IoT Software Trends
IoT software allows you to manage the ever-growing “Internet of Things” (IoT)—or at least your corner of it. By having control over numerous devices and applications in the IoT, you and your business can manage IoT deployments from a centralized hub.
IoT software has become increasingly diverse as the number and variety of IoT devices increases. As a result, many examples of IoT software are built for specific applications. Common examples of IoT software include sensor controls, factory monitoring, supply chain management, and more.
In any case, most IoT software also features robust analytics capabilities useful for extracting insights and metrics from your IoT.
As the scope and flexibility of IoT continue to grow, an increasing number of businesses and industries stand to benefit from using IoT software. Almost any business dealing with a large number of specific data points – such as room thermometers, package barcodes, and so on—can vastly improve their efficiency by using IoT software.
Why use IoT software?
In its earliest days, the Internet was a simple network of desktop computers. Using this network, researchers and scientists could easily send and update documents over the wires—far more convenient than snail mail.
The Internet as we know it today, however, has grown far beyond that point. While desktop computers are still a major segment of Internet-facing devices, other devices – such as smartphones, tablets, and so on—have also become part of the new Internet.
However, smartphones and tablets have become just as “computer-like” as any desktop computer, especially as many of them have become just as powerful (if not even more powerful) than most early computers.
The Internet “of” these devices are, in a sense, an Internet “of computers.” This “Internet of computers” is perfectly fine for most purposes, but could it be possible to connect other devices to the Internet as well?
This point is where the “Internet of Things” comes about. Where the Internet grew from an “Internet of computers” to an “Internet of devices,” today’s Internet has grown to become an “Internet of Things” including home appliances, small sensors, and even individual barcodes—just to name a few.
Where it was previously unimaginable for, say, a refrigerator to become an Internet-facing device, it has become today’s reality; modern “smart refrigerators” can automatically compile shopping lists, monitor food, and more. Smart refrigerators are just one of the many “things” in the IoT.
Your business probably doesn’t rely on smart refrigerators, however. So where does the IoT and IoT software come into play for most businesses?
Think of the “things” that are common in your business—even the smallest of them. There’s a good chance that several of these “things” can (or eventually will) evolve into an IoT device. While this evolution may seem unnecessary, IoT devices have been beneficial for business in many ways.
Consider a hotel, for example: Almost every hotel room has an adjustable thermostat. Between vacant rooms and guests setting higher temperatures, hotels can lose thousands of dollars per year just through heating unoccupied rooms.
At least, that’s how it used to be.
Today, many hotels have adopted the IoT and IoT software to centrally monitor and control every thermostat throughout the building. In doing so, hotels have been able to automatically change temperature settings in unoccupied rooms, thereby slashing heating bills by massive amounts.
While the hotel example is very specific, many businesses (hotel or otherwise) can stand to benefit in similar ways by adopting IoT software. As we’ll see in the next section, almost any “thing” – be it a thermostat, a refrigerator, or even a barcode or sensor – can be part of the Internet of Things.
Who uses IoT software?
As we saw in the last section, IoT software is used by any business integrating the IoT into its workflow, products, or services.
Most businesses integrate IoT through the use of specialized sensors, such as temperature sensors, proximity sensors, pressure sensors, and so on. The hotel from earlier, for example, used temperature sensors to automate their thermostats.
Just like the hotel example, each industry utilizes the specific types of sensors and IoT software best suited to their IoT implementation. Some common users of IoT software include:
Manufacturers were among the first businesses to adopt IoT software. With increasingly high output requirements, manufacturers are always looking for new ways to improve workflows and efficiency.
For many manufacturers, improving efficiency usually comes down to optimizing certain areas of the production line. While optimization methods and techniques vary widely, one thing is consistent between them: the need to measure outputs and production rates at every stage.
IoT software and sensors have made it possible for manufacturers to measure every point of interest with high speed and accuracy. By using proximity sensors, for example, a manufacturer can monitor individual units as they pass certain physical points or key locations along the production line.
With the data from the sensors, manufacturers can then use IoT software to instantly gain a more holistic understanding of their production environments. Previously, this would have been done through either much simpler systems or, from even earlier times, basic counting.
Some manufacturers even implement IoT sensors directly into their production mechanisms. For example, chemical processing plants can use chemical sensors to monitor chemical concentrations of certain compounds or the presence of certain chemicals. Similarly, gas sensors can accurately identify gases in closed areas and level sensors can identify fluid volumes.
The list goes on; in any case, however, IoT software and sensors allow manufacturers to easily overcome previous limitations and identify inefficient points along their production lines.
Shipping and Fulfillment
Shipping and fulfillment centers use the IoT similarly to manufacturers, but with an added emphasis on tracking individual units and packages.
As many companies move their business presences to e-commerce platforms, shipping has become the primary means of product delivery. With especially large e-commerce presences (such as Amazon) shipping out thousands of packages every day, speed and efficiency have become extremely crucial for making timely deliveries.
