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iot platforms (2)

Among the words, phrases and acronyms in the Tech worlds “Platform” seems to be a word which seems to grab the headlines. If one listens to any pitch from a start up venture it would be not uncommon to get the “platform pitch”in at least 1 out of 2 proposals. A lazy search on Google on the “Top 20 Tech weary  words” fetched me the result that “platform was 3rd in the list . (https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-worlds-top-20-tech-weary-words-for-2014-2014-5).

There have been words verbalised like “Being Platformed” as well and a host of books on the significance of platform in the Technology world. I will not go into the virtues of platform. I would dwell on how the leaders in respective segments  are a few ( a maximum of 3 ) while in the IoT world we seem to have by some counts 170 of them ( McKinsey ) to 400 of them ( Beecham Research).This is definitely a bewildering array to go through and investigate .

What is a Platform – why there are only a few platform leaders ?

Stepping back – different people have different views and meanings of the word “platform”. To get a view of the diversity of platforms we have:

Browsers (Chrome and Firefox) ,smart phone operating systems ( iOS and Android) , blogging  (Word Press , Medium ) .Social Media titans (YouTube, Facebook) and even Instagram are described as platforms. Uber, Airbnb and their ilk are widely described as ‘marketplaces’, ‘platforms’ or ‘marketplace-platforms.’ Web services (Google Payments, Amazon Elastic Cloud) and  gaming consoles (Xbox, Apple’s ipod Touch, Sony Playstation). One interesting point to be  noted that in each category the market is mostly duopolistic .

To accommodate this diversity the safest definition of platform would be as :

  1.  An extensible codebase of a software-based system that provides core functionality provided by the modules that interoperate with it, and the interfaces ( aka Application Programming Interface (APIs)) through which they interoperate. In effect this system  abstracts a number of common functions without bringing out the complexity of building and managing them ,  for the users .
  2.  The goal is to  enable interactions between producers and the consumers
  3. This is enabled through three layers comprising the Network ( to connect  participants to the platform), Technology Infrastructure ( to help create and exchange value )  and Workflow and Data ( thereby matching participants with content , goods and services ) .

This definition brings in the 2 dimensions of a platform. One that would be for internal use and the other for external use .

  1. An internal dimension  for building platforms is to ensure all necessary modules interoperate , and
  2. An external dimension for building platforms is to enable interaction with the outside world and make it as accessible and usable as is possible.

Internal dimension led platforms focus on internal productivity and efficiencies and focus on users. Here the development is internally sourced and is essentially  built for internal use .  The external dimension led platforms focus on the supply (developer side) and the demand (user side) . Essentially they are sometimes termed as “two-sided” platforms .The development beyond a point is crowd-sourced and they enrich the platform and the platform reaches out to them through APIs.

In most of the cases if the external dimension is well evolved then the internalities come with the efficiencies by default; with respect to design quality , selection of interfaces leading to interoperability  , robustness of infrastructure , seamlessness in workflow and data streaming  .

External dimension platforms compete for both users and developers

Here one important aspect to be remembered is a Platform may not be ready to provide solutions to contextual and domain specific problem statements. Applications built around the platform do that, these applications help get the Return on Investment ( RoI ) from the platforms .

In any segment you must have seen that the winners are a few ( atmost 2 or 3  , aspirants may be many, who progressively wither away )  .The reasons has been presented above with respect to design quality , interoperability, infrastructure robustness and seamlessness in workflow and data flow and the last but not the least excellent and friendly user interface . Not many can master all the 4 aspects .These help acquire a critical mass of customer base which keeps growing and a duopoly of sorts is created in the market space .

Successful platforms have the ability to support the variety of business use cases in the present and have strive to  build the  design to evolve over time and be to an extent future ready .

The Bazaar of IoT platforms- The reasons & who would be the winners  wading through the maze ?

Now when coming to Internet of Things (IoT)  , The IoT  movement repeatedly talks about platforms, but those definitions don’t align with any of Uber, Medium or Android. The first issue is interoperability.  And none of these align with each other either.

