October 13, 2021

For IoT Success: You need a Champion and a Notecard!

Mobeen Khan explains the 3 elements required to successfully build an IoT project.

Mobeen Khan, COO

Prologue: Many Champions

A little over three years ago when I was an employee at AT&T, I walked into the IoT Foundry, an AT&T IoT innovation center in Plano, TX. It was a cool day in spring and the weather was perfect. The Bluebonnets were blooming, and so were the IoT projects at the Foundry.

The Foundry was bustling with action that day. There were two customer assets that were being unpacked on the journey to make them into smart connected products – one was a scooter for monitoring and payment processing, the other was part of an oil rig for instrumenting sensors for specific gas monitoring. At least a dozen other similar assets were arranged down the entrance in different stages of being connected: wheelchairs, luggage, gas meters, feed containers, a specialized camera, a driver monitoring device for insurance, a health bracelet and on and on. Behind these assets, along the wall, was specialized equipment and stations for trained engineers who printed circuit boards, made enclosures on 3D printers, tested antennas in specialized instrumented faraday cages and wrote custom firmware and applications.

I walked past all this on this normal day of work into my glass office space at the end, turned around and looked at the hustle and bustle of many IoT Champions. Some were colleagues, some partners in resident, others were customers and consultants visiting, all busy across the floor at different stations and work rooms, championing many IoT solution projects.

It was an exciting time and place and many of those projects are now real connected products that are commercially deployed in hundreds of thousands of units, and several in the millions. But many more have unfortunately failed, besides bests of intention and effort.

The Challenge: Complexity and Cost

That day doesn't stick in my mind because of anything happening on the Foundry floor. Instead, it was because, just two weeks prior, I had met Ray Ozzie for the first time, and by the time I returned to the office, my perspective on what's possible in IoT and how we get there had changed.

I met Ray in Barcelona during Mobile World Congress 2018. We had an informal coffee at a sidewalk café, and again later in the week we met more formally in an in-venue meeting about future investments required to connect billions of devices to the Internet. Ray shared his thoughts on how necessary it was for the IoT industry, the developer ecosystem and AT&T to reduce the cost and complexity of building connected products. As the leading IoT network operator in the world with commitments to deploying what is now termed as 5G low power wide area networks, this was a must-do part of the strategy for AT&T. We had to get ready to help developers onboard billions of devices over the next decade. I was challenged with "What are you going to do about it?" by Ray and AT&T leadership.

Since that time I have been working with Ray, and now at Blues Wireless, in his quest that extends back to Fukushima disaster a decade back (Ray: Soul of a New Machine) on removing friction for building real world IoT solutions. It starts with the vision of the IoT champions and the right solution elements to help them succeed.

The Champions' Journey

The fundamentals of what is required for a successful IoT project are three things:

  1. An internal champion with a strong business case
  2. A solution with the right components and partners
  3. A path to scale deployment

The first one is absolutely necessary to get anything started within even a small to mid-size organization. A champion of change, an innovation instigator, or just a product manager looking to differentiate their offers that has the grit to go upstream and uphill, is a must. This person has the vision, understands problems an IoT solution will tackle in their context, and can put a strong business case together to get an internal Go! from leadership. Our job in the IoT ecosystem is to find them, encourage them and make these champions of change successful.

Once we have our champion, designing the IoT solution is the next daunting task. It is a 5-dimensional stack problem at the very least: Connectivity, Security, Device/Asset Integration, Cloud Integration and Application. In each of these dimensions, the decisions to be made require depth of knowledge and expertise not easily found. Let's take Connectivity as an example. Decisions have to be made on short range/long range connectivity options, national or global needs, temporary vs. permanent roaming, mobile vs. fixed needs, working directly with MNOs or using MVNOs, types of SIMs, data usage sizing, data plan sizing, service negotiations, access technologies, and lifecycle management of your firmware. Similar decisions are required across all levels of the stack. These decisions require either a very skilled and diverse engineering resource base or a very expensive consulting team to prototype, architect and pilot a solution.

Next, solution design leads to the challenge of planning and implementation for scaled deployments. Here the organization has to build an integration of the IoT solution to the asset being monitored and on the other side, get the data integrated into operational and management systems. In addition, the organization has to build systems and processes for change management from old to the new model, from technology and organization point of views.

Collaborating with Developers for Success

Solution and scale require extreme focus on a developer's mission which has been missing in the industry, or at best severely incomplete until now. Champions are either themselves in that developer seat or have a trusted person leading it for them. This developer typically has to stitch together components and software from a dozen different vendors and suppliers to come up with a commercially viable connected product. Outside of budgets and manufacturing strategy, all technical elements from asset integration interfaces to the UI of the end data is under the developer control, and that is where most projects flourish, or die.

Our mission at Blues is right in line with this champion and developer: we help their IoT projects successful from prototype to scale by taking out complexity, cost and time! To that effect, our strategy is two-fold:

  1. Provide the best, low cost integrated IoT components (Notecard and Notehub)
  2. Offer the best-in-the-world developer experience plus support to quickly develop and deploy IoT projects at scale. We make them successful from building product 1 to product 1 million.

Bluebonnets were in full bloom again this spring but I now work at Blues Wireless. From a slightly different venue than three years ago, I am seeing a large number of IoT projects blooming as well, where developers and champions are collaborating with Blues Wireless around the globe. AT&T is an integral part of all these projects. They have been key in our journey from the beginning through an innovative business model of bundled prepaid global cellular service as an important component of our Notecard. We are now extending our relationship to engage with enterprise customers together, to help more champions and developers succeed!

Come and tell us your story and let us help you with your connected products. Join us!

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