Timely delivery, however, is a multi-faceted operation. While the actual methods of shipping (e.g. air, truck, etc.) are important, the rapid growth of shipping facilities has made in-facility package sorting and transportation equally – if not more – important.
Large, centralized shipping facilities face the unique logistical challenge of having to locate, package, label, and ship out thousands of products within the same facility. IoT software and sensors have enabled many of these facilities to improve this workflow, which otherwise may have been impossible.
Amazon’s fulfillment centers are an especially good (albeit extreme) example of IoT in action. Facing a constant flow of new orders and thousands of products under one roof, Amazon’s facilities need to work quickly—and many of that time is spent just trying to find their own products!
To improve its workflow, Amazon employs a network of high-speed robots that move around the facility floor. These robots are each a “thing” in Amazon’s Internet of Things, as are the packages they eventually locate and deliver.
By using IoT software, Amazon can effectively track and monitor their robots and, more importantly, the packages they carry. While the robots are essentially computers in their own right, both the robots and the packages rely on sensors to send valuable data back to the IoT software.
While most shipping facilities aren’t operating on Amazon-level scales, facilities of any size can still benefit from using IoT software. Even small-scale shipping operations can utilize IoT software and sensors to closely monitor product movements and outflow.
Analytical features of many IoT software can also generate valuable insights from sensor data, allowing facility managers and logistics teams to develop better solutions and improve shipping efficiency.
Fleet Management and Self-Driving Vehicles
Beyond the shipping facilities, vehicles of all kinds can also benefit from the IoT.
For shipping purposes, trucks, trains, ships, and even aircraft all become “things” in a logistics-centered Internet of Things. While keeping track of shipping routes and travel times are longstanding practices, their earlier (read: non-IoT) forms left plenty of grey area.
Consider how we might monitor a truck transporting packages from a shipping facility to a local post office. The truck may have to reach the post office at a certain time to guarantee a specific delivery time for some of the packages.
Without using IoT software (or some other means of tracking), the shipping company and post office would only know two things: 1) when the truck left the shipping facility, and 2) when the truck arrived at the post office.
But what about the time in between the shipping facility and the post office? How would either party know what caused a shipping delay?
While many shipping companies have used various forms of communication (radio, GPS, etc.) to monitor travel times and routes, the IoT has made it easier than ever—especially now that individual packages are part of the IoT, too. With IoT software, shipping companies can manage and monitor entire fleets from a centralized location and, using analytical features, predict delays, and instantly adjust as needed.
Of course, shipping fleets aren’t the only vehicle-related IoT application; self-driving cars and similar technologies are now using the IoT to closely monitor routes and movement. Even mapping software and apps have used individual users as “things” to detect traffic jams.
Maintenance staff and facilities can also use the IoT to streamline their maintenance procedures. Instead of simply waiting for components to fail (or having failures go unnoticed!), maintenance facilities can use IoT software and sensors to accurately and instantly check for failure.
For example, the hotel we discussed earlier used the IoT to automate the thermostats in every room. What we didn’t discuss, however, is that this also has a compound benefit: while IoT-enabled thermostats helped cut energy costs, they also became individual maintenance sensors.
Everything is bound to fail at one point or another, and thermostats are no exception: Almost every frequent traveler has had to deal with a faulty thermostat on at least one occasion. The problem, however, is that hotels have so many thermostats that it becomes almost impossible for maintenance staff to check them all frequently.
By using IoT software and specialized sensors, however, maintenance staff can monitor every thermostat from a centralized location. Plus, some IoT software can leverage AI and analytics features to accurately detect signs of failure, allowing maintenance to react before the problem ever occurs.
This capability extends well beyond thermostats, of course; almost every device can join the Internet of Things, giving maintenance staff incredible oversight over almost everything.
The idea of an Internet-facing refrigerator doesn’t seem so crazy anymore—especially as “smart fridges” are becoming increasingly common!
Refrigerators and other home appliances have also started leveraging the IoT to improve basic operations. Consumer-grade IoT software, however, looks a bit different than IoT software found in manufacturing or shipping facilities.
For consumers, IoT software usually takes the form of home automation software configurable with any number of “things—” refrigerators, lighting, personal assistants, televisions, and so on. With IoT-enabled home automation software, people can perform important house tasks and chores from almost anywhere.
The previous examples are among the most common uses of IoT software, but new and unique applications pop up almost every day.
Generally speaking, if you or a business needs to keep track of multiple “things,” IoT software can help. While specific IoT software suites can vary between applications, most share the following basic features.
IoT software should be configurable with specific sensors and IoT-enabled devices. As the previous examples have shown, a “thing” can be, well, anything; from packaging robots to trucks to refrigerators, everyone’s Internet of Things takes a different form.
As a result, your choice of IoT software should be readily compatible with your “things.” Home automation software, for example, probably wouldn’t be much use in a large shipping facility. Similarly, the sensors and software required for the same shipping facility also wouldn’t be compatible with an average household in the same way neither would be compatible with a chemical manufacturing plant.
