May 5, 2020

How to Select the Right IIoT Partner

The industrial internet of things (IIoT) is a complex system of sensors, devices, and equipment spanning both the physical and cyber world. As such, managing an industrial IoT system means businesses must monitor, control, and secure a wide range of heterogeneous devices and software–without making any mistakes along the way.

While managing a handful of IoT sensors and machines might be relatively straightforward, today’s IIoT-enabled enterprises often include hundreds of thousands of devices performing their own set of tasks simultaneously. As a result, organizations face the following challenges as they move toward transformation:

  • Ensuring interoperability between devices, sensors, and equipment.
  • Establishing a strategy that focuses on specific use cases.
  • Creating a cultural and organizational environment that supports transformation.
  • Storing and managing large, heterogeneous data sets.
  • Securing the end-to-end IoT system.

Working with an IoT partner helps organizations address these (and other) challenges, allowing clients to ensure they have the technology, culture, and capabilities in place to achieve their desired outcome.

In this article, we’ll offer some advice on selecting the right partner in a sea of IoT companies.

What is the Role of an IoT Consulting & Outsourcing Company?

An IoT consulting firm aims to help clients address challenges such as security, interoperability, platform selection, and more. Rather than “go it alone,” working with an expert consultant means you’ll have a partner that understands exactly what it takes to help you achieve your business goals.

While every business engagement is different, typical IoT consulting services include the following:

  • Identifying potential use cases for IoT applications.
  • Developing an IoT implementation roadmap.
  • Choosing the right technology stack.
  • Preparing solution requirements,
  • Implementing proof-of-concept and establishing the metrics that represent success.
  • Coordinating internal resources, processes, and personnel.
  • Addressing IoT-specific skill gaps.
  • Helping business leaders drive lasting cultural and organizational change.
  • Help clients develop the right data flow, storage solutions, and reporting systems to ensure maximum ROI.

Still, it can be challenging for enterprises to find an IoT consulting service designed with their specific use cases, industry, and existing capabilities in mind. In this next section, we’ll look at what organizations need to consider before selecting an IoT provider.

Selecting the Right IoT Partner

While many IoT solution providers have many services and capabilities in common, there are some significant differences between consulting firms that you’ll want to be aware of before signing anything legally binding.

Here are a few of the most important capabilities that IoT partner should be able to provide:

  • Real-time insights & data management capabilities. The real value of IoT solutions comes from data. With that in mind, evaluate whether prospective partners have AI and business intelligence (BI) capabilities that can help them develop a solution for capturing, monitoring, and analyzing massive data sets, as well as setting up a reporting system that makes it easy to identify and act on insights. Additionally, consider looking for a solution provider that will help you develop an effective system for monitoring incoming threats or opportunities that were not on your radar, allowing your people to make more informed decisions.
  • Security. Security is huge when it comes to IoT solution providers. Be sure to ask questions about how the partner will protect your network, data, and equipment. How do they handle user data? What about disaster recovery and redundancy? Also, learn how the partner monitors and handles security threats. Do they communicate issues proactively? What is their process for communicating issues?
  • Process & data integration. Your industrial IoT system shouldn’t exist separately from the rest of your business processes. Make sure to ask any prospective partners how their proposed solution fits in with your existing processes and workflows. Does this company have experience with other business applications such as your ERM or SCM? Ultimately, you want an IoT system that syncs the data into your office workflows and can easily correlate new IoT data with sales data, social media accounts, financial reports, etc., which means you’ll also want to ask about the firm’s capabilities in integrating these solutions so that they function as a unified platform.
  • Time-to-market. While on-premises custom builds allow organizations to tailor their solution around super-specific use cases, they’re also incredibly time-consuming and demand a high level of expertise to achieve any significant returns to the business. With out-of-the-box IoT platforms, organizations might struggle with the selection process and risk making costly mistakes during installation.

Organizations can instead opt to leverage an experienced consultant throughout the planning, strategy, and execution stages, ensuring that they get things right the first time.

The right IoT partner can deliver significant business value by reducing the time-to-market while demanding fewer resources to get up and running than internal initiatives. Ensure that your partner’s experience closely aligns with your business use case(s) and that the partner understands the ins and outs of your industry.

Hybrid cloud experience. Find an IoT partner with a seamless solution that fits your on-premise IT systems. Hybrid cloud solutions allow organizations to continue managing sensitive or business-critical activities on-site while taking less-critical operations into a remote cloud.

Questions to Ask Yourself and a Potential IoT Solution Provider

Before you start engaging potential providers, get a sense of what you hope to accomplish with your IoT initiative, and base your selection criteria around your goals.

