The talk these days about the IoT and the large number of companies hopping onto the IoT bandwagon with little to no strategic decision making is unbearable. Does it really make sense for EVERY product to connect to the internet? Here are seven reasons to skip the I in IoT.
Reason #1 - Security Liability
The millisecond a device is going to be Internet connected the company producing the device has an obligation to ensure their device is secure. Neigh not just an obligation but a moral responsibility. The company now has to consider what the consequences are if their device is compromised and the potential devastation it could have on their end clients. A security breach could not only affect their customers well-being but also destroy the companies brand, lead to lawsuits or perhaps even injury or death depending on the device. Is the risk/reward sufficient to justify connecting to the Internet? This is the question product teams need to ask themselves before making a devastatingly flippant decision.
Reason #2 - System Complexity
Connecting to the Internet has the potential to add unwarranted complexity to an embedded system. The need for security and updates will be never-ending. Developers now need to add in at a minimum a WiFi module and TCP/IP stack. Additional code and complexity will be added through the cloud, selecting an IoT protocol and user interfaces. The user interfaces can't just be Web pages but also must include an app that supports mobile devices of multiple manufacturers. Added complexity generally results in more engineering time, higher costs, more bugs, and delayed product delivery.
Reason #3 - Customer Doesn't Want or Can't Afford it
Does the targeted user really need this device to be connected to the Internet? Many development teams are connecting coffee pots, toasters, and every other device imaginable to the Internet but is there any real value add to doing so? Adding the Internet to a device adds extra cost that the end user may not be willing to pay. Just because a product type is becoming market trendy doesn't mean the end user truly needs that functionality. A simple example is the smart thermometer. A low-cost mechanical thermometer costs a few dozen dollars while a smart thermometer costs a few hundred. Both do the same thing, the difference, a few connected features on the thermostat that are rarely used and at least an order of magnitude increase in costs.
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Reason #4 - Total Cost of Ownership
More design time, complexity, security, hardware, and undoubtedly more testing and debug. Developers and companies can't expect the total cost of ownership for an IoT device to match that of currently disconnected devices. Typical development cycles are 12 months, which means companies either have to buy more IP and fight with integration issues or attempt parallelism and hire more engineers (which countless studies have shown doesn't work). Connected devices will need feature updates, security enhancements, a secure bootloader, among many other maintenance needs. The moral of the story, connected devices will require more funding to get to market and many development teams are already working with absurdly scarce budgets.
Reason #5 - Time to Market Impact
Internet connected devices add another layer of complexity to an embedded system and many developers haven't yet gained the necessary experience to develop them quickly. Every time a new technology is encountered, it presents new unanticipated challenges that must be navigated. Challenges can't necessarily be solved overnight and require time to learn, digest, and resolve. The end result, delayed time to market which undoubtedly will drive costs up or worse, cause the team to take shortcuts and compromise system integrity to hit a target delivery date and budget.
Reason #6 - IoT Marketing Hype
Everyone wants to be on the cutting edge of a new industry, with new markets and the potential to forge a large and profitable company. So far, though, we have had years of articles and talks about the coming world-changing IoT with, in my opinion, minimal adoption with billions of dollars invested. Certain wearable devices have been successful but far more have failed. Build it and they will buy it ... or at least this seems to be the market sentiment. The most successful IoT device, Nest, seems to be struggling to gain acceptance. The technology is cool but the price point isn't worth it. I have a Nest thermostat; my home security company forced it on me for free and decreased my bill $120 a year if I would let them install it. That doesn't sound like demand or adoption to me but more like market hype.
Reason #7 - Technical Skills and Knowledge are Lacking
I suspect, from my experiences interacting with hundreds of engineers globally, that many development teams lack the required skills to successfully launch Internet-connected embedded systems. Most developers have limited to zero knowledge of TCP/IP, WiFi, Bluetooth, or any of the so-called IoT standards. Engineers can certainly learn but it should be in a controlled and incremental process that minimizes risk and maximizes user value. Before ever starting down the IoT path, a team needs to objectively evaluate their skill set and determine if they would be successful. If not, they need to determine what steps to take to shore up the missing skills.
There is a big rush to connect everything to the Internet and with the buzz and hype many companies are jumping on the bandwagon of an unproven market. Before risking the farm, companies and teams need to take a hard look at their product and client needs and ask the question, "Does my device really need to be connected to the Internet to meet my clients needs?" Undoubtedly for some the answer will be yes, but for others, they are entering a money pit that will consume their time, talents, and dreams of innovation.
Jacob Beningois an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost, and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, at his website www.beningo.com, and sign up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter here.