As smart devices are increasingly spreading in our everyday life, there is an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to shape this emerging market and create the demand for new products. From pet trackers to medical sensors, or multifunctional devices for tracking the parameters of transported goods — all these connected devices generate event streams of data that is presented to end-users via mobile or web apps. The combination of all these components — smart sensors, data aggregation, web & mobile apps, and the cloud infrastructure — forms the Internet of Things. Development of IoT systems is a tricky business that implies being on the cutting edge of software & hardware implementation best practices. Therefore, it’s a solid strategy to get a trustworthy smart devices development partner that you can rely on when needed.
Let’s say you have an IoT project coming up. The first step to getting the project underway is to commit to a certain deadline and budget, right? It may be complicated when you are understaffed or stretching too thin on other ongoing projects, or else lack the necessary technical expertise. You know someone who has successfully worked with an outsource partner, but you also heard a lot of horror stories about off-site teams. One thing you know is you need a qualified team to get this project done now, even by an insignificant margin. So, you set off on the quest for a proper connected devices development partner. Here’s a comprehensive list of questions you need to ask your candidates to pick the right one.
1. What is your experience with development of IoT projects?
The right partner will obviously demonstrate some case studies where they have helped businesses develop IoT platforms distributed between cloud services and on-premises gateways or devices. A vendor that has deployed IoT projects specifically in your industry definitely makes up for a great development partner. Anyway, it’s a rare case when a single vendor has implemented IoT projects across all verticals, like automotive, transportation, healthcare, or retail. However, an architectural approach and best practices successfully realized in one area can be effectively applied to other industries.
“The basic idea of the IoT is that virtually every physical thing in this world can also become a computer that is connected to the Internet.”
Your candidates need to be versed in different aspects of software development. It is a well-known fact that any IoT project encompasses various areas of expertise: from mobile apps development to cloud services and protocols optimization, or big data management. Yet another layer of competency you are looking for in a potential vendor is their ability to work with third-party systems through APIs that must be integrated with an IoT solution.
It makes sense to inquire if the company is backing up the development of these real-time systems by the relevant software stack. A good example of solid tech expertise would be such programming languages as Erlang or Elixir. Being a general purpose functional programming language, with lightweight processes, automatic garbage collection, and available on all major OSes, Erlang makes up for a great platform for developing distributed software systems. Of course, the range of programming languages and corresponding architecture is not limited to these variants.
Besides experience with the appropriate programming languages, your candidates should also demonstrate some core competencies:
- Equal mastery of all types of databases: SQL/NoSQL
- Implementation of various protocols: HTTP/MQTT
- Ability to ensure the security of systems with cryptography and certification
Just ask for their preferred software stack they lean on when developing IoT solutions.
2. Have you implemented any real-time IoT systems in our sector?
Businesses may have various ideas for the realization of IoT solutions, but in general, they can be divided into two groups:
- Externally focused projects: manufacturing new, connected products for the consumer market
- Internally focused projects: retrofitting existing assets at an enterprise
These groups of IoT initiatives presuppose the use of various smart connected sensor devices and, therefore, require different expertise from your partner-to-be. It is a rare case when a vendor has successfully completed projects for both consumer and enterprise sectors.
We at Velvetech are lucky to have worked in both sectors and helped our partners meet their business goals. As a result of our collaboration, CargoData Corporation (Ventura, CA) has secured its superior position in providing industry-leading cold chain monitoring solutions. Another case is when our partner has entered the wearables market with a revolutionary personal security device that helps law enforcement officials and rescue teams carry on their duties.
3. What is your expertise on the hardware side of the Internet of Things?
Knowing if your potential partner can design required hardware components, for instance layouts for the PCB boards on their own is going to greatly influence your IoT project, in terms of whether you will need some additional partners for hardware design.
Do go into detail and find out the specifics of their experience with hardware engineering:
- Knowledge of ARM Cortex, TI-based, and other microprocessors, chipsets
- Digital signal processors and controllers
- Low latency and Ultra-High Speed FPGA-Based Design
- RF and microwave circuit design
- RFID, NFC system design
- Mesh networking
- Low power system design
- Integration with IoT cloud platforms
- Integration with iOS, Android, MFi Program
It may be the case, as with Velvetech, that a vendor keeps close contact with several hardware manufacturers and can order certain hardware items by providing them with circuit designs and schematics and then verify the produced hardware. Velvetech partners with a couple of trusted manufacturers that have proved on several occasions their ability to produce the required hardware equipment on time and according to our bill of materials.
