IoT Solutions: Build, Buy or Hybrid?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly changing the way that companies are developing products, says John Calagaz from CentraLite.

Organisations looking to implement IoT into their products have several options when building a new solution. They can build their own solution from scratch, buy a complete turnkey solution, or choose a hybrid model that is customised to meet their needs.

Before you begin, answer the following questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • What is your timeframe?
  • What competencies do you already have in-house?
  • What level of risk of failure can you accept?

The Build Model: Should you build a complete IoT solution from scratch? Remember that cloud-based architecture is complex, and mastering it may take years. You’ll need a full suite of engineers who are highly skilled in multiple software stacks. Do you need devices? Can you write firmware? What about gateways and hubs for connectivity (can you manufacture these)? Now you’re also dealing with multiple wireless protocols (e.g., ZigBee, Z-Wave, WiFi)? Don’t forget about mobile and web apps! If you want to build it yourself, you’ll be hiring a large, diverse group of engineers who can satisfy the cloud architecture, device architecture, protocols, apps, and more. These require separate teams of engineers, with unique skill sets—and some of these professionals are very hard to find.

The Buy Model: This model lets you continue doing what you do best and leave the IoT implementation to others. Being first to market may determine the success or failure of your products, so buying may be the best fit. With a wide variety of solutions and vendors to choose from, here are some key points to consider:

  • What you buy is what you get – from a single source. You will be putting all your eggs in one basket.
  • Is the supplier’s business stable with a proven track record? If long-term stability is in question, it’s a good idea to require their technology to be held in escrow.
  • Unless you’re a very large customer, you’re probably not going to influence the vendor’s product roadmap to fit your future needs.
  • Consider connectivity, including the ability to network devices with multiple protocols – especially future ones. Does the company you’re buying from have the ability to switch to additional protocols in case issues or limitations arise?

The Hybrid Model: There is a very viable third option. You may have some components or pieces, and want to use them. Or, you may have a trusted partner who will provide part of the solution, but there are gaps. Perhaps you cannot make the link to the cloud or provide out-of-the-box support for all of the popular protocols. In these cases, a hybrid solution may be best. It allows you to mix-and-match the best products from the best vendors. It also allows for customised solutions that are best for you and your business.

The hybrid model allows your company to focus on its core competencies and the vendor to focus its efforts on filling your knowledge gaps.

Bottom Line

There are a few major points that will have the most impact on the success of your product:

  • The build model gives companies the highest level of control, but introduces the most risk, highest costs, longest timelines, and the most demanding staffing needs.
  • The buy model places the responsibility on the solution provider, but gives your company the least amount of control. Also, small companies have little influence on new features and future roadmap additions.
  • The hybrid model is an excellent approach for companies that already have strong competencies inside their market, but are new to IoT. It can offer the highest return on investment and allows your team to take control of the parts you’ve already mastered.