumers have embraced wearable health monitoring devices, which deliver convenient, real-time insights into calories burned and steps taken. But the advent of increasingly sophisticated implantable systems and external IoT devices for patient monitoring is a genuine paradigm shift in IoT's healthcare potential.
Doctors can collect data that gives them comprehensive insight into the real-time wellness of their patients—and even develop reliable predictions about the likelihood of serious medical events. This can better inform long-term strategies to boost patients' quality of life.
Decision-making for autonomous vehicles
Although self-driving cars are still in various prototypical development stages, numerous automakers and tech companies have invested heavily in their potential. Whether we are five, 10, or 20 years away from driverless vehicles being a fixture on the roads, the fact remains that IoT devices and the platforms that orchestrate them will be immensely important to the development and eventual deployment of these vehicles.
In addition to the AI powering individual cars, much of these vehicles' success will be contingent on endpoint data collection and IoT platforms that can handle real-time streaming analytics. These operations will power the decision-making behind every turn, acceleration, deceleration, and brake of a driverless vehicle.
IoT platforms deliver greater value with cloud analytics
While some of the most intriguing use cases for IoT applications and platforms remain hypothetical—for now—many are fully operational. Plenty of today's enterprises are using multiple IoT device management, app development, and connectivity platforms across multiple business units.
Cloud computing is an ideal realm in which to manage IoT operation. And to most effectively leverage all of the data gathered from all of an enterprise's IoT deployments, with no single IoT app or device unaccounted for, a versatile cloud analytics and data platform like Teradata VantageCloud will be essential.
Running analytics in the cloud means resources can be scaled up or down as needed, such as when sudden surges of real-time data rush in. Teradata'smultidimensional scalability makes it especially effective in this regard. The platform allows teams to run analyses across multiple analytics engines in all major programming languages, and is compatible with all major CSPs. It also allows you to integrate IoT data hosted in the cloud or your data center(s) if you use a hybrid cloud architecture.
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