IoT Open Sores Platforms

Over the past few months I have become increasingly concerned that many companies regularly underestimate the risk of using both proprietary and open-source technologies and solutions in IoT/M2M particularly at the foundational layers. This not only increases that chance that they will make the wrong business and technology decisions, but also that some will be caught short on risk mitigation strategies and future contingency plans. The primary reason for this underestimation is the tendency of some companies to automatically extend the risk assessment model they relied on for enterprise applications in the traditional Enterprise IT space to new IoT/M2M applications in the Operations Technology (OT) space without giving enough consideration to important differences in their respective requirements, the state of their respective, and the differences in their underlying technologies.

More specifically, the risk of building on top of a mature technology foundation, proprietary or open, in a mature market with stable market leaders is far smaller than doing so in a nascent, highly fractured, and fast growing market whose market-share and technology leadership will not be settled for years. Consider for instance the case of SmartPhones where the maturity of the market makes the risk of building an offering on top of a proprietary platform like iOS or an open source platform like Android significantly less than building one on top of one of the tens, if not hundreds, of IoT/M2M technologies and solutions platforms vying for stake in an early market with no standards. If this is not daunting enough, try imagining the risk of choosing the wrong smartphone platform had the market evolved the same way the IoT market is evolving and the if the choices not only included iOS and Android, but also many more offerings from large companies and in some cases early market share leaders such as Blackberry OS, Symbian, WinCE as well as 20 to 30 other platforms!

Moreover, as the example above the illustrates and with the possible exception of one or two vertical applications in the consumer space, the way the IoT market is unfolding choosing a platform offered by a large company not matter whether it is proprietary, Open API, or Open Source may not significantly reduce the long term risk. The main reason behind this is that most of the large companies involved built their size, credibility, and track records using high level technical skill sets to meet the requirements of traditional IT Enterprise applications rather than the much more technically challenging low-level and embedded skill sets required to meet the requirements of IoT/M2M applications in the OT space. In addition, many of the large companies that quickly jumped on the IoT bandwagon are pushing or lining behind different “open” technologies and as the market follows the same evolutionary path of all past technologies, including the Internet of People itself, many of these offerings will not emerge as stable or viable foundation platforms and many vendors large and small failing to get sufficient traction will likely exit the market or end their support (remember OS/2?).

Reflecting on conversations with clients and prospective clients looking to develop their IoT strategies failure to take full account of the differences in market conditions and underlying technologies causes the greatest risk assessment distortions when discussing “openness” in general and open source in particular. In the case of open source for example, most companies initially experienced them as variants of existing and well understood technologies and solutions in a mature IT Enterprise space where each had very little open source competition in its vertical and a large, or at least adequate, pool of resources with the requisite technical skills to leverage the access to source. These conditions allowed large support communities to form, grow, and reach critical mass fairly quickly which tipped the risk-benefit analysis in favor of open-source for many applications and even more so when large established companies with credibility built in the same markets targeted by these open-source solutions adopted them reducing the risk even further. Both Linux and Apache are good examples of this.

Contrast this with the state of the common foundation device access and integration layer of all IoT solutions for instance where many large and small players are pushing many different competing proprietary embedded and/or gateway technologies, standards, and solutions as well as different monetizing and lock-in schemes into the nascent market, where the low-level embedded skill sets required are highly technical and rare, and where it is difficult and in many cases impossible to switch technology platforms in the field. The early market fragmentation and technology differences will make the chance of any one of these proprietary, open API, or open source offerings ever reaching the critical mass of support required to take full advantage of this “openness” if a particular the underlying platform does not survive very small. This may in turn leave many companies with no contingency plan other than having to make significant investments and perhaps even having to get into the platform development business directly to preserve their business!

1 comment on “IoT Open Sores Platforms”

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