About 90% of the companies looking to launch an Internet of Things initiative want their system delivered via cloud software and infrastructure, the creator of one IoT platform is finding.
The reason? “It’s really speed that’s driving the cloud decision,” says Michael Ottoman, chief operating officer for mFrontiers, whose IoT and mobile development platform, mFinity, runs on Oracle’s cloud stack, including Oracle Database and some integration and storage services.
The company offers its IoT platforms as either cloud-based or on-premises software.
Speed can make a life-or-death difference for companies scrambling to connect their long-established products—from industrial gear to medical equipment—to the internet.
A 90-year-old industrial device manufacturer that mFrontiers works with estimates that it has four years to make its analog devices more digitally savvy. They need to be internet-connected so that they can generate data on performance and monitor it remotely.
After that, Ottoman says, the company thinks internet-connected devices will be the standard, and vendors that don’t offer IoT functionality won’t win new business.
Here are seven real-world insights from an interview with Ottoman and mFrontiers CEO Daniel Pahng:
1. Select your cloud software and infrastructure.
A company facing a four-year, existential deadline doesn’t want to spend the first year waiting for IT to build the needed database, integration, and data center infrastructure. Cloud software and infrastructure lets companies fire up such systems in weeks.
A spin-off from Korean software maker DBValley, mFrontiers introduced its mFinity IoT platform last year, expanding from its mobility management platform.
The company’s mFinity IoT consists of three software components: an agent that resides on an IoT-enabled device, an agent that runs on a mobile device for managing and monitoring the IoT devices, and the IoT server that runs on the Oracle Cloud Platform. “We connect people, devices, and data,” Ottoman says.
The company’s leaders have a unique lens into emerging trends and concerns because mFrontiers has met with dozens of companies in different industries to explore how IoT will change their businesses.
2. “The conversation about IoT always starts with the device.”
What Ottoman means here is that companies rarely start with a broad, companywide strategy for the Internet of Things; they start with the simple question of “How do I connect my product to the internet?”
To use the Internet of Things effectively, of course, a company eventually will have to do a lot of things well: collect, manage, and analyze data; organize staff to react quickly to problems found in that data; maybe redesign products and change business models to tap new revenue streams; perhaps even change pricing and warranty policies as sellers become more responsible for monitoring a product and keeping it running.
But the discussion starts with device design and connectivity. That’s why mFrontiers is forging new partnerships with top product engineering and design firms like Optimal Design, so they can help companies design new IoT products that use mFinity.
3. Companies are thinking cloud-first, but many want the option to bring operations on premises.
Ottoman says he doubts that many companies will shift their cloud-based systems on premises, but many ask about that what-if scenario.
mFrontiers uses Oracle Database and Java cloud services, plus Oracle’s online cloud backup and storage. Companies can use that same architecture to run mFrontiers on premises if they choose.
Companies want the on-prem option “simply there as a check-the-box, to mitigate the risk,” Ottoman says.
4. When Internet of Things initiatives fail, it’s usually because they can’t scale.
It’s easy to connect a few devices to the internet and start collecting some data. “In a proof of concept, your performance is usually pretty good,” Ottoman says. “You don’t usually find problems until you get to scale.”
And the Internet of Things is all about scale. Once companies start collecting data about some customers, or about some parameters of a machine’s performance, they generally want more data.
When it comes to cloud infrastructure, companies would be reluctant to bet their products’ performance on a small company like mFrontiers, Pahng says.
But running on Oracle’s cloud platform and infrastructure gives mFrontiers credibility, as well as tools for large-scale testing. Pahng also likes that Oracle is 100% accountable—Oracle owns and operates the entire platform and infrastructure stack, from database to operating systems to middleware to hardware, so it can’t point the blame at anyone else if there’s a problem.
mFrontiers’ best customers aren’t greenfield IoT efforts, Ottoman says. They’re companies “that have experienced trying to go down this path, and feeling some pain,” he says.
5. Beware the left hand (marketing) not knowing what the right hand (operations) is doing with IoT.
Ottoman refers to a grocery chain CIO who wanted to use IoT sensors to help reach the company goal of cutting energy use 20%. Unknown to the CIO, the marketing group was testing beacons—low-energy Bluetooth devices that ping smartphone apps—to offer promotions to coupon subscribers.
mFrontiers connected the two of them, so the specialists working on the energy-saving effort could install beacons at the same time using some of the same infrastructure.
6. There is “a ton of money to be made in mitigating risk” using IoT systems.
IoT may eventually let us all do gee-whiz things like turn the oven off from a smartphone 200 miles away. But the most compelling use case may remain prevention: monitoring machines, processes, even people to spot breakdowns or bottlenecks before they happen.
“There is a ton of money to be made in mitigating risk,” Ottoman says. He expects consulting firms and system integrators to pour resources into this prevention realm, since avoiding breakdowns often requires monitoring an entire system of networked devices—say, all the machines interacting along an assembly line. This focus on mitigating risk and avoiding unplanned downtime echoes the message that early IoT advocates such as GE have pushed.
7. Companies realize they can’t wait for IoT data standards to emerge.
mFrontiers uses its own protocol for IoT communication and integration. The platform can take APIs from, say, LG electronics, and use them to convert data to the mFrontiers protocol.
Companies rightfully get nervous when they see the uncertainty in today’s IoT data landscape. There are at least four consortia trying to create IoT standards, so mFrontiers is trying to offer a route to move ahead before data standards are clear.
“Our customers were—and some still are—holding back, asking ‘Why jump in now if there’s no standard?’” Ottoman says. And mFrontiers will make sure its platform works with broader IoT standards, if and when they emerge.
Many companies don’t have the luxury of waiting—think of that industrial device manufacturer with a four-year runway to either irrelevancy or huge opportunity. Companies with that kind of time frame can’t spend two of those years waiting for standards to emerge.