Service Monitoring is (probably) not your Application

By Pilgrim - April 02, 2020

Introduction

DevicePilot is “Service Monitoring for IoT” - a tool to monitor and manage connected devices and the service they deliver.  Usually, this is distinct from the actual Application, whose job is to turn device data into value for the end-user.

Let's explore how the Application and Service Monitoring are different - and complementary.

The Application

Service Monitoring is not your AEP-1The architecture of every connected device solution is shown right (uber-simplified!). Devices stream data via the comms into a cloud-endpoint.  The application then turns that data into value for the end user often with some kind of user-interface e.g.:

  • An EV charging app shows where to find charging points, enable the user to start their charge, and so on.
  • An Agri-tech app shows plant health, predict which plants need watering and so forth
  • A Bike-rental app understands how to help a user find a bike, and how to claim and use it.

This red box - the application - is the one place where a company should invest in writing code, because:

  1. it encapsulates the company’s domain knowledge and IP
  2. it delivers the end-user experience
  3. it differentiates
  4. (because it’s customer-facing) it has to look “just right”.

With a basic application in place, the company can start to roll-out their IoT solution. 

But then, as the company reaches say 100 or 1,000 devices deployed, it becomes painfully apparent that there is still a missing box - the blue box - generally called “Operations”. Like the Application, it sits up at the top of the stack - but its purpose is entirely different.

The Operations team provides Service Assurance

The end-user is paying for a service, delivered by the connected devices, so it’s essential to measure service availability and drive it up to an acceptable level.  Because we live in an imperfect world, there are lots of reasons why service might not be available. This may be for technical reasons - device not yet provisioned, hardware fault, software bug, comms failure and so on. But even if all devices have no technical issues and are working perfectly, the service may still not be available at a specific site because e.g. all of the devices at that site are in-use. So lack of service availability can be for business reasons as well as technical ones. 

For example, at a supermarket with 10 EV charging stations, if all are in-use then the 11th customer cannot charge their car - a failure in service availability. The solution in this case might be to install more charging stations. Therefore as a company matures, service assurance moves beyond just being about technical management, and becomes an increasingly essential core component of a company’s successful business value delivery.

The team which owns the responsibility for service assurance is generally called the Operations team - a “back-office” team whose job is to ensure that the customers are getting the service they are paying for.

We believe DevicePilot is the very best tool to help them achieve that.

Service Monitoring is not your Application (unless your business is service monitoring!)

Once a business is mature, the difference between the red and blue boxes becomes very clear - but in the early days confusion can arise. 

Some companies come-across DevicePilot when they have only deployed a small number of devices (e.g. 10). So they don’t yet need an Operations team, and they don’t yet need DevicePilot (except perhaps to start building the operations processes they will need when they reach larger scale).

Often at this stage their application needs might be quite simple - perhaps just to show some information from each device, possibly some historical charts. They want to prototype their application without huge up-front investment.

They see that DevicePilot can produce Dashboards, with charts and meters and they think “aha, we’ll just use that as our application”. But it's likely that they have confused the red applications box (which they should build) with the blue operations box (tools which they should buy).

If you are seeking a tool to easily build your first IoT application without writing any code, then what you are looking for is called an “IoT Application Enablement Platform” or AEP. Whilst analysts do recognise this category, we’re not aware of many good IoT AEPs just yet. Most all-in-one platforms come with some kind of ability to create simple per-device dashboards, but they’re often primitive and may come with a lot of baggage which may not fit your needs (all-in-one platforms can’t be good at everything). Losant is probably one of the better ones. 

It may be that the lack of good general AEPs for IoT is because it’s not possible to build an AEP that can address all the diverse needs of IoT applications in all verticals, in a way that remains good-enough as the business scales and customer needs become more-and-more well-defined. If we look at the world of Web applications and Smartphone apps, although there are some "app builder" AEPs, people tend not to use them for more than initial prototyping, and the same is probably going to be true for IoT.

If you can’t find an IoT AEP that works for you, you can probably knock-together an initial draft application using for example Azure Power BI or AWS QuickSIght, to display basic data from your devices in a form which isn’t too ugly. But before long you’ll probably want to write a professional application (which might still have e.g. Azure Power BI or AWS SaaS databases powering it, underneath, but hidden under a skin crafted especially for your customers). A competent web application developer should be able to build you a decent prototype in a few weeks, for a few thousand dollars. Note that a web application developer is a very different beast from a website designer: look for terms like "full stack" in their resume.

And then - as your business grows and you start to experience the challenges of operations - we’d love to talk to you about how DevicePilot service monitoring can help take you to the next level.

Caveat

The above isn't universally true - for some companies, the application is service monitoring, so DevicePilot provides a good end-user-facing application. For example we have customers whose business is to measure WiFi and LTE performance in venues such as airports, so their "product" to their customer is actually service monitoring and they use DevicePilot as their application. But in most cases, you'll want to create your own user-facing application, then use DevicePilot to run your business.

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"We're totally data driven at POD Point, and if we can answer a question using data then we think that’s the best way - there’s no guesswork and you can use the facts.

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