Five reasons for SMEs to use a business IoT platform

Primarily, a business IoT platform delivers functionality in the form of additional applications or firmware updates. IoT platforms are hardware- and software-neutral. They manage complex processes in terms of the hardware and software used and their updates. The IoT platform can also take on a lot of authentication that would otherwise have to be laboriously administered in the hardware and software used. The result is the same for administrators, users and application developers: ease of use.

Data storage and processing should be simpler, clearer and more secure

And that brings us straight to IoT platforms. If they were employees in the office, they would be the colleagues who take responsibility, ensure order and clarity in the filing system and get involved with internal communication and individual customer care. In other words: the business IoT platform helps allocate when and where what data should be analysed and processed and how the processes look. Various factors are decisive in whether the processing takes place at the location where the data is generated or in the cloud, or a combination thereof, known as hybrid.

Don’t let the buzzword “IoT” intimidate you. Essentially, IoT simply means recording by digital devices. If you use sensors, you are already halfway there

Chris Rezendes, founder and managing director of Impact Labs

The decisive benefit of a business IoT platform for SMEs is that the customer can decide what hardware and software is set up with which function and when. The user can confidently decide what data is stored where, how quickly access is given and when, if at all, the data is moved to a cloud. That is relevant in production, for example, when status reports on production progress need to be provided. This generates large amounts of data. Uploading it all to the cloud, processing and analysing it there and then downloading the result would simply take too long in. In this case, edge computing is the better option. In a mix of edge and cloud, data prepared in the cloud can be passed on to artificial intelligence that makes a decision regarding whether something was correctly assembled on the basis of all the data collected.

Single sign-on simply makes life simpler

Exemplary usability means a user always using the same authentication mechanism for their systems. Nymi, a provider of authentication solutions from Toronto, Canada, for example, has developed a corporate software solution that is simple to implement, with which you can authenticate yourself on a mobile device, tablet, laptop, PC or at a door. The ‘Nymi Enterprise Edition’ ensures companies adhere to all regulations and guidelines, with the focus on high data integrity. That means: constantly logging on everywhere is a thing of the past. Single sign-on mechanisms and administration on the platform is the future. In this way, no one needs to adjust to wildly different platforms, but can get fully immersed in one.

Someone using 15 different cloud services today would have to connect all of them to their indexing service, such as Active Directory, or administer 15 different sets of user data. In a business IoT cloud environment, authentication with well thought-out systems can be easily achieved – without the users having to study the subject. The question of who has access to which device or software is answered by the platform and does not need to be administered on the device or dedicated software. The user does not have to get used to different platforms, because access to the systems always takes place via the same user interface.

more information

What is an Active Directory?

This term was introduced with Windows 2000 and describes an indexing service from Microsoft. The core function of Active Directory is that of a central index service for all objects, e.g. printers, computers, users and user groups. It is hierarchically organised. Put very simply, it works like a phonebook or address file. Why does it exist? The index service makes it easier to administer a network. So if you are searching for a user, for example, whose name you don’t know, you can find them via various attributes (e.g. their location).

Down with the forced update policy!

In the business environment, it is essential that you as an SME are able to make your own decisions about when to set up what software or device with which functions. In many cloud environments, there is now a ‘forced’ update policy. This means the customer has no choice but to update to the latest version and use it. For the providers of such solutions, of course, that is very convenient, as they then no longer need to provide support for the older versions. In the business environment, however, that doesn’t always work and can lead to problems. Imagine a function is no longer available in the new version. Why? The solution provider discovered that it is hardly used. Somewhere, however, there are customers who use the function and perhaps have even based their business processes on it. If the function is no longer available, they might have to adjust the business processes. A company therefore needs sufficient warning to prepare for this.

Win-win situation with an IoT platform as manager

IoT platforms are hardware- and software-neutral. They manage the complexity hidden behind an update and a piece of software or hardware. That is convenient for the customer: they simply choose what they want to provide with which updates. It is also convenient for application developers, because they do not have to give any thought to a lot of functions, as the platform is fitted with the corresponding tool set. If a new piece of hardware or software is brought onto the market, the update mechanism does not have to be redeveloped.