Here are a few questions you should be able to answer before jumping in:

  • What opportunities are you hoping to take advantage of? What problems are you trying to solve? What capabilities would help you achieve the desired outcome?
  • What changes in the market or competitive landscape are making you consider an IoT initiative for your own organization?
  • Do you have a strategic roadmap in place, or will you need help assessing your needs and coming up with a plan collaboratively?
  • What does success look like?
  • What KPIs will you use to measure success? Will you need a partner to help you to establish those metrics?
  • What is your budget?
  • What is the timeframe for this project?
  • Will you need long-term support?
  • What kind of expertise do you have internally?
  • Do you plan on using AI/machine-learning in this project? If so, do you have those capabilities within your organization?
  • Alternatively, will you need an outside expert to lead the charge?
  • What existing systems are you using (think ERPs, CRMs, accounting tools, marketing automation platforms, etc.)? Is your data relatively unified? Conversely, will you need help breaking down internal silos?

Once you’ve established what you’re looking for and why you’re adopting IIoT solutions, here are some questions you should ask potential solution providers:

  • What terms are you committing to if you sign a contract? How long is the commitment?
  • What experience does the partner have in working with similar companies? Are they a known provider within your industry?
  • How will your IoT partner help you leverage real-time monitoring and analytics?
  • What kind of experience do they have with edge processing? Cloud-based solutions?
  • What is their experience using APIs or Webhooks to ensure interoperability?
  • What is the process for ensuring that the solution fits seamlessly into existing workflows?
  • How long will it take to get to market?
  • Does the partner have enough resources available to meet the anticipated deadline? If not, can they get them? How long will it take?
  • Do they have the capacity to work on-site?
  • How long will it take to bring your team up to speed?
  • How do you communicate with this provider? What is their process for collaborating with clients?
  • What are the partners’ core values? Do they align with your organization’s?
  • What performance metrics are used to measure success? How often will the provider report back to you?
  • Will quality standards be included in the contract? What results do they guarantee at each milestone? What happens if they fail to deliver?

What Makes This IIoT Offer Worth the Investment From a Business Standpoint?

  • Partner Track Record. While IoT companies are a relatively new category, you’ll want to evaluate the partner’s track record thus far. What projects have they been involved with? What were the results? Has the partner been evolving along with the market? What types of businesses typically work with this company? Seek out reviews, read case studies, and ask if it’s possible to speak with clients in your industry.
  • Industry-Based Solutions. Does the partner’s go-to-market strategy support the specific use cases you have in mind? Is it part of a stable ecosystem of solution providers–meaning, do they work with channel partners, offer access to niche experts, or provide system integration support? Does the IoT partner offer a tailored strategy for your sector? Ask how they might help you develop a roadmap for IoT implementation. Can they help you act on new opportunities in your industry or optimize current processes?
  • Expertise in Ensuring Interoperability. The primary value derived from IoT adoption comes from the ability to unify data from a wide range of sensors, devices, and AI/machine-learning algorithms. Your IoT partner should be able to help you assemble a tech stack that supports seamless integrations with open source tools, third-party services, and your existing solutions. As you evaluate your options, ask the partner the following questions: do they use open-source solutions? What programming languages and cloud-platforms do they typically use? What is the process for application enablement? Does it support the devices, protocols, and data management processes your system requires? What is their process for integrating IoT solutions with existing business applications such as your ERP or CRM? What about legacy equipment? Additionally, does it come with any pre-packaged data and application features?
  • Ease of Use. How user-friendly is the proposed solution? How long will it take to onboard new devices? Is there an option to use a zero-touch system? Consider how long it currently takes for users to perform tasks and what might be improved. Will the provider help you design and implement a reporting system with an easy-to-use interface? Can users quickly make sense of the insights provided by the system? How can your partner ensure you end up with a system that enables quick decision-making?

Choose an IoT Development Company You Can Count On for Long-term Success

Choosing the right partner in today’s crowded marketplace of IoT companies is no easy task, but taking the time to research different solution providers could make or break your IIoT strategy.

That said, you don’t want to over-commit to a solution provider, either. Remember, while it’s in your partner’s best interest to lock you into a long-term contract, make sure there’s a way out in case something goes wrong. While hopefully, everything goes according to plan, there’s no guarantee your solution provider won’t fall victim to a data breach, fold unexpectedly, or fail to innovate at the “speed of business.”

Done right, an IIoT can help organizations optimize their production processes, make data-driven decisions, and drive revenue like never before. Contact 3Pillar Global to learn how we can help.