It adds value to an IoT development company when it has experience of going through a certification process that is required by some regulating companies (e.g. mobile network operators like AT&T, Verizon, or Apple) when designing the hardware integrated with their products and services.
Another important area of expertise that instantly makes a potential vendor a keeper is the hardware design patents research & analysis capabilities. If your IoT project includes the endpoints that need to be designed from scratch, you definitely need someone who can research the prior art and look into the existing patents. This way your newly designed system and sensors will not infringe any third-party patents.
Finally, always ask for more examples of successful implementation of smart devices related projects. We have two noteworthy use cases at Velvetech when our hardware expertise allowed our partner to get the edge advantage with their IoT development initiatives. One is when we were able to design an RF-enabled sensor that was 3 times cheaper to produce than the standard off-the-shelf sensors with a radio frequency transmission capability. Another use case involved optimization of firmware for the specific BLE devices that resulted in 15% power consumption reduction during active communication stage between the BLE devices and smartphones.
4. How competent is your team in terms of UI/UX?
Current IoT platforms, especially consumer-oriented ones, can hardly be imagined without a modern and user-friendly interface designed with best practices in mind. Of course, many software development companies possess certain expertise in developing web and mobile apps with trendy and intuitive UI. However, you will be surprised to learn that there are plenty of system integrators who focus solely on architecture, server infrastructure, and firmware development. Clarifying this moment up front can save you considerable efforts at the later stages of the development of an IoT solution when the user-facing functionality needs to be produced.
5. Do you follow any best practices or protocols to streamline your production?
One aspect of the vendor selection process that requires your special attention is definitely examining their operation processes, like their time to engage, project knowledge handling, etc.
While IoT platforms are usually large-scale projects involving significant LOE for implementation, it just happens that employees rotate on such projects. It is of vital importance to discover if a vendor has a secure knowledge retention process in place. A reliable partner would show you a robust system often based on a well-established software solution, like Confluence by Atlassian that we use at Velvetech, or similar tools.
To ensure the steady development pace your candidates should be familiar with the best practices of software engineering. An experienced IoT development vendor applies test-driven development techniques and adheres to the continuous integration methodology (we call it a “continuous build” at Velvetech) when isolated changes are immediately tested and reported on as they are added to a larger code base.
Response time, communication skills and cultural background awareness are some other key factors to look at, besides the development capabilities, when evaluating your candidates.
Do they have a strict policy on response time?
Do they know enough about your culture and business to speak the same language?
Do they keep communication flows noise-free and approach expected issues proactive?
All of this will become a substantial part of your engagement with a partner-vendor for years to come. So, it makes a lot of sense to dive deeper into these areas of their proficiency.
Last but not the least is company’s ability to assist you at the discovery stage when the project is imminent, and rapid prototyping, business analysis, or a quick R&D investigation can really make a difference. For example, Velvetech has a policy of 3-day proof-of-concept availability, meaning we can provide the first proof-of-concept within 3 business days upon request.
“Gartner Says 8.4 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2017, Up 31 Percent From 2016″
6. What is your typical rate?
The rewarding point in this tedious selection process is when you shortlist candidates according to the above criteria and start asking about their price tags. It goes without saying that receiving a blended rate provides little understanding about the budget options for your particular project. This is why it is a good idea to provide a partner-to-be with a detailed Request for Quote or at least some high-level requirements. Such documents guarantee that you are requesting the same thing from all of the candidates and reduce the risk of receiving apples-to-oranges proposals.
Look for the word “flexible” in their answers as experienced vendors know too well that projects vary by length, level of required expertise, deadlines, etc. – which all ultimately influence the overall budget.
Velvetech is both flexible and reasonable when assessing the financials of the IoT project development. Please get in touch for a free consultation. We will be happy to guide you through the IoT development process and see your connected devices solution make a change in the market.