Dazed and Confused by IoT Platforms? Help Is on the Horizon, but Buyer Beware

I. Grant

Summary Bullets:

  • The IoT M2M Council aims to provide model RFPs and a guide to potential IoT platform vendors.
  • ‘Paying to play’ raises questions over the true value of ‘independent’ platform reports.

Anyone who has to choose a software platform for their company’s grand IoT project should be relieved to know that help is nearly at hand. The London-based IoT M2M Council (IMC) is crowdsourcing from among its members a suite of ‘open source’ RFPs for companies that have to select IoT software platforms. It will also report on how different platforms stack up against the criteria in the model RFPs. IoT buyers will be able to use the RFPs as a template for procurement and the reports to short-list potential suppliers.

The IMC, which represents some 20,000 OEMs, enterprise users and software developers, may be on to a good thing, commercially speaking. There are some 400 platforms in the market, all with different, sometime overlapping capabilities, which makes choosing an appropriate one hard work. And, as Software AG’s takeover of Cumulocity showed this week, the market is in flux and probably headed for consolidation. Undoubtedly, this is holding up many IoT projects with the potential to transform the business; nobody wants to start down a road without some visibility about the bumps and curves that might trip the unwary.

The model RFPs will contain basic categories of software (and applicable, vertical market applications), a checklist of fundamental elements that should be present in these platforms, basic operational/functions that the platforms should fulfil and a list of potential (participating) vendors thought capable of fulfilling the criteria.

The IMC is encouraging IoT platform vendors to sign up for scrutiny by (so far unnamed) third parties it has retained to vet their products. The carrot is exposure to 20,000 IoT buyers in 24 different vertical markets; designation as an ‘IMC Model IoT Provider’ for two years; inclusion (with links) in the IMC’s library of finished, open-source RFPs as a vendor that meets the specs; and a chance to talk to senior IoT buyers (mostly from Fortune 500s) in the RFP development process.

The cost of getting into the programme is GBP 5,000 for vendors that already support the IMC and GBP 12,000 for non-members. This pays for processing a questionnaire on major functions required by the RFPs, plus greater detail of specific needs; a follow-up interview with the vendor to cover points arising; a hands-on evaluation to check ease of use in practice, documentation, etc.; and reference customers, who will remain anonymous to the public. The consultant will write a short report that checks the platform against the IMC’s IoT RFP suite and provides an independent description of the platform’s characteristics. The IMC will give the vendor a copy and copies to IMC members as required. The deadline is September.

What could go wrong? The ‘IoT platform’ is just one component of a complex procurement. Indeed, many enterprises do not care about the underlying technology, but about the application and integrity of the data. Many operational IoT systems are narrowly defined precisely to simplify procurements by focusing on the bare essentials required for the application or task – think Orange Business Systems’ Ocean or Vodafone’s Cobra (both connected car platforms), Actility (optimized for LoRa LPWA networks) or Telensa’s end-to-end smart street light offer. Then there are the offers by T-Systems and Accenture, for example, to knit together best-of-breed platforms to create a working end-to-end system, or Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, which host ecosystems that allow the customer to plug and play different platforms together using APIs.

While IMC’s intention to bring clarity to a confusing environment is laudable, it may be too soon to try to be definitive, which makes linking the RFP criteria with a paid-for, two-year ‘approved supplier’ offer look more like a commercial marketing exercise.

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