IoT software should offer robust analytical tools relevant to your uses. Just as “things” can differ between different IoT deployments, so do analytical requirements. Unless your IoT software is specifically made for your industry, however, some analytic features could require custom programming to deliver relevant results. However, as the IoT becomes commonplace, most major industries can now choose from a variety of tailor-made IoT software packages.
Many IoT software packages are also beginning to implement AI and machine learning into their analytics features. By leveraging these technologies, IoT can become a useful centralized management tool for highly distributed processes.
IoT software should be highly secure. As IoT software often requires a high level of oversight to perform its job, it has also become a desirable attack vector for hackers and other criminals. Through compromised IoT software, hackers can “spy” on organizations, or – even worse – control their day-to-day operations.
Consumers face a similar threat; compromised home automation software can give unwanted access to home security cameras, baby monitors, and any other IoT-enabled device in the home.
In any case, IoT software should always offer robust security features, such as strong password protection, encryption, and several layers of access control.
IoT software should be cloud configurable. This feature should almost go without saying, but it’s still worth mentioning! IoT deployments almost always use cloud infrastructure to connect every “thing” in their networks. Further, the IoT software you choose should also be configurable with any preexisting cloud infrastructure your organization might be using.
IoT software should be highly scalable. On its own, IoT software shouldn’t limit the number of “things” in your network. This point is especially important for high-volume applications such as manufacturing and shipping. Typically, the only limitations on scalability will be your organizations’ cloud capabilities and other infrastructure limits.
Q: What does IoT stand for?
A: IoT stands for the “Internet of Things.”
Q: What is the definition of IoT?
A: The Internet of Things (IoT) is any system of connected computing devices. Note the general term “computing devices;” as more “things” are integrating computers into their core functions, the entire Internet of Things now comprises small sensors, home refrigerators, vehicles, and more.
In essence, an IoT connects multiple devices and gives each an identifier. With IoT software, organizations can monitor the system as a whole and generate useful insights into their business functions and processes.
Q: What is IoT software?
A: IoT software is usually a high-level tool that allows for monitoring (and sometimes managing) every “thing” in an IoT. A shipping facility, for example, uses IoT software to monitor individual packages and measure the outflow and inflow rates across the entire facility.
IoT software is usually tailored to specific applications, such as shipping, home automation, manufacturing, and so on. IoT software usually places a high emphasis on analytics, security, and scalability.
Q: Why should I use an IoT platform?
A: Using an IoT platform provides convenient access to high-level monitoring of any number of devices. A manufacturing company, for example, can use an IoT platform to monitor important information related to individual machines, units, and facility metrics.
However, an IoT platform or IoT software package is only as good as an organization’s overall IoT strategy. If IoT capabilities aren’t integrated throughout an organization or facility, an IoT platform – essentially an analytics tool – is practically worthless!
Q: What makes a good IoT strategy?
A: A good IoT strategy is generally very holistic, seeking to take in as much relevant data as possible.
There are limits to being holistic, however; as so many different things can now be integrated with the IoT, it’s often tempting to integrate IoT wherever possible. By over-integrating IoT, however, organizations face the risk of taking in irrelevant data, wasting valuable resources, and clouding insights in the process.
As a result, a good IoT strategy will be holistic, but only to the point of meeting business goals. For example, a shipping company’s IoT strategy will benefit from integrating IoT into trucks and packages, but not from using proximity sensors on the office entrance. In other words, relevant data is crucial!
Q: Which IoT security solutions should I be using?
A: There are many IoT security solutions to choose from, but the best choice for your organization will depend on your specific IoT deployment and, perhaps more importantly, any applicable federal security mandates.
While some IoT security solutions check for certain aspects of mandate compliance, any IoT security solution should perform automatic checks at every level of your IoT deployment. These checks should include checking firmware, software, and all other levels of your IoT technology stack for potential vulnerabilities.
However, security software is only as good as the people running it. Regardless of which security solution you choose, enforcing security-related policies and procedures (e.g. password policies, access control, etc.) is always essential.
Q: What is IoT Inspector?
A: IoT inspector is an automated tool for evaluating the security of IoT devices. IoT inspector mostly focuses on the firmware of IoT devices and works in compliance with international security standards. By automating this capability, your IoT deployment can stay secure and compliant with any relevant federal mandates.
As security is a crucial part of any IoT deployment, using IoT Inspector (or any other IoT security tool) could be a good move for your business.
Q: What are some IoT retail applications?
A: Retail businesses can leverage IoT in several ways. By using proximity sensors, for example, retail operations can measure the number of people coming in and out of their store, as well as the number of products leaving the store at a given time. Through these insights, retail businesses can get a better picture of shopper activity—even shoplifting.
IoT software can give you valuable insight into your organization’s Internet of Things. Whether you’re monitoring vehicle fleets, thermostats, or home refrigerators, any “thing” can benefit from using IoT software.