Now let us address the question is the why of “plethora of platforms” in IoT .

It can be seen clearly that a typical architecture of an IoT solution is multilayered. The layers to simplistically put would be Device to Device ( this involves hardware and firmware with Low Range Communication ) , Device to Server ( which would again involve hardware and communication ) and server to server ( which would mean that cloud based application and long range communication would hold the key along with network , data storage and data visualisation ) .

So we see protocols and standards are driven through their origins from communication technologies ( we see Telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon leading here ) , in the data storage area ( we have Amazon , Google leading the way ) , in the application side ( Azure from Microsoft and Thingworx from PTC being the prominent ones ) . Companies which has a library of business use cases with them given the dominance they have in their respective businesses (namely Bosch , GE , Honeywell ) have the ambition to build their community based platforms .Then we have a host of start ups who run a platform per a business use case they address .

So the genesis of the “plethora of platforms” in the multilayered solution stack of IoT . This adds to complexity and hence no one player can be a leader across the layers as on date .

In the coming  years it could be reckoned that there would be a shakeout in the market and the platforms could veer around key broad based use cases of remote monitoring and environment conditioning , predictive maintenance and process automation .

The ones which will win the battle of supremacy would have cracked the codes of

  1. Security,
  2. Open interfaces,
  3. Carrier grade reliability,
  4. Service levels,
  5. Scalability and
  6. And allow for aa seamless integration into the back-office environment which is essential to the enterprise’s business operations.
  7. With a impressive  usability and user interface .

Given the multitier architecture and the attendant complexity it will be a while before a small group of winners starts to bubble to the top . Some of the also-ran aspirants may focus on domains and address a  specific part of the ecosystem in which to play or in the industry segments like home or industrial to justify their presence .

 

 

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The world is full of normal people like you and me, but I love to think that superheroes live between us and I dream that maybe someday I could become one of them and make a better world with my super powers.

In the universe of superheroes fit gods, mutants, humans with special skills, but also the special agents. I found fun to find similarities between this fantastic world and the world of IoT platforms.  Compare and find a reasonable resemblance between IoT Platforms and Superheroes or Super villains is the goal of this article. Opinions as always are personal and subject to all kinds of comments and appreciations. Enjoy, the article.

About IoT Platforms

Many of my regular readers remember my article “It is an IoT Platform, stupid !.”. At that time, per Research and Markets, there were more than 260 IoT platforms, today some sources speak about 700 IoT platforms. I confess, I have not been able to follow the birth, evolution and in some cases death of all IoT platforms out there. I think that many enthusiasts like me also have given up keeping an updated list.

I cannot predict which IoT platforms will survive beyond 2020, or which will be the lucky start-ups that will be bought by big companies or will receive the investors' mana to become a Unicorn, but I like to speculate, and of course, I have my favourite winners and unlucky losers.

About my Own Methodology

Some reputed analysts have adapted their classification methodologies of IT solutions to put some order and consistency into the chaotic and confusing Internet of Things (IoT) platforms market. But given the moment of business excitement around the IoT, have appeared new analyst firms focused on IoT who also wanted to contribute their bit and at the same time make cash while this unsustainable situation lasts.

After reading numerous reports from various sources on this topic, talking to many IoT platform vendors and seeing endless product demos, I have decided to create my own methodology that includes a questionnaire of near 100 questions around different areas: technical, functional, business, strategy, and a scoring mechanism based on my knowledge and experience to make justified recommendations to my clients.

About Super Powers Methodology

But I also had defined an alternative Methodology based on Super Powers.

Super Heroes and Super Villains usually gain their abilities through several different sources, however these sources can be divided into four categories. The Super Powers methodology is based on these four categories of Power Sources.

  • Mind Powers – Powers with notable mental abilities. Companies like IBM Watson IoI or GE Predix are notable examples.
  • Body Powers – Powers that are gained from genetic mutation. Companies like Microsoft or Amazon mutate to IaaS / PaaS IoT platforms.
  • Spirit Powers  Powers gained over time through extensive investment, and are easily obtainable by companies without the risk of horrible mutation or disfigurement. PTC Thingworx, Software AG/Cumulocity or Cisco-Jasper are examples.
  • Artefact Powers   Powers gained abilities through ancient objects such as networks, or hardware. Incumbent Telcos M2M Platforms, Telco vendors like Huawei, Nokia or Ericsson, and Hardware vendors like Intel IoT platform, ARM Beetle or Samsung Artik are examples.

For each Power Source category, Super Powers are divided into different levels of power that depend on how strong, or unique, their abilities are.

  • Level 0 -  with useless, or minimal abilities.
  • Level 1 -  they are still particularly weak compared to the higher levels.
  • Level 2 -  have developed their powers to a certain point. About 75% of the platforms belong to this class,
  • Level 3 - Mostly are most commonly amateur heroes or sly villains.
  • Level 4 - Some of the most unique with a wider variety of powers.
  • Level 5 - these fellows are seasoned veterans of their abilities, capable of using them without even needing to concentrate.
  • Level 6 - Only a few beings are classified under this level, and their powers are that of being able to control multiple aspects of IoT reality.

Whatever the source of power was, I add Sandy Carter´s recommendation: If you want to become an Extreme Innovator you also need Super Intelligence, Super Speed and Super Synergy.  

About Super Heroes and Super Villains

Previously in “Internet of Things: Angels & Demons” and “Internet of Things – Kings and Servants” , I identified some IoT Platform companies as potential superheroes. What was certain is that we knew who the supervillains were. Governments, organizations and business giants that try to control us, manipulate us and frighten us with their economic, political and military powers.

Deciding which superhero can help you more or what superpower is more important for your business is an extremely important milestone in your IoT Strategy.

I've defined the six types/categories of superheroes / IoT Platforms:

a)The superhero whose power is a birthright like Amazon AWS IoT (Superman) or GE Predix (Magneto/Professor Xavier).

b)The superhero whose power is the result of power acquisitions like PTC Thingworx (The Flash) or Cisco Jasper-Parstream (Spiderman) or Autodesk Fusion Connect (FireStorm).

c)The superhero whose power is made possible by technology like Oracle IoT (Iron Man) or SAP Leonardo(Green Lantern). 

d)There is the superhero who doesn't have any superpowers but who is a superhero by extremely intensive training like Batman (Ayla Networks) or Black Widow (Exosite) or LogMeIn-Xively (Hawkeye)

e)The superhero who obtains his/her powers due to some supernatural event like Satya Nadella named new CEO for MSFT IoT Azure (Thor) or Telit DeviceWise (Dr. Manhattan) or Google acquisition of Nest (Hulk)

f)Finally, there is the superhero, usually a sentient android, who was created by a human like IBM Watson IoT (Vision) or a normal human playing with magic like Salesforce IoT Cloud Einstein (Dr Strange) or leader of a young team like Hitachi Data System(Most Excellent Superbat)

“Do you agree with my classification system for superheroes and superpowers?”

Although the number of superheroes and supervillains is enormous (more that the IoT Platforms Universe), it would take me a long time to assign each one of the IoT platform a single superhero or supervillain. Since I do not think many companies are willing to pay to know who represents them better, at least I have done a partial and fun exercise.

The Bottom Line 

If you are an IoT Platform vendor, you could be doing yourself some questions right now:

-          If I could be a Superhero what would it be?".

-          Worth to acquire a Super Power or reach an upper level to convince customers I am their Superhero?

And remember …

“With power comes responsibility; with great power comes great responsibility”

Although the number of superheroes and supervillains is enormous (more than the IoT Platforms Universe), it would take me a long time to assign each one of the IoT platform a single superhero or supervillain. Since I do not think many companies are willing to pay to know who represents them better, at least I have done a partial and fun exercise.

Thanks for your Likes and Shares.

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