It should be possible to decide for yourself when such an update takes place so that it is suited to the individual processes. For example, if production does not take place between midnight and 8 a.m., updates should only be carried out at those times. When developing the device or software, only the corresponding process needs to be considered. The customer can then administer their IoT devices and software centrally. This is known as a win-win situation – for all involved.

an infographic of the use of business IoT

Four out of ten companies use IoT platforms

The security mechanisms of the platform

A platform is designed with a holistic security concept. The advantage: an integrated infrastructure compatible with all essential interfaces, to the benefit of all applications and functions. They no longer have to be viewed and planned separately. That is important with control software for machines, for example. Wherever data is being transferred, the question of the security of the systems used arises, because it has to be possible to reliably rule out unauthorised access to data and facilities. Precisely because the IT departments of many small and medium-sized companies are simply overwhelmed by the challenges of protecting their own infrastructure and data, the security mechanisms are a major benefit of IoT platforms.

Nature and IoT? It works

In our article ‘What is a business IoT platform and why do I need it?’, we took a look at car production in particular. Now we are in a very different world. The florists and vegetable farmers of Quansett Nurseries in Westport, Massachusetts, USA, make big profits from small vegetables that they sell to restaurants. To provide the best conditions for growth for their radishes, which like things warm and humid, the basil, which prefers a warm and dry climate, and all the other vegetables with their different requirements, they have split up their greenhouse into four and created a separate nano-climate in each part. Here, too, big data is used for the good of the small sprouts. Sensors capture all the data on light, humidity and temperature and send it to a mobile computer developed for the remote field application. The software then takes care of the perfect climate in each case. In this way, a business IoT platform can also be used to support the growth and well-being of young vegetables. The data collected and analysed leads to increasingly sensitive handling of the tasty little things. This means Quansett Nurseries can always react comprehensively to conditions and requirements. The employees observe how the platform manages the care of the sensitive seedlings rather than always having to react to the results of an incorrect microclimate.

Platforms will function as enablers for a new automation architecture, with the aim of creating an operating system for almost entirely autonomous systems

Dr. Thomas Bauernhansl, Fraunhofer Institut

Artificial intelligence for connoisseurs

Another example from the world of agriculture, also in Massachusetts, USA, are the winegrowers of Salt Creek Vineyard, near South Dartmore, on the coast opposite the famous island Martha’s Vineyard.

Winegrowers are at the mercy of their capital, the vines, the weather and natural climatic conditions. They therefore need highly individualised microclimate forecasts to precisely manage their irrigation. The five vineyards at Salt Creek Vineyard may be located close to one another, but they are subject to three microclimates. Major temperature differences, light, wind, the influence of the Atlantic – which crashes against the coast just three miles away – all of that requires individual care. That is why sensors on-site deliver sophisticated data on the specific weather conditions – sometimes blazing sunshine in one spot and simultaneously coastal fog in another. The learning IoT platform adjusts the irrigation accordingly, without a winegrower having to take action. The system runs and acts independently, from the collection and analysis of the data to the correct conclusions and active reactions. This is the Internet of Things providing the perfect grape for a better wine!

To delve deeper into the world of the modern winemaking craft, we recommend the Job Wizards article (Link:) A toast to the digital transformation of the renewed winegrowing industry

As you can see, the possibilities for the use of IoT platforms are far from restricted to the world of industrial production and office communications. Chris Rezendes, founder and managing director of Impact Labs, which looks after Quansett Nurseries and Salt Creek Vineyard, counters nervousness around the subject: ‘Don’t let the buzzword “IoT” intimidate you. Essentially, IoT simply means recording by digital devices. If you use sensors, you are already halfway there.’

User control is important. At what point do they want to set up what hardware and software with which function? #jobwizards http://bit.ly/2D3zotb

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‘IT platforms are enablers’

The computing networkers from Maincubes One held a specialist conference entitled ‘How small and medium-sized enterprises and IoT can come together securely’ in September 2018. In Offenbach, near Frankfurt am Main, the sector discussed the subject of the Internet of Things. The focus was on digital factories, secure payment systems, secure mobility and the smart city. Prof. Dr. Thomas Bauernhansl from the Fraunhofer Institut said the following in his keynote speech: ‘Platforms will function as enablers for a new automation architecture, with the aim of creating an operating system for almost entirely autonomous systems.’

A representative survey by Bitkom, the German Federal Association for IT, Telecommunications and New Media, of 533 German companies revealed that 43% of German industrial companies already use an IoT platform.

The times when small and medium-sized companies would, due to cost reasons, only closely monitor the activities of the big players and then carefully follow suit are in the past. The speed of innovation in the Internet of Things is high and increasing. Waiting is unlikely to be the right tactic. Right now, for SMEs to survive they need to get on board, stick with it and adjust things to their own requirements during